Today’s post is written by Lauren Mead.
Write every day, and eventually you’ll get published, you’ve heard. But how, exactly, do you jump-start your writing practice to be more productive?
Maybe you’ve heard that establishing a solid routine can help you write more. Jack Kerouac only wrote by candlelight. Susan Sontag got up every day at eight in the morning without fail and would only write with felt tip pen. Ernest Hemingway famously wrote standing up. Lots of famous writers have quirky rituals that helped them write their masterpieces. For the rest of us, here are some simple and life-altering changes that will take your writing to the next level.
Go Old School
Instead of checking Twitter first thing in the morning, opt for writing freehand in a notebook. According to one Indiana University study, writing by hand is an excellent cognitive exercise for keeping the mind sharp because it increases neural activity. Writing by hand helps to jump-start your creative thoughts, while still keeping you focused. In fact, Margaret Atwood is said to write her novels by hand, scene by scene and only later does she transcribe them. This seems like a lot of extra work, I’ll admit, but when I tried this tip myself, I found that not only was I more focused (no Facebook, Twitter, etc., to distract me) but I was also less worried about what I wrote down knowing that later when I transcribed each scene I would have a chance to edit as I transcribed. It felt freeing, which is always a great way to start the morning.
I don’t find gum to be appetizing at all, but when it comes to getting creative juices flowing and staying on task, sometimes chewing gum can help give your productivity a turbo-boost. According to a study done by Cardiff University in 2013, chewing gum can have a positive effect on concentration and memory. Participants who chewed gum in the study even found that on top of having better focus, they reacted more quickly to stimuli. If you’re having trouble staying the course and finishing your work, it’s worth a try.
Pick one task and finish it – often, when we’re trying to get lots of things done, we try to do them all at once. What ends up happening is messy. We leave loose ends untied. We forget about characters. We don’t edit that last scene until it is just right, because there is too much happening in our brains. (Or is this just me?) I’m guilty of starting too many writing projects, but I find that when I slow down and hyper-focus on just one project until it is ready, the results are more pleasing. I don’t have to submit short stories to as many places, because I’m not editing as I go. So give your brain a break and choose one task (or story), and write it well.
Throw Stuff Away
Normally, the only time that I clean my house is when I’m procrastinating. You know the drill. There’s a big project due and I really, really don’t want to sit down at my desk and get to work. Sometimes, this is called resistance and it’s really darn unproductive. But sometimes? Taking a few minutes to clear up the clutter on your desk, in your pit of creativity—wherever you create your masterpieces—can also help to clear your thoughts and get you into the writing groove that much faster. You might just find that you actually get more writing done, because you don’t have eight-million Post-It Notes full of hastily scrawled ideas wallpapering your peripheral vision.
Take It Slow
You don’t have to go fast to get good results. Sometimes, when we’re moving too fast, we miss out on all of the goodness that comes out of a great writing practice. If you want to be productive and also write well, you have to build in time to let a piece sit. To go for a walk and just notice things. To be reflective and sort out your ideas, or plots, or whether or not character X is really in love with character Y and not just a dirty bastard who is sleeping with her for her money. It’s your story. Whatever you do, take the time to write it the best way you can, and you’ll find that when you go back to edit later, you’ll have less work than if you’d rushed through an early draft just to say you got it done.
Join a writers’ group. Way back in the day, I used to write in what I lovingly referred to as “the cave.” I spent all of my time writing in solitude in my tiny little box-like office and rarely went outside until I finished what I was working on. Although I got lots of writing done (hundreds of short stories and articles, a novel or two) I never actually sent them out. And I absolutely never showed them to anyone.
I didn’t publish most of those stories. Sure, some of them were probably more like hot turds than shiny diamonds, but what really kicked my productivity into high gear was connecting with other writers who could hold me accountable. I had to finish my stories and send them out, because I knew that the following month I would have to say whether or not I submitted that story. As an added bonus, I met a lot of great friends. There’s nothing quite as great as having a whole boatload of people behind you, cheering you on as you finally finish that novel you’ve been toiling away at in your own writing hovel.
Productivity doesn’t have to be fast. It doesn’t always mean having a million things on the go. The best way to be productive is to be good to yourself, to create time and space to complete the tasks that you need to complete and to find your own tribe. Know that you will meet your goals even if you take a little extra time to finish that project and you will be pleasantly surprised by how far you go.