I have avoided this topic for … as long as I’ve been writing and podcasting. I do not like teaching productivity. I do not think that I should be doing it.
That said, I’ve consistently written at least one novel a month for the past two years, while also running this site and podcast (with some podcast breaks here and there), and being a full-time mom to kids who are ages three to eleven.
So, fine. I’m productive. I guess I’ll talk about it.
But the reason I’ve been hesitant is that I feel like productivity is really relative and it’s incredibly specific to individuals. What I’ll cover is not a one-size-fits-all approach to productivity.
Instead, I’m going to share tips for finding your OWN productivity, starting with another thing I hate talking about: mindset.
LISTEN TO EPISODE 178- TIPS TO INCREASE WRITER PRODUCTIVITY
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I want to start by saying that this whole conversation has the potential to derail people. When we talk about productivity, the danger is comparitivitis. You see someone else’s output and compare your own to it. No.
Productivity is not about how well you produce on a sliding scale. It’s not graded on a curve with all your peers.
When we talk productivity, it’s about getting the most bang for your buck. The BEST result with the least amount of wasted time, energy, and maybe even money.
I am NOT encouraging anyone to write as quickly as I do. I love it. Sometimes I burn out, but I still love it and come back to it. My head is FILLED with ideas and stories begging to get out. I feel fulfilled letting them out. Fast.
That may change at any time for me. And it’s not something I recommend. It’s what works for ME.
What this whole conversation should do for YOU is to help you discover the best methods to produce the best result with the least amount of wasted time, energy, and money.
I also want you to consider productivity without ANY negative thoughts. No guilt for what you’ve not done in the past. No feeling like you’ll never achieve what you want. No comparing.
Let’s move on.
THE MINDSET FOR PRODUCTIVITY
While I do often say that Create If Writing’s mission is to help reframe the conversation about author platform and marketing, I don’t love the term “mindset.”
It often goes hand-in-hand with another M-word I like even less: manifestation.
These are two different things, but both seem to deal with the idea of focusing on your inner workings. I’m an action girl.
I don’t want woo-woo. I want TO DO.
But how you frame things in your mind (see how I avoided the term mindset there?) is crucial. And I’ve seen in my own life how changing my attitude or how I viewed something had an visible and measurable impact.
My Personal Re-Framing
For years, I told myself and stated in podcast interviews that I wouldn’t write fiction until all five of my kids were in all-day school. (Which is still two an a half years away.) I was SURE of this.
Every time I tried to make writing novels work in my life with young kids, I failed.
I got angry. With them. With me. With life.
Frustration only made my writing worse. I didn’t want to be the mom angry with her kids because she’s working and they’re in the way. So, I told myself it was out of the question.
When our financial circumstances changed a bit and we were in need of some income, I decided to try writing something I hadn’t written before: clean romance. (Another mindset shift. Especially considering that I HATED romance before that time.) I wrote my first novel in a few months–far faster than the year plus it took me to write the novel that was my MFA thesis.
And then I wrote another novel in six weeks. Then one in two weeks.
Oh, and then I found that I actually love writing and reading romance. WHO KNEW. Not me, obviously, or I would have started in 2013 and made tons more money.
Identifying Your Blocks
When you’re thinking about productivity, you need to get out of your own way MENTALLY. This really goes two ways.
You need to stop putting too much pressure on yourself to live up to unrealistic standards.
You need to stop selling yourself short to think that you can NEVER do something.
This whole idea of productivity starts here. When you feel guilty and like you can’t ever do something, that is a dark cloud hanging over you. No–it’s like the cloud of dirt that follows Pigpen around in the Peanuts cartoons.
It has an impact. STOP IT. Easier said than done, but when you catch yourself in that negative spiral, remind yourself to step away. We call that stinkin thinkin in my house. No stinkin thinkin!
As for the second, when we put limits on ourself, we might miss what we’re capable of. I NEVER would have considered that I could write most of a 60k word novel in two weeks on an elliptical machine at the gym. That’s RIDICULOUS.
But in desperation to get out some words, I discovered that this works well for me. If I had been listening to my logical, though limiting, voice, I would have laughed and told myself not to write on my phone. I would have said to wait until I got home from the gym, until the kids were napping (ha! that doesn’t happen), or some other time that made more sense.
Instead, I discovered that I’m actually SUPER productive, maybe the MOST productive, tapping words into my phone on an elliptical machine.
So, when you’re being too limiting, you might miss learning something about yourself. Which brings us to the next big bit of productivity…
IDENTIFYING HOW YOU WORK
The “you” is very important here. I’m not saying that you need to identify what works well for someone ELSE. This is where you identify what works for YOU.
And not just YOU, generally.
