4 Essential Writing Tips to Boost Productivity
As someone who's been a self-proclaimed writer since age six, it hasn't been easy coming to terms with how far off I've fallen from my once bulletproof routine. I went into college with the mentality that I was a writer, and that's all I was interested in pursuing. Of course, this changed pretty immediately as I gained experience working on sets and, like most Emerson kids, wearing many hats. I fell in love with producing, directing, and script supervising. Suddenly a whole world opened up to me; one I'd always known about but had never taken the time to invest in, solely because I was so trapped in the idea that I was "just a writer."
The sad irony is that as my other passions grew, the time I spent writing became more and more obsolete. I still identified as a writer. I still took writing courses. But I stopped writing pretty much anything that wasn't required by my professors. In hindsight, I think a lot of this resistance came from the fear that if I started writing again, my other interests would somehow vanish. My subconscious was telling me that I couldn't have it all, regardless of how many people I looked up to and those around me who seemed to. Within just a few weeks of my first semester, I'd gone from writing every day to hardly at all. I became so overwhelmed by the blank page and all the WIPs I hadn't touched that I'd actually feel sick whenever I so much as opened my writing folder.
The last year or so has largely been spent trying to undo all that damage. To fall back in love with writing for my own sake, and not because I have to make a grade or meet a deadline. In all honesty, it's definitely been an uphill battle. Between working on my documentary, graduating college in just three years, and moving across the country several times over, it's not been easy getting back into a writing routine. But the truth is the only way to be a writer is to write- there's no easy fix or ways around it. Easier said than done? Absolutely. That's why below is a break down of four key steps I've found to make the writing process a hell of a lot easier:
1. Write Every Day
There's not much way around this first tip. The only way you'll ever get into a solid routine is by committing to sitting down and writing, seven days a week. Before you freak out (like I always used to when presented with this advice), recognize that this still leaves you plenty of wiggle room. While your goal should eventually be to write for at least a few hours each day, this is something you'll likely have to build up to. Start small by giving yourself a minimum of thirty minutes. There will be some days you'll struggle just to reach that, and others when you'll be able to triple it. Writing is not always a linear process, but to avoid getting discouraged it's important to start with an attainable goal you know you can hit each day.
It's also worth noting that writing every day doesn't necessarily have to mean working on the same project. If you're anything like me and have more WIPs than you can count, there's nothing wrong with skipping around based on how you're feeling. If one story's not inspiring you, move on to one that will; progress is progress, regardless of where it's being directed. However, to make this approach effective you have to make sure you're actually writing for those thirty minutes. Not outlining, not proofing, not revising yesterday's pages. Of course these are important skills in their own right, but until your first draft is done they really only equate to standing still. You want to ensure you're constantly moving forward by spending each day writing new, fresh content.
2. Stop Aiming for Quality
We've all heard that "writing is rewriting," and sometimes cliches exist for a reason. If you go into a new project expecting it to immediately be your best work, you're only setting yourself up for heartbreak. There is always time to go back and edit, so it's important to begin each new day of writing only with the intention of getting the words out. Good, bad, ugly- write it down and then keep moving; because the only way your work will see the light of day is if it actually gets finished. Understand that your first draft is never going to be your best. Hell, your sixth draft might not even be your best. But the sooner you can accept this, the better you'll feel, the easier the words will flow, and the quicker your final product will start to take shape.
3. Get Rid of Distractions
Let's be honest- at one point or another, all of us have sat down to write and ended up falling down an internet rabbit hole. Whether your vice is posting to social media, conducting miscellaneous Google searches, or cyber-stalking your ex, there are ways to fight back against these distractions and boost productivity. Services such as Freedom or BlockSite allow you limit usage of time wasting sites and stay focused on your writing. These are especially helpful if you're someone who, like me, tends to have a bit of a low attention span. When in doubt about your impulse control, it's best to bite the bullet- or in this case, block the bullet.
A couple related tips I've also found to be effective include getting it out of your system and taking breaks when necessary. For me, getting distractions out of my system means setting aside time just before I know I'm going to write. In this window I'll go through all my socials, check emails, and maybe watch a Youtube video or two. Whatever you know tends to be your biggest time waster, do it right before your scheduled writing time