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5 Things That Have Helped Me Become A More Productive Writer

Sara General

Like many of you, I work a full-time job and manage a variety of other important commitments in addition to trying to write books and learn about publishing. Vacations come far and few between and so over time (a very long time) I've come across different things that help me to be more productive on a day-to-day basis. I was on vacation this past week and managed to get quite a lot done, which made me reflect on what's helped me get to this point. Maybe some of this will be helpful to you, too!

1. Figure out when you're at your creative best

At the top of my productivity goals is making sure I'm getting words on the page every day. That hasn't always been easy for me. For many years, I struggled to find the time to write. And not just the time to write - but time when I was at my creative best. 

For me, this turned out to be first thing in the morning. I've known for a while now that if I wait until the end of the day, I'm too exhausted to write and worse, my creative energy might not get used at all - since my job can sometimes be very administrative in nature. 

Certainly, your time might be different than mine. For example, I know some people who write better at night or who write even earlier than I do (such as those in the #5amwritersclub). The important thing is getting to know yourself and when/how/where things flow best. Try out different times and see what works for you. 

2. I Started Using A Smartphone

This is a small thing but worth mentioning because it really did change things for me. For nearly five years I carried a Blackberry as my work phone. Then I carried a separate pay-as-you-go phone for personal texts. At the time my work-life balance was probably 80 percent work and 20 percent life. Not a very good balance. When I finally moved on from that job, I changed phones. I chose a Samsung Galaxy because I liked that it was a larger device than the iPhone. It was great because I started using a lot more apps that I hadn't with my previous devices. Before the Galaxy, I hadn't been using Twitter very much (which is crazy because Twitter is now my favourite and number one place to go learn and interact with other writers). Once I had it, I also started using Instagram and Pinterest a little bit more. When the iPhone 6 came out with a slightly bigger screen I made the switch and have been so happy ever since. With the switch to the iPhone I started to use more of the productivity and image apps. My favourite productivity app is Evernote. I use it for so many things but primarily lists (character names, place names, book ideas, unique phrases) and scheduling reminders (writing/publishing goals and booking cover art designers/editors). My favourite image app is Enlight. 

Finally, I love having everything in one place. I can listen to music (I like brainstorming to music by Two Steps From Hell) or noises (I've recently started listening to thunderstorms while writing) while I work. 

Now certainly, not every writer needs a smartphone but I can definitely say I get a lot out of mine.  

3. I Started Reading More

Reading is at the top of most writer's "how to write lists" for a reason. It helps with everything. Ideas. Understanding what's possible. Being exposed to words. Being inspired by other people's creativity. Taking a break from the grind of writing and recharging your batteries   

I typically get through upwards of 25 books a year, not including the reading I do for school. It used to be 50 by I dialled things back a bit after I had my daughter and am in the process of dialling them back up again. 

I also read a lot of nonfiction books about publishing. I don't usually count those as part of my fiction 25 but they are definitely valuable reads. 

4. I Switched to Scrivener

Like I mentioned in this post, I've had Scrivener for a number of years but didn't use it right away because it crashed a lot when I first tried it and the idea of losing writing terrified me. 

A few weeks ago, I downloaded it again and watched a webinar with Joanna Penn and the Scrivener coach. Since then, my writing productivity has sky rocketed in a few different ways. 

For example, I was able to quickly outline all of the scenes I could already picture happening thanks to Scrivener's drag and drop function. Scenes that need more development, I can still make a record of and put under the Ideas tab. I've also been able to use the 'Research' tab to pull my research for into one place so that I could write and access it without having to close the Scrivener window and open my browser. This feature alone helped kickstart a nonfiction project I'd been struggling to outline for the last six months. 

Finally, while it didn't improve my productivity as a writer but certainly improved my productivity as an indie publisher - I learned how to use the compile function to make ebooks. 

Oh. And did I mention how great it is to have everything in one place? Amazing. 

5. The Monthly Twitter Writing Challenge

I haven't shouted out the monthly writing challenge in quite a while though I've talked about it in plenty of posts. The challenge is one of my favourite online communities and one I found it at exactly the right time. Two years ago I had finally managed to start writing upwards of 300 words every day for a few months. Then I had a baby in May 2014. I was a bit worried I would lose my writing momentum and was looking for a way to keep myself motivated. Then I stumbled on the challenge.  It had simple rules: write a minimum of 500 words a day or edit for 1 hour. Tweet your word counts with the monthly hashtag and enter the count in a Googledocs spreadsheet. Super simple and super effective. 

Since May 2014 I've logged over 300,000 words in the forms of novels, novellas and short stories. I've edited for over 100 hours and have 9 stories that will be published in the next 6-12 months. It typically takes me about 15-30 minutes to get 500-1,000 words. For example, I started a new project a little over a week ago and I'm already at 16,000 words. At the very least, by participating every day I log a minimum of 3500 words a week (this last week I logged 6,984 words) and can typically have a rough draft of a book done in 4 months (depending on what kind of book it is). 

Takeaways?

Writing is the thing that fuels everything else that I do. It's the thing that makes me the happiest and like Hugh Howey often writes, it's something I would gladly pay to do. Being productive only increases that happiness and actually finishing, formatting and putting together books has become my all time favourite thing to do. 

I'm super grateful for all of the things, big and small, that have helped me get to this point and I'm always on the look out for more. More tips. More tricks. Anything that will help me grow as a writer and/or manage my time that little bit better. What about you? Do you set goals for your writing? What's helping you achieve them?

Til next time, happy writing! 

S.