You, right at THIS SECOND AND IN THIS SEASON.
Seasons Matter… and They Change
Seasons are important. While MAYBE I could have written novels sooner if I’d shut that limiting voice up in my head, maybe NOT.
Yes, we have more kids now and I’m writing more. But I also am doing a little more… coasting. (That’s a joke–there is NO COASTING in parenting.) What I mean is that I’ve gotten through toddlerhood with five kids intact.
NO ONE HAS DIED ON MY WATCH. (Yet. I’m such a worst-case scenario person, and am now knocking on all the wood.)
I feel like I’m struggling or limping through parenting five kids, but I have a rhythm and routine that I didn’t have four or five years ago. In some ways, having the first two was the hardest, as I was transitioning to the loss of that independence you don’t realize you have until you have kids.
That’s not to say that you can write off TRYING to be more productive. (That’s the next section.) Don’t let your season be a limiting belief, but also rest in it.
I wasn’t wrong when I told people a few years ago that I just couldn’t write novels at that season. I couldn’t. I can’t go back and what-if myself. It was TOO HARD. Not an excuse. A season.
It wouldn’t shock me if in a few years, I move away from this season where I feel like I have to get the words out and get them out NOW. Maybe I’ll burn out in a blaze of glory, or just need some rest. Or I’ll work on more literary novels, which are slower for me.
Ask yourself: What impact does my current season have on me? How does it shape my productivity?
Then, keep on pushing those limits. Try something new and ask yourself if your season has shifted to allow change. If not, keep on plugging away. But allow yourself to have the rhythm you have.
Figuring Out Your Best Work Habits
This is that space where it gets really personal, really fast. And I don’t have a lot of things to offer you. This little section is why I don’t tend to teach productivity.
Because I feel like what works for me is a little weird. I’M a little weird.
But it’s not about ME. It’s about YOU.
I asked in the Create If Writing Facebook group what tips people had and I’m going to list some here. (Once you’re in the group, this is the permalink for the conversation.)
First, you need ideas. You might need to read books on productivity or listen to podcasts. Ask your friends. See what people say in a Facebook group.
Then you try things. Again, don’t pressure yourself to fit in someone else’s box, but also don’t get stuck in a box of your own making. You might be surprised.
Here are some ideas from me, and some from the community:
- Time-activated playlists
- Dividing up daily tasks
- Creating daily schedules
- Using a to-do app
- Starting the morning looking at your day
- Planning out your week in one night
- Batching like tasks (as in: doing all images at one time, all social media scheduling another)
- Distraction-free devices or blocks of time
- Finding the right work zone
- Committing to one set time a day
- Having your favorite beverage, food, or other motivator
These are just a few ideas and things to consider.
Here are a few very specific things that have helped me the MOST.
Writing on my phone, not the computer. This one, as I’ve mentioned already, is huge. I can write about 3k words in an hour on the elliptical, which is USUALLY faster than my speed on the computer. Who knew! Must be endorphins.
Writing in Google Docs. I have my phone everywhere, so sometimes I’ll be random places and start writing in Google docs. It syncs with my computer. Recently, I went to work at the YMCA with my kids in their childcare… but forgot my computer. No worries! I sat and wrote on my phone in Docs.
Doing timed writing sprints. Usually people talk about sprints meaning a short time where your plan is to write quickly. I’m less about the word count (though I love a good word count) and more about the not doing ANYTHING ELSE while the timer is on. I like 27-minute timers (see? I’m weird) and a 3-5 minute break. Then I go again, if I have the time.
Scheduling a set writing time. This week, I’ve started planning my writing time between about noon and three. Most days, I have the ability to get at least two hours done with those 27-minute sprints. I have gotten SO MUCH DONE this week.
Accountability. I started the sprinting with a writing accountability partner (you rock, Jenna!!!) and also have been posting in Facebook threads in the Collective, the paid membership group I host. Even if we don’t start the timers at the same time, I know other people are writing and checking in at the same time that I am.
Finding my ideal workspace. Hint: it’s not at home. I CAN work at home, but usually I am distracted by the mess (especially in our current renovation) and the things that I also could do. It’s hard. Plus, no one leaves me alone. They just don’t. If kids are home, they WILL FIND ME. So, typically I leave and go to a coffee shop or the YMCA. Which brings me to …
Creative childcare options. I still remember the light bulb going off in my head when a mom mentioned in a Facebook group that she joined two gyms. They each have two hours a day of childcare included in the membership. So, as a stay-at-home working mom, she used those four hours to get much more affordable childcare than if she’d hired a babysitter. Kids were happy; she got work done. I’ve used our YMCA for that purpose for the last four years. I get 12 hours a week of childcare for something like $100 a month. Babysitters? Are like $20/hour.
