10 Productivity Tips for Serious Writers

productivity tips for writersWhere 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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?

Related Posts:

How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps

How to Write a Memoir: A 3-Step Guide

How to Write Short Stories That Captivate Your Reader

  • Debbi Vaughn

    Great advice. Hemingway once said of the discipline of writing, “Some days it comes easy and other days it’s like busting rock.” He went on to explain, the you stay with it and bust the rock. Thank you for your encouraging words.

    • I know the feeling. What writes easily reads hard, and vice-versa. :)

    • Others have said writing is easy, Debbi. You just sit at the keyboard and open a vein. :) I find the easier the writing, the harder the editing, and vice versa. What writes hard reads easy and what writes easy reads hard.

  • Debbi Vaughn

    Great advice. Hemingway once said of the discipline of writing, “There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” Thank you for your encouraging words; I’ll remember them when I’m drilling rock.

    • I know the feeling. What writes easily reads hard, and vice-versa. :)

  • Andrew Winch

    I wish someone could do a study to reproduce the creative flow and inspiration that always seems to strike while showering. When I try to clear my mind in bed, I fall asleep. At dinner, I get yelled at. The only other place that seems to be as effective is at church, during sermons. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that…

    • Ha! I hear you, Andrew. And I’m a shower-idea guy too. I’ve heard it’s because the water actually stimulates the brain. Better have a notepad next to your towel when you get out, eh? And reproducing that phenomenon? Maybe try massaging your head while you’re at the keyboard? Worth a try.

  • DiAnn Mills

    Always the best advice for serious writers. I appreciate you!

  • Thank you for your encouragement to keep working at the craft. I’m reminded that Christian writers are not in completion with each other, but one further ahead reaches back to help those struggling. Thank you for your willingness to mentor.

    • Thanks, Dee. I was selflessly helped by someone whose writing I admired as a teenager, and I vowed I would pass it along if I ever saw similar success. It’s an honor. And you’re right. If you withhold knowledge or inside information because of some misguided idea that it will give you a leg up on the competition, who does that serve?

  • Laura Cordill

    Thank you , Jerry for the tips and encouraging words. I am a first time writer. I find my best ideas are after my prayer and evening Bible study. I find that I have emptied out all the junk of the day. Sometimes I will even wake up with an idea during the night. I keep a tablet beside my bed just so I can jot it down and have it to work on first thing in the morning. I also get extra ideas when I am telling a bit to someone. Laura B. Cordill

    • That rare evening writer, eh, Laura? Good for you. And, yes, I resonate with the telling of your idea to someone. It help you focus, doesn’t it?

  • Brianna Wasson

    Hello, Jerry. Thank you for this post. I struggle with the discipline of writing on a regular basis. (I seem to lack butt-glue to help me stay in my seat.) The idea of writing in a life-giving place is especially helpful for me right now. I’ve been beating myself up a lot lately for needing to be in a place where other people are (i.e. Starbucks or the library). But this tip helps me realize I am energized by the presence of others. So I don’t need to feel bad about it. I just need to be disciplined enough to have purpose and discipline when I get there. So thanks. Also, the idea of getting a jumpstart on the day by rewriting the previous day’s work — brilliant. That blank screen is daunting.

    • I hear you, Brianna. Me too. And other people CAN be invigorating. I take comfort in the fact that multi-tasking is a myth, and when you are really focused on your work and your story, your brain will tune out conversations, even those right next to you.

  • Lisa W Smith

    Good summary of the routine and the need for it. I ponder, sort and pray through ideas in the afternoon and evening, then they come together in the morning. I really like the idea of a writing cave, hidden away from distractions…Thanks for the encouragement of “being there with us”!

  • Carolyn McBreen Gibbs

    Thank you Jerry! Some of these I have learned over the years, some was new. I always learn something new, and am grateful for those opportunities. I love writing on our deck in nice weather. Our lot line is all pine trees, and suits my mood when I write. In winter, I like being in front of the fireplace. I used to go to our Christian Book Store have coffe, and write in their coffee shop. I need to be in a place that soothes my soul. I like soft music in the background too.

  • Joyce E. Johnson

    I write in the morning or afternoon, or both when I can be alone and stay focused. I try to get one or more pages done if it is a fiction story. Or I will do a poem in one sitting, edit or revise till done and satisfied. I keep notebooks in every room of my house for a fast and furious muse when it is flowing. :) I will often get new ideas when out walking with my husband and dog and will take a tiny notebook, pen and my camera for shooting photos to use with my poetry, or use them as prompts for new story ideas. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with ideas, or go to sleep thinking on the next chapter in my story, or a new project idea and have to write it down, then I sleep better. :) Although I usually edit or revise as I go along from chapter to chapter I see the benefit in just getting down that first full draft as you suggested. It is when I get stumped on how to move my story forward when I find I need to go back and properly outline it first. Thanks, Jerry for the tips and help.

