10 Ways To Boost Your Productivity for Authors (Part One)
As an author, one of my main issues is productivity. I’m not a full-time author. My writing moments are sparse, in between class breaks, homework breaks or study breaks. Writing is my hobby, and my passion, but sometimes I get lazy. It’s easier to crawl in bed with a good book or to watch the latest episodes of The Walking Dead, as opposed to writing.
Writing is hard work. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it isn’t. When you’re struggling to get that scene written down, it’s like a trip to hell and back. When you’re editing an 80k words novel, it’s no stroll in the park either.
Here are some tips to boost your productivity, tips that have helped me, and I hope will help you as well. I’m writing a series of articles about productivity, so if you’re interested in this topic, stay tuned for more similar articles over the next few weeks.
Because this post ended up being extremely long, I decided to cut it into two seperate posts. Stay tuned for part two soon!
1. Keep a planner
I can’t stress this enough. I would be nowhere without my planner. Aside from being a full-time university student, a freelance publicist, blogger and author, I also like to have the pretense of a social life. That’s where my planner comes in play.
Now I don’t like the idea of “fixed time”. Like, every morning from eight to ten I’ll write. That’s great for people who have nothing else to do, or a fixed schedule, but I’m on a flexible schedule here. Classes get switched around. Somtimes I have unannounced tests I have to study for. Instead of keeping a fixed schedule, I keep a flexible one.
I have two planners. One for my blogging and writing, and one for school. Since school isn’t the topic here, I’ll talk about my blogging planner. I actually have two of those – a month planner, that gives me a nice two-page overview of all posts per month, and a regular day to day planner.
Each month, I sit down and write in my monthly planner. I use post-its with different colors, and I’ve divided this planner into four categories: “Blog” (which is this blog), “I Heart Reading” (my book review blog), “Enchanted Book Promotions” and “Writing”. I make a monthly table for each category, and start filling in the dates. Then I add a post-it to each date with what I’ll do on that day.
I don’t fill in all the dates on my two blogs, leaving room for emergencies, or something that’s come up all of the sudden. For “Writing”, I do fill in all the dates. Whenever I’ve done something, I put a sticker on the post-it. You have no idea how good I feel when all posts are pre-scheduled for a month. Makes me feel great. It’s also nice to have an overview of what I still need to work on and what’s done already. It also showed me that I needed more differentiation in my blog posts on “I Heart Reading” since they were mostly reviews.
When I’ve finished planning my monthly calendar, I take my daily planner. I go to one particular date, and check the monthly calendar in all categories for that date. Once again I take my post-it notes and write down, in a different color for each category, what needs to be done on that day. While the monthly planner gives me overview, the daily planner makes it easier to estimate how much time I have to plan ahead, or what needs to be done on a particular day. Usually, there are four post-it notes, one for each category, per day, unless I know something important is coming up so I won’t make it on that day.
But even if something suddenly comes up, it’s no biggie. Usually I’ll have planned at least a few days beforehand, so the posts are scheduled and ready to go live. That means I’ll only have to focus on writing that day. In worst case scenario, I just take the post-it note and paste it onto the next day when I’ll have more time. That’s the beauty of post-it notes: they’re interchangeable.
2. Make to-do lists
I make my planners once a month, although sometimes it takes several days and things still switch around at the end. A story sells and edits come up. Someone books a tour, and I want to review the book. Those kind of things. That’s why, on top of my planners, I also keep a day-to-day to-do-list.
I pick five things for each category that I need to do on that particular day. I write the date in red marker on the top of the notebook page, and then I write the category names in green marker. I try to keep these things balanced.
Let’s take “I Heart Reading” for example. That’s my book review blog. Say I want to schedule five things to do today on my blog. I won’t take writing five reviews, or reading five books, because that takes forever. I might write down two reviews (provided I’m ahead of my reading schedule, which is usually the case), reading one book (if I have a lot of classes, I tend to read in between breaks), posting a meme, or doing something small about the design. Maybe reply to author emails. I try to keep the workload small, so I end up doing more, and feeling good about myself. The moment I’ve scratched through all five items under a list makes me feel amazing. Hence why I do it.
