The following post first appeared at Sowing Seeds of Grace and recounts the results of my one-week withdrawal from social media a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to share this post here because it also relates to my writing life.
Our hope reached to the edges of seeking to hear God in the silence when free of iPhones, tablets, laptops and other devices connecting us to a world filled with frenzy and constant news from family, friends and the world at large.
Today I am sharing what I heard in that week of silence.
Most of all, let me tell you: It. Was. Awesome!
My days felt free and my own. No “keeping up with” everyone posting on Facebook or Twitter.
Don’t get me wrong. I love connecting with family and friends and learning what’s going on in their lives. But I don’t really need it 24/7, nor do I need to sit down at the computer and before anything else, check in to see what’s new in social media.
In a perfect world, our days would be filled with limitless hours of writing time. However, ours is not a perfect world. At least mine isn’t.
Despite living in retirement, my days are still filled with what seem to be unending household chores, yard and gardening chores, errands, maintaining a small business other than my writing, and more.
I am not an expert on increasing writing productivity. Perhaps like you, I struggle every day trying to find the time to write.
If you look around–in books, on the Internet, magazine articles, there is a plethora of advice on how to increase your writing productivity.
Here’s a sampling of what I’ve found:
1. Eliminate Distractions.
As difficult as it may seem, sitting down to write means limiting distractions and interruptions. One easy tip is to close all open tabs on your computer and have only your manuscript or working document open. If you are still tempted to hop over to Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, perhaps an app like StayFocusd to limit the time you allow yourself to visit social media sites would help. StayFocusd is free to Google Chrome users. Other such apps include: Freedom, Anti-Social, RescueTime (my choice), and ColdTurkey. A search for “social media blocking apps” will offer a longer list.
2. What is Your Process?
Do you have a process for writing? Or do you sit down and just start writing? Are you enjoying the process of writing? Or have you started something that doesn’t please you or feel right?
Remember, you don’t have to be what everyone else is–historical novelist, memoirist, chick lit writer, biographer. You don’t have to write the same way every other writer does. You can be whomever you want to be as a writer.
Look around your space. What books do you see that you’ve kept after reading them? What fills your shelves? If those are the books you’ve enjoyed as a reader, maybe they fall into the genre you will enjoy writing. Take a good look at the process these writers chose. Discover the writer you want to be. Know yourself, and try to forget the critics.
3. Set a Daily Goal
Determine a daily goal, either by number of words or pages or choose a time increment, such as an hour or maybe two. If you choose to follow a time increment system for daily writing, set a timer for the amount of time. Then write until the timer goes off. A handy app for accomplishing this is Pomodairo, a Pomodoro time-based timer and task management app.
4. Give Yourself Breaks
After you’ve accomplished what you sat down to do, give yourself a break. Take a 10-15 minute walk or stretch, have a cup of tea or coffee, do something to move out of your chair and breathe fresh air. Perhaps you have a note or personal card to mail–write it and get it ready to go in the mail. If that load of laundry is ready to be folded, that will only take a few minutes. Do that. Just do something to refresh your mind and body.
5. Devise a Method to Follow Productivity
I did not realize how important this could be until I signed on to Jeff Goins’ Facebook group, My 500 Words. The goal in this group is to write 500 words each day on something you’re working on or using the provided prompt. It provides accountability, support and encouragement. The accountability is what I was searching for when I signed up. In the process of organizing the group, Jeff mentioned the importance of accountability, including following your own productivity. Not long after, I came across a link to a writing progress tracker developed by author Jamie Raintree. Simple to use and handy in an Excel document on my computer, I can easily log in the number of words I’ve written each day and on which blog or project. Jamie has entered all the formulas to calculate the daily, weekly and monthly word count. Thanks, Jamie!
6. Read Less, Write More
This is an area I need to improve on. I lose writing time each day because I think I should ready everything I find on becoming a better writer, how to write memoir, and more. I can’t resist the idea that someone has a better idea about how to write. Slowly I’m learning that I must stop reading what others think and get on with the writing. As I look around my writing space, there are dozens of books and articles on writing that I have yet to read and in that state they aren’t supporting my writing efforts. I’m finding I tend to learn more by doing than reading about how to do it. If I encounter a problem in my writing, then I’ll go look it up and see what I’ve missed in the doing.
7. Read Your Genre
There is one area you’ll want to read, and that is books in the genre you’ve chosen to write. From these writers, you will learn more about your chosen craft. Watch how they open and close chapters. See how they have developed their characters. How do they use dialogue? Then see if you can apply them to your work. This is not plagiarism as you’re not copying what they wrote–you are modeling the principles of writing they used.
8. Set Goals
Some of us are goal setters, and some are not. If you are so inclined, set large goals first. Then work backward from the deadline established for that goal and set smaller goals along the way to help in accomplishing the larger goal on time. For instance, if you want to publish your book after the first of the year, you will need to have it edited and revised in October or November to leave time for edits and rewrites. What this means is that the book needs to be finished in late summer. This is an example of how you need to set your goals in order to timely complete your project.
Accountability needs to be worked into goal setting. Perhaps there is someone you can tell about your goal(s). A critiquing partner, a writing group member, or a close friend or family member. You’ll note on the right sidebar I have a countdown set. Believe me, I see that more often than is comfortable these days. You can also set the dates on your calendar and set up pop-up reminders for each one.