    • Focused says it all, doesn’t it, Joyce? That can be elusive, and precious.

      • Joyce E. Johnson

        Most definitely, Jerry. For me, I have to shut out all distractions, noise and interruptions.

  • heather letto

    I’m definitely a part of the morning-only club! As long as I stay in jammie mode with coffee in hand, I’m golden. However, the moment, I step into the realm of ‘today-world” my creativity gets sucked out by the evil task vacuum! Thanks for reminding me (and validating!) my uber humanness!

    • We need to start a club, don’t we, Heather?

      • heather letto

        LOL…yes! But there would have to be a no talking (or slurping) rule… I’m a bit anti-social (dare I say snarky?) at that time of the day.

  • Steve Carmeli

    Jerry, I don’t have much trouble with some of these and could of course stand to write daily. But I prefer to write when I have something to say, not for the sake of burning electricity. Still, the problem I’d like your help with is efficiency. I take so long to produce. Will I improve over time, or are there some techniques to improving efficiency?

    • You bring up an interesting dichotomy, Steve. I think it’s akin to the difference between training and competing for an athlete. If the athlete preferred only to move when he was competing, he might find his muscles atrophied when he needed them. I would urge you to write even when you don’t have anything to say to others. Say it anyway, just to exercise those muscles. You don’t have to try to sell or publish everything you write. Write for fun, as a way to think and process…to train.

      • Steve Carmeli

        OK. Thought I’d share with you that I made a pretty, formatted version of your 10 Productivity tips that I intend to refer to often, and emailed a writer friend a copy. I suppose your relevant tips are “Set daily milestones” and “Stay at the task.” I appreciate your analogy. Thanks.

  • Jerri Sisk Harrington

    I know the best time for me to write is in the morning when the house is quiet, coffee is brewing and my husband is working. He’s working, I’m working. My morning routine often takes over my writing, however. I put in a load of laundry, make the beds, straighten up and exercise. Before I know it, morning is gone. Afternoons are not my best time. I also study my Bible in the morning, and my best writing flows from that time with God. I am changing my routine for good.

    • Knowing and doing are too often two different things, aren’t they, Jerri. We are without excuse. :)

  • Love these tips and yes–they are true!
    I don’t what it is about editing previous work that just seems to launch me into writing again. It is the rocket for my writing momentum. I probably get back into the story, feel it and drive it. It is my cockpit, my joystick, my throttle…in a sense :D Thanks for the wonderful reminder!

    http://www.realitywriter.wordpress.com

  • Bill Howard

    During the weekdays, I write on the train, to and fro, with pencil and notebook (no, it’s not a story about a man on a train). I get about 10 pages a day, 2200 words, of new material. On the weekends, I wake early to edit a previous draft of another story. During the day and night I make notes as ideas come to my mind as I dwell on a story or just daydream watching clouds roll by.

    • You’re following a VERY successful precedent, you know, Bill. The late Ken Taylor, when he was Director of Moody Press back in the ’60s, rode the train to and from Chicago and his home in Wheaton every day. He spent that time writing the Bible in language his 10 children could understand. He then self-published the result as Living Letters, then The Living New Testament, then The Living Bible, founded Tyndale House, and what is now The New Living Translation has sold more than 40 million copies.

      • Bill Howard

        That is a fascinating story. The train ride reveals faces, young and old, energetic and worn, exuberant and exhausted. When I look up, from time to time, there is always one soul looking at me. They may grin or look away, perhaps wondering, “What is this monstrous hulk of humanity possibly writing about?” Thanks for all you do bro!

  • David Young

    I really like these e-mail helps. They always resonate with my thinking and writing, especially this one.
    I also break up my writing at natural breaks with prayer. I may write to a stopping place or occasionally a goal, then I read a paragraph or so from the Bible and pray through a prayer list. Then I resume writing spirituality refreshed.

    • Thanks for your kind comments, David. And for your good ideas.

  • T-S-7

    I don’t write for a living…yet, so I don’t have a set agenda. I do most of my writing here at work (where I am now–I’m a night shift nurse and when the patients sleep I write). When I write at home I have my earbuds in blasting away Kutless or some other Christian rock band I like. For some reason it helps me to think….believe it or not :-)

    Dave

    • Whatever works, right, Dave?

      • T-S-7

        Amen, brother!

    • Reagan

      I am the exact same… inspiration comes best when you’re blasting music! Love Kutless but prefer Tobymac though :)

    • Whatever works, Dave. And the discipline you develop when you’re not writing for a living will serve you well if ever take that major step.

