Do you find yourself staring at a blank page despite trying many different tactics to be more productive? Then it may be time to try something new. Here are six tips and tricks that will help you get more done.
To write well, you must write. Which is advice that sounds easy to do when someone else gives it you at a party, over the phone, or while you’re at an author’s book signing event. But when it comes to the art of sitting down, with a pen in hand, or a keyboard underneath your palms, you may find yourself making every excuse in the book so you can avoid starting to write that book, that essay, that blog post, or even that email.
Perhaps, in the past, you have tried to get ridiculously strict with yourself. You set a recurring alarm to bother you at exactly 4:35 a.m., Monday through Friday, so that you could have enough time to wake up, brew a fresh pot of coffee, and write for an hour or two before heading off to work or beginning your morning chores. You spent a good amount of cash on one of those fancy notebooks that fit nicely in your purse or backpack so that you could have something to hold your most memorable on-the-go thoughts, phrases, or paragraphs. You may have even invested in a reliable laptop, one that’s the perfect size to fit on any table at any coffee shop or desk, or on your lap while you sit for hours on the couch, brainstorming your next sentence, like a chess player planning their very next move.
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But if you have found that your alarm clock or your writing devices have failed you, or just not motivated you enough to put in the time, every single day, to write, then it might be time for some additional tips and tricks that will get you spending quality time, face-to-face, with your very own words, instead of pieces of blank paper.
To get you started, here are six tips that will help you step up your writing productivity game every day.
Turn off your Wi-Fi
When you sit down to write, turn off your Internet connection – whether on your phone, your computer, or your tablet. That way, as you are writing, you won’t be tempted to pause for a few minutes…which turns into a few half-hours…to browse the internet or catch up on what your friends have been up to on social media. You also won’t be able to check emails, respond to messages, or read the news, which may put you into a funk that will make you want to ditch your writing goals for the day.
Turning off your Wi-Fi – or even shutting off your non-writing devices, like phones and tablets – will help you stay productive during the time you have designated as your writing period for the day.
Find your own writing atmosphere
Think back to days in the past when you were a writing machine. When the words flowed so well and you found that you were writing a couple thousand words, or for a few hours, without giving into any distractions. Where were you? What was around you? Was it hot? Was it cold? Was it loud? Was it silent?
Imagine what you believe is your most productive writing atmosphere and try to recreate that every time you sit down to write. For some, writing at public places, like a local library, a coffee shop, or even on a train or airplane, is what gets them fired up in the creativity department. For others, they crave silence, privacy, and the comfort of their own desk, couch, or corner of their home.
Thinking about the details of your ideal writing environment (right down to what you should be wearing, drinking, eating, and sitting on) can help you design a situation that breathes your own kind of comfort and cuts out any unnecessary environmental distractions that you know will annoy you or cut into your focus.
Begin with a free write
When you’re ready to spend an hour or two writing, one of the things that may make your time less productive is simply the art of starting. Figuring out what your first word, sentence, or even paragraph should be can weigh on you so much that you won’t do anything except hit your keys a few times or draw squiggly lines on your paper.
Or perhaps you’ve found yourself starting out with a solid first paragraph but no idea what to write next. You may even have gotten a full page of writing done but now find yourself suffocated by self-edits or wondering if what you wrote was good, which is putting your writing for the day at one giant, seemingly endless, pause.
The best way to begin your daily writing is with a no-strings-attached free write. Whether or not you’re timing your writing session or aiming to hit a certain amount of words, begin by closing your eyes and letting yourself write for five minutes. Try not to pause from writing, read what you wrote, or try to plan what you will write next. Consider this a warm-up to get your fingers woken up and your brain ready to write out the next part of your story.
After you’ve done this warm-up, you either can delete what you wrote or use parts of it. Either way, it will be a good way for you to begin, without having the pressure of writing something brilliant the moment you sit down.
Pick a reliable time of day
Depending on the person, our minds, bodies, and moods function well together at certain times of the day. For some of us, waking up early and writing is an easy and enjoyable way to kick off the day. For others, sleeping in and snoozing their alarm clock for 45 minutes is the only way they are able to start the day. Some people find they feel extra creative only when the sun goes down, when it feels like the entire rest of the world has gone to sleep.
Get to know yourself and your mind and body exchange. What time works best for you? Can you carve out a chunk of time to write then? If so, then pick that period as your reliable writing time of the day.
If not, it may be a good idea to examine why that time makes you feel the most productive. Is it because you’ve had enough rest right before? Is it because you drank a few cups of morning coffee? How about because it’s the time of day when people at work seem to leave you alone and you’re void of new emails or phone calls coming in? Once you determine why that time of day is a jackpot for your creativity, see if you can recreate that “why” in other moments of the day when you may have the time to write. That might mean a 20-minute nap or a shot of espresso is the trick to creating a new reliable time of the day for you to write.
Schedule it on your calendar
If you are the kind of person who schedules everything on the calendar and takes those appointments seriously (meaning you would never just not show up for a dental appointment or book club meeting), it may be a good idea to schedule your daily writing. Even if you have a busy and unpredictable schedule, blocking out the time to write will get you in the habit of being productive with your writing goal.
Set your writing schedule either at the start of the week (based on what you have planned out for that week so far) or every night before you go to sleep. That way, when you wake up in the morning to start your day, you will be able to see what time you have blocked off for writing, whether it’s only 20 minutes, an hour, or several hours.
Have a plan in advance. So when distractions (like long midday lunch outings with your friends or a marathon of your favorite TV show) happen, you’ll have a harder time giving into them and ignoring your schedule. You’ll also be able to look forward to your daily time with your words, rather than finding yourself stressed out about when you will find the time to write during an extra-chaotic day.
Get an accountability buddy
You might have the best intentions when it comes to writing. But more often than not, life gets in the way, and you might find that even though you have scheduled a specific time to write every single day, you’re not in the mood, and you would rather use that time for something else, like a nap, a walk outside, or binge-watching your new favorite show.
Team up with an accountability buddy. Perhaps there’s a fellow writer or someone else in your life who you trust, respect, and know you will listen to who you can ask to be your buddy. Set goals with one another, whether it’s a daily word count or a certain amount of writing time each day, and hold each other accountable for them. If you are open to sharing your daily work with them, doing a writing swap can allow you to get instant feedback that might inspire you to make changes or keep you on track when you pick up where you left off the next day.
After you find a person you feel comfortable doing this with, set goals and rules before beginning. You may also want to set consequences for one another, whether it is if they miss a day, they must write double their word count the next day, or they have to donate money to the other person’s charity of choice.
Understand that changing your productivity does involve keeping yourself on a set schedule, whether that’s picking a specific daily time to write or simply making sure you write for a certain amount of minutes each day. It’s important to create a focused environment so that you have consistency around you when you sit down to write.
But whether you’re just starting out with a consistent writing habit or you’ve been trying to perfect this for quite some time, the very best thing you can do to drastically improve your writing productivity is block out all distractions and, then, simply write.
—Jen Glantz is the founder of the viral business Bridesmaid for Hire, the creator of the blog The Things I Learned From, and the author of the Amazon best-selling book All My Friends are Engaged. Her new book, Always a Bridesmaid for Hire, published by Simon & Schuster, is available now. She is a freelance writer for more than 25 different websites, including Today.com, Glamour.com, Prevention.com, BRIDES Magazine, and Bumble (the dating app). She teaches creative nonfiction and memoir writing at Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City.