Where should I write? When should I write? How much should I write each day? Should I outline? Should I wing it?
Yes, as a matter of fact, I can hear the voices in your head, because they reside on a crowded, noisy street where writers of every caliber (including me) are often found—asking the same questions.
I wish I had a spoonful of sugar to help this medicine go down, but I don’t: Your daily discipline will make or break you as a writer. Books don’t make it to the bookstore shelf by your hoping for a series of productive writing days. I know. I’ve written more than 185 of them.
So here’s a humble offering of what works for me, in the hope that these may add some premium fuel to your writing week.
10 Productivity Tips for Serious Writers
- Write in a life-giving place. When my writing cave was a hotel room or some other remote location, my time away from my wife Dianna was far less productive because it was so lonely. Nowadays, my writing cave is 100 feet from the house, so we’re together for meals or whenever I need a break or just want to see her. And when I’m done writing each day, she is my reward.
- Know your body clock. First thing in the morning is the best time for me to write, before anything else has begun to cloud my brain. What I write before noon is usually my best work, and the most I’ll complete all day. If you’re a night person, write at night.
- Write rested. Whether you’re a morning person or a night person, both, or neither, write when you feel most rested. But don’t wait until you’re completely cogent, coherent, and inspired or you may never get to the keyboard. You get better by flexing those writing muscles.
- Set daily milestones. I know how many pages I need to finish each day to make my deadline. If you keep track by number of words, fine. But monitor your progress for that satisfying sense of accomplishment—and, more importantly, to stay on pace.
- Tap into your muse. Ideas seem to hit me most often in the shower. Maybe the water stimulates my brain. I learned years ago to trust what some call the Muse. My muse is spiritual, that vital part of the creative subconscious I have surrendered to God. Foreshadowing and plot threads appear as I write. I may not be sure at the time why I include certain things, but later in the manuscript, the reasons become obvious. It’s important to know where your muse resides and to be able to access it.
- Talk out your story. Many writers, primarily novelists, fear losing their creativity if they utter even a word of their story before getting it written. I find, however, that when I tell my story to someone I trust, I tend to expand on it, embellish it, flesh it out. Try that and see if works for you.
- Jump-start the process instead of staring at a blank screen or page. Like stretching before exercise, I start my writing day with a heavy edit and rewrite of my previous day’s work. That seamlessly catapults me into today’s writing.
- Turn off your internal editor. Once you’re into the new day’s writing, leave its revision to the next day and get that first draft produced. Consider it a hunk of meat that can be carved later. If you’re editing while trying to create, you’ll stifle your creativity.
- Know when to stop. If things go well and I reach my goal before noon, I resist the temptation to try to knock out another batch of pages to make the next day easier. That’s it for the day. But on the other hand, if for some reason it takes till midnight to finish my pages for today, I stay with it. I don’t want to fall behind and be forced to write more tomorrow.
- Stay at the task. It’s easy to beat ourselves up for falling behind or not producing at the level we or our editors) expect. The solution? Get your seat back in that chair and tell yourself yesterday is gone. Today is spilling over with fresh, pristine hours, and nothing—I mean nothing—will feel as good as actually doing the work. Poet Mary Oliver says, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”I plan to write. How about you?
I’d love to know your writing rituals. What works for you?