Now I’ve been called many things—good and bad—but one of the best things someone could ever say about me is that I am a prolific writer. I find it such a compliment, because it took time and work to get there. It’s hard to establish consistent and efficient writing practices that meld neatly with work, family, and any type of social life, and it's darn hard to keep them all in balance. Here are some techniques that I have used to establish and enhance my writing routine, and seemingly pull writing time out of thin air.
1. Pair the right projects with the right times to work on them.
For me, revisions on novel-length drafts require a more planned approach to timing. I need to give myself a fair chunk of time to submerge and really work through revisions. I set goals and schedule times to achieve them. Mornings and evenings tend to give me ample stretches to edit and rewrite complex scenes and longer stories, BUT there are other pockets of time that I've identified throughout my day that allow me to tackle smaller objectives, like diving into a writing prompt, brainstorming, or sprint-writing new words.
For the longer manuscripts...
I consistently participate in #5amwritersclub, and use the hashtag on Twitter to stay motivated and connected to other writers. It's a great group. I usually know exactly what section of a longer document that I am going to work on, and I set an attainable objective so that I can roll out of bed, grab some coffee, and get to work. Like many, I'm a zombie in the morning, so I just need to get my butt in the chair, turn on the laptop, and go. After you do it for awhile, it becomes habit and part of your routine. I miss it when I oversleep or can't make it. When this happens, I find that I'm even more driven to find the time to make up that writing time during some other part of the day.
For shorter projects...
Personally, I need to keep ideas and new words flowing while I’m revising. I've found times throughout my day that are underutilized, like lunchtime at work or sitting in the car waiting for children to get out of soccer practice or dance class. I decided that I actually want to use this time to write or plan writing projects versus daydreaming or texting people to see what they're doing. With simple adjustments (and by keeping pen and paper on me and ready) I have found ways to repurpose these short pockets of time for drafting shorter stories, writing and revising picture books, and creating blog posts (like this one). It also reduces my procrastination by keeping the larger chucks of time focused on the larger projects. There's no "hmmmm, what will I write during this session?" when I sit down to write.
I push myself during these "mini" writing sessions. Don't kid yourself—just because picture books are shorter, it does not make them any easier than longer works of fiction. They are just different with different sets of challenges and requirements that I'm able to tackle in shorter bursts of time. Again, I always go into each writing session focused on an objective, whether it's come up with 15 new story ideas, polish a short scene, or tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end (this often becomes a crappy first pass at a picture-book draft).
2. Find ways to hold yourself accountable without beating yourself up.
Surround yourself with passionate, positive people. Again, #5amwritersclub on Twitter, and monthlywritingchallenge.org (that also has Twitter hashtags; but they are unique to every month—like #FebWritingChallenge, #MayWritingChallenge...)— they have been godsends for me. I love having a network of supportive writers to check in with, and they are the best cheerleaders.
The buddy system also works. I cater my critique partners to my writing projects. I belong to multiple critique groups. It's so important to find fresh sets of eyes to give feedback on your work. Something I recently discovered is that by providing the same writing to two separate groups or critique partners, you can crosscheck the feedback. This is a great way to wade through the comments and easily identify subjective suggestion and what truly needs revision.
Constructive critique is a valuable part of the process. Plus, finding the time to read other people's work and give quality feedback helps you to better evaluate your work, and it can make you a better writer.
3. Keep a brainstorming notebook AND a well-organized idea folder.
For me, I need to have ideas ready and on tap at a moments notice. I must write them down as they come to me, because I can't always trust that I'll remember that AMAZING idea when I go to sit down and actually write it. Many times when I have mentally noted it and went about my merry way—POOF—the idea has left the building, gone from my brain. I have wasted time trying to remember and then wasted more time crucifying myself for not writing them down. They often return, but it's never when I'm ready to work on them—while I'm in the shower, driving in the car, or in a long work meeting. Write those buggers down!
I keep notecards or a small journal in my work bag to jot ideas down when inspiration strikes. I also keep a larger accordion file by my writing desk at home to collect and organize my notes, loose papers, images, and support pieces to further flesh out those ideas. Every idea has a tab and pocket, so I can add to them when and where I find inspiration, whether it's notes on a Starbucks napkin or an article ripped from the pages of a magazine I found at the dentist office.
4. WARNING: When juggling multiple projects, remember that you need to finish things!
I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but I struggle with this one. I've said before that I like working on new words while polishing the old ones. Well, it's easy to fall down a rabbit hole—or gaping ravine—with a new project, especially when you are stuck in a less-desirable section of the manuscript you've been revising. Research and social media can also become glorious time sucks if left unchecked. Push yourself to work through the tough spots, don't jump around, but also give yourself set chunks of time to explore and write new stories. Structure and prioritize your regular writing time to favor completing revisions. It's not worth creating more writing time, if you never finish anything.
5. Accept that sometimes life is going to get in the way.
Time goes by so quickly and you will need to prioritize family, day jobs, exercise, and obligations outside your writing world. Sometimes it just needs to happen, so live in the present and don't resent or blame other commitments. It's important to lead a productive, well-balanced life, and life fuels writing and fabulous stories. This being said, the three-ring circus of life makes it even more important to prioritize, plan, pick up that pen and laptop whenever you can, and write, write, write. Butt in chair: there is no other way to do it.
6. Reward yourself for the wins and the productive days.
Yes, make the most of your time, but it's also important to take time and celebrate productive sessions and successes. I'm always hesitant to "take the day off," but sometimes I say, "Okay, you're going away for the weekend, so the goal is to get three chapters edited before departure. If you make the goal, you don't need to pack the laptop." I ended up editing FIVE chapters and didn't pack the laptop, but still brought a notebook and pen. That's a win!
I also tend to bribe myself with things I normally would buy myself anyway. "Sure you can get that new pair of shoes, when you hit 25K words." It works. I like my shoes.
It's important to always try new things, freshen your routine regularly, and figure out what works best for you.
What are some techniques that you've adopted to keep your words flowing and maximize the efficiency of your writing practice?
Now I need to go and practice what I preached. Happy writing!