      • T-S-7

        The ‘major step’ taking is something I wouldn’t mind pursuing. But all the hoops you have to jump through to get that first published book….
        I enjoy being a nurse and I enjoy writing. I don’t have hoops in the nursing field (nursing school was the only hoop I’ll ever jump through for this career) and I just don’t have the….patience for the writing ones. I’ll be 57 in a few months, approaching retirement age. Maybe after I get my 5th or 6th book written (I’m working on numbers 3 and 4 right now) or when I’m fully retired.
        But thanks for the encouraging words, my brother!
        Dave

  • echarlesgiunta

    I appreciate the manner in which your blogs set the stage for me to rethink what I’m doing when my discipline strays. While subtle at times, running off course does happen and it’s helpful when I’m checking my emails (instead of writing) to get those words of encouragement and refocus from you. Thanks…Gene

  • Michael Sayre mikie

    Jerry;
    That is just what the doctor ordered! Now it is time for the patient to take his medicine!

    Thank you for your helpful tips!

    Michael.

  • Myrtle Thompson

    What hope is there for the missionary stories of an 87 year old lady? Are there still readers for them? I am working on mine.

    • The secret to selling a memoir, Myrtle, is the universality of the stories. Scour what you learned for transferable principles. Your experiences are rare and in many ways unique, of course, which should make them intriguing, but they’ll really connect if readers can somehow see themselves in them. The movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a surprise hit because the writer/star made it work that way. Those of us with no familiarity of that sect were drawn in because we saw our own faith histories in hers. Capture that, and there will be a market for what you’re writing.

      • Myrtle Thompson

        Thanks. I am working on that very idea. mvt

  • Reagan

    Perfect advice, Jerry! The internal editor is the worst enemy of writing, and it’s hard to fight! I’ve learned that when I ‘tap into my muse’, I have to write things down right then or I’ll forget it. When the Lord gives you inspiration, You just have to answer! Writing for the Lord brings a person closer to Him than anything!

    P.S., Just a question, since CWG was shut down, Will there be anything on this site similar to Operation First Novel or Manuscript critiques?

    • I agree with you on that pesky internal editor, Reagan, but it appears you’re getting a handle on it.

      Yes, everything I offered through CWG is going to be here in some form, plus much more.

  • Sharon Williams

    Wow! What awesome advise. I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of writing. I’ve never been consistent enough and I’ve got a couple books I’ve started but I just can’t see my way to finishing. I’m more motivated than ever. Thanks!

    • That’s music to my ears, Sharon. Now if you can detect the tiny typo in your comment, I’ll give you a dollar off The Christian Writer’s Market Guide 2015-16 when it releases in a few weeks. :)

      • Sharon Williams

        LOL. Advice, not advise. I guess I should become more diligent at proofreading my own writing.

  • I have found I’m most productive using your tips, and I want to thank you for staying in touch even if Christian Writers Guild isn’t. I use most of the time tips #3, 5, 7, 8. Also, I put music in the background that reflects the mood of the character whose point of view I’m writing in.

  • Elisa Yager

    Okay, so I’m using your tips as God’s way of poking me in the arm and saying, “Get back to it!” My novel has been sitting in my computer for about 10 years and yep, I need to get back to it.
    Thanks Jerry, for allowing God to use you to motivate me.

  • Pam Richards Watts

    This was very helpful and encouraging, thanks! Glad to hear I’m not the only one with a “Shower Muse!” I’ve taken to keeping a notepad near the bathroom JIC….

    • Ha! Been there. Some say this happens because the warm water massages the brain. Works for me. :)

      • Pam Richards Watts

        Sometimes I find that getting up and emptying the dryer is just the thing to kick writer’s block. I’ve yet to figure that one out….

  • Patricia Solis

    I have been in a hold mode for many years and the tips I just read were very inspiring. I just need to stop procrastinating on what God has put in my heart to do and finish my book.

  • Glenys Nellist

    What great tips Jerry! I wrote half my book and gave up. One day, my husband said “Why would you leave your book half finished? What would have happened if Noah had built half a boat?” It was just what I needed to hear. God cannot publish half a book. No publisher can publish half a book. One year later, it was in the hands of Zondervan & the rest is history.

  • J Eliot Mason

    Everything here totally hits the mark. It also makes me feel slightly relieved. Before I start a project, I have a firm deadline in mind. I am super anal about goals. I calculate the day’s word count based on days, weeks, and months until my goal. At least up to my second draft. I allow myself some wiggle room for the final edit.

  • Gisele Currah

    1:10 am is not my best time. Therefore, not a good time to write. That being said I’m going to bed now that I may be rested when it is the best time for me to write; morning!! :)

  • Cindy Kross

    The ten tips have been very helpful for me. I ended up moving to a coffee shop to write because at home I was thinking of other things that I needed to do. Now i have a cup of tea and the time goes so quickly as the words form characters and plots that I was unable to imagine at home. Setting a daily milestone has worked well for me!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Great, Cindy. Whatever works, right?