9. Work When No One Else Is and/or When You Feel “On”
How do we know the best time of our 24 hours each day to write? Some writers wake early in the morning before their family members wake up, and they get in an hour or more of quiet writing. Young mothers who are writers wait eagerly for nap time. I read a post recently by Ellis Shurman on how he found an extra hour in his daily schedule of commuting, working fulltime, parenting and more. Others establish blocks of time on a calendar and then tell their family members they are off to write and are not to be bothered. (Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn’t!). Actually, for you it might be looking at what you have to carry out and doing that during the part of the day when feel your best, really “on.” Suit yourself. You are the writer.
10. Write Now, Edit Later
You have all heard it. Write until the first draft is completed. No stopping for edits, errors, corrections, rewrites–just write. The temptation for some of us who are Type A personalities to make that first draft perfect is overwhelming. I have finally taught myself to write, write, write–don’t stop. It hasn’t been easy but it does go faster when you’re not continuously stopping to make corrections. Once you’re finished with the draft, then you can sit down with a copy, or maybe you like to do your editing on the screen, and make the necessary corrections, perhaps a little rewriting here and there. I think we may all be familiar with Anne Lamott’s quote on this subject.
11. Bottom Line–Write Your Story and No Harpies Allowed
In your writing, be yourself. Be honest. Tell your story. It is after all your story. Yours to tell, and only you know it and can tell it. If you don’t write it down, how will anyone remember it after you’re gone? How will anyone ever read it and gain any perspective from your life experiences?
We mustn’t let the harpies get in our way. When one settles on your shoulder, close your ears to what you hear: “You can’t write.” “Who is going to read this garbage?” “What makes you think anyone wants to now what you think or feel?” “Get over yourself–you’re not a writer.” remember you are the writer, you own the story, and you can write it without any outside help.
This is not an exhaustive list. If you search the Internet, there are so many ideas about what we writers should do or not do in order to be productively producing our books and essays, our poetry and rhyme. Yet it all boils down to how it works best for each of us individually, doesn’t it?
Do you have a process that works for you? Are you willing to share ideas with the rest of us? Leave comments, ideas, questions, criticisms, etc. in the comments below. Let’s discuss!
With each post I read, I was tempted. Jeff makes a good case for his challenge. You’ll note in his post at the link above Jeff shares the following:
Here’s what I know about writing: It happens in small bites. Step by step. One little chunk at a time.
This sounded easier. I pondered the possibilities for three days and on January 4th I began the challenge.
I talked with friends who had signed up. And Jeff’s rules for the challenge made it seem like a reasonable challenge to help shape a new habit of writing daily. After all, Jeff’s own philosophy of 500 Words says it all:
My 500 Words is a 31-day challenge designed to help you develop a daily writing habit and become a better writer.
I will be the first to tell you that I didn’t write every day. This is obvious since I didn’t begin until January 4th. But there were other days where life did intervene, and I didn’t write. A longstanding rule in our home before and after retirement, Sundays are reserved for family time and to honor the Sabbath. I knew those days I wouldn’t be writing.
At the end of January 31st, I had written a total of 16,011 words, many more than I had written per month when I started the challenge.
And the challenge goes on even with Jeff in Africa and February underway. A strong community has grown on Facebook where we gather to record our successes and not so successful days. With January’s success, I intend to stick with the challenge in February.
No matter the context of the writing challenge you choose to take part in, the following tips may be helpful to you:
Set aside a time each day specifically for writing, hopefully away from distractions.
Do not edit as you write–free write. There’ll be time later for editing.
Remember: This is to help develop the habit of writing every day.
If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Life intervenes, and there’s always tomorrow.
If you don’t make the goal each day, at least write something.
Hopefully, your writing will be on a specific project but perhaps it won’t. That’s OK too.
Allow yourself freedom to write and let the words flow.
My takeaway:I now realize I can sit down and write almost every day, and I can forgive myself on the days that I don’t. And I finished the 31-day 500 Word Challenge!
My goal now is to write every single day. Writing is my passion, and my passion feeds the rest of my life.
And for you, why not consider coming along with us in February to get a feel for how this challenge works? You just might like it!
Often life does. Somehow it manages to stay far enough in the background that you don’t sense it moving in to your plans.
2014 started out with interruptions.
My husband and I were both hit with health issues. For him the issues he’s facing are enough to change the “who does what” around our home. I have assumed the tasks he usually does on top of my own. My appreciation for what he does regularly is growing daily.
Each day I have looked at the list of goals I carefully wrote out, and I’ve despaired that I’m falling behind. But I don’t want my husband to feel guilty. So, I say nothing and my mind whirrs with the schedule that’s already off.
But wait — should our goals be so rigid they make us miserable?
Where does it say that attainable goals should be met on a given day, unless an outside source has set a deadline?
Is it healthy to be so inflexible as to ignore circumstances around you in favor of goals?
One can strive to complete the goals, ignoring life’s needs, or
one can be flexible enough to adjust those goals to fit them into the current circumstances of your life.
I would rather have not been faced with choosing to adjust my goals or set some of them aside temporarily. But it would have been my greater choice not to have my husband ill.
When thinking of goals, we must also think of flexibility, patience, and resolve:
Flexibility to accept and adjust;
Patience to wait out the current circumstances; and
Resolve to return to our goals and continuing striving toward the finish line.
Do you have thoughts about the rigidity of goals or resolutions? Are you willing to make adjustments and allow the circumstances to take over temporarily?