Now, I know you came here for “Writing” tips. I tend to aim for 2k words a day. Instead of putting that under “Writing” as one item, I put it up as two items, 1k per item. When I’ve reached 1k, I’m halfway, and I get to cross out one item from the list. I put everything that belongs on my writing blog (aka this blog) under the category “Writing” as well, because else there wouldn’t be enough time in a day. And writing 1k words generally takes longer than setting up a monthly goals blog post, for example. So I might write down two items that have strictly to do with writing, and three items related to my blog.
Why the number five? I used to have ten, but that drove me crazy. Five is do-able. It takes about 1-2 hours for each category, totalling about five hours a day.
3. No distractions
First thing I do when I wake up every morning is check my mail. Then the schedule differs. If I have no morning classes, and there’s been a new episode from one of my favorite series, I start downloading. Meanwhile, I work on the daily to-do-list for today. Because I have most trouble with writing, I start with that. I try to have written at least 1k words before the download is finished.
Then I take a break, have breakfast, watch my TV series. When I’m done, I do another quick email check and FB check, and go for the other 1k words. Once that’s done, it’s usually time for class. If it’s not, I take another quick break, and start working on something else from the list.
I reward myself every time I accomplish something. When I’ve reached 1k, I get to watch a TV series. When I’ve finished my writing for the day, I get to check my emails again, or go on Facebook. When I finish writing a review, I get to read some of my favorite blogs.
For me, writing is like a second job, but one I love doing. However, I’m lazy by nature, and I need rewards if I have to reach a quotum each day. These tiny distractions are my rewards. But that also means that while I’m working on something, there are no distractions. I only go on two websites while I’m writing: the thesaurus and a translator (since my mothertongue is Dutch, and I sometimes have to look up words).
4. Proofreading is for AFTER
I can’t stress this enough. If you want to get anything done, you don’t proofread until you’re done with your manuscript or your chapter. In an ideal world, we’d all rush through the end, have a finished first draft, and then be so fired up to edit, edit, edit and proofread, proofread, proofread. But sometimes we think it’s not good enough, and instead of fixing it the next round, we as authors become too focused on that particular scene that’s just wrong, loses our focus on the entire manuscript.
Think of each month like it’s NaNoWriMo. In NaNoWriMo, you have to pump out 50k by the end of the month. There’s no time to proofread or edit – that’s why they call the month after “editing” month. So write, write, write, and don’t stop when something isn’t one hundred percent right. Keep going till the end, and you’ll have a much easier time fixing things in the second round.
5. Plan your plot
I like making things up on the fly as much as the next author. The downside however is that it doesn’t always work. I have plenty of manuscripts lingering at 10k or 20k simply because there was no plan. There was an idea, which seemed solid at the time, but it never really took off. That wouldn’t have happened if I had a plot planned ahead.
I have to admit that with some stories, no planning turned up all right, maybe even made me more creative than I would’ve been otherwise. But in ninety percent of the cases, it doesn’t work. You need to plot beforehand, not only because it’ll give you a better clue of where you need to end up, but also of the time you have to get there, and the obstacles your MC has to face to get there.
First thing I do is write down the synopsis, the idea, the concept. Then I start brainstorming, and come up with ideas for scenes. Next is ordering these, until they make some sense. First this, then that. Is that a logical consequence of this? Why would my MC do this? Ah, because that happens. Those are the questions I ask myself.
Once that’s done, I write a chapter by chapter outline. First chapter: this, this, this happens, and whatever details I can come up with, and then to the end. If necessary, I break the chapter up in different scenes, and write what happens in every scene. This document usually ends up being 2000-5000 words. But those words aren’t wasted. They’re my red wire. They’re what I hold on to when the plot seems to be leading nowhere, or I’m lost for what happens next.
And what’s even better is that, when I get up in the morning and have that daunty task of writing 2k words waiting ahead of me, at least I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to write. I usually don’t aim for “exactly” 2k words – I aim for scenes. Like: “today I’m going to write the scene of how the MC and her love interest go to a cabin in the woods”. If that scene ends up being longer, then that’s okay. It means I’ll have to write less the next day. If I can’t make it to the end of the scene, but I did end up writing 2k, that’s good as well – I’ll finish it the next day. But I don’t have to worry what I’m going to write. All I have to worry about now is to get it written down.
I hope these tips helped! Stay tuned for more productivity tips soon.