Seek out different productivity solutions and try them.
Take personality tests to help you understand how YOU best work.
Let other people’s ideas inspire you, but then adapt them to work for YOU.
This last one is pivotal. If you do not challenge yourself, you may never realize how productive you could be.
Again, no guilt.
If you try and get a higher word count and can’t, DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP.
If you want to write a novel this year, one single novel, and your debilitating headaches won’t let you, LET IT REST AND COME BACK TO IT.
The point of challenging yourself is to discover what new or limiting beliefs you may have. It is to account for changing seasons and new rhythms.
It’s continual, not a one-time thing.
Try New Things You Don’t Think Will Work
This week, I started reading books on plotting. And I’m going to attempt to plot my next novel. If you’ve listened to the podcast, you may know that I’m a pantser. I have an idea for a story, maybe a middle, and an end, maybe just a start, and then I GO.
Remember? I’m an action girl.
And it works for me. I have no complaints right now about my productivity. Except that I would like to write MORE books. So. Many. Ideas.
So, why try something new?
Well, what if by considering myself a pantser, I’m missing out on how plotting could help me write better or faster? What if I can learn a NEW way of mixing plotting methods with my current working method to be even better? To have more cohesion and better stories? That’s more productive, even if I get slower.
But I might also get FASTER if I have more of a set framework.
This is me, challenging myself.
It might fail. And that’s fine too! I’ll keep the status quo. Then I can challenge myself again with something else later. Or, try plotting again in a year and see if it works better in that season.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON PRODUCTIVITY
For a woo-woo-hating, mindset-rejecting person, there sure is a lot about your frame of mind here.
Maybe you were expecting more specifics. Ones I can’t give.
I can’t tell you what to do. But I can share examples and ideas to get your wheels turning.
Because, again, productivity is about finding your BEST output with the least amount of wasted time, energy, and money.
Note that I didn’t say least amount of time, energy, and money.
It’s the least amount of WASTED time, energy, and money.
This might take time.
Your productivity output might not EVER be as fast as someone else. As long as you aren’t wasting your own time, energy, and money, THAT’S FINE.
We can challenge ourselves, learn from others, and try new things, but we can’t always change our circumstances and seasons. We also can’t really change much about how we’re wired. We just need to find better ways to work with ourselves.
Don’t let other people’s productivity cause you to stumble on your journey. Don’t get in your own way, either.
Find what works best for YOU, for RIGHT NOW. Then every so often, take a step back. Challenge yourself. Try something new. But keep on making the choices that are best for your own personal productivity.
DON’T MISS OUT ON THE COMMUNITY!
Other productivity resources:
Madison Michael says
Thanks for stepping out of your comfort zone to share your ideas for increasing productivity. I have been hungry for answers like this presented guilt-free. Goals, comparing and ‘mindset’ have indeed been holding me back. Comparing to you for example or setting an all or nothihg goal for the day. Learning that you struggled to find what worked for you puts me back in my proper head-space: what you do is what you do, this needs to be about how I can do better.
My head game “I can only write if I have a 2-hour block of quiet.” Do you know how rare a 2-hour block of quiet is in life? Of course, the books take forever. You have given me many suggestions to try instead. I love your example of the 27-minute sprint. I might have to experiment with an i-Pad on an exercise bike instead of a phone on an elliptical, but I adore the idea of combining exercise with writing. I need to do both.
Thank you for discussing plotting versus pantsing, too. I have been considering switching recently too. I am a fellow pantser but thought plotting might make me a faster writer. Your current speed makes the case for the pantser, just when I started to believe that a detailed outline was the only thing that would make the words flow more easily.
I look forward to trying a few of your ideas and seeing which ones help me boost my word count. Thanks again for sharing.
Lia M says
Great article! Inspiring. But most of all, I cannot get my head around the fact that you have 5 kids and manage to do so many amazing things at the same! I only have one kid and barely survive :))) My head is full of ideas and to-dos for my books and I never get around to do at least half of what I hope (which is less than you are already doing). Congrats!
Lizzie Comrie says
I don’t have children, but I’m sure my productivity is much lower than yours. It’s amazing where you find the time and motivation. I admire that!
For me, the basics of productivity are planning and the usual writing routine. I love scheduling time and following a plan (and get very frustrated when things don’t go according to plan). And I also need my workspace and familiar writing tools (I prefer to use Word and grammar check services). Also, podcasts and articles from writing communities motivate and set me up for the creative process: http://delmarvawriters.com/links-resources/ Yours is on my personal list, too. Surprisingly, it increases my productivity as I begin to believe in my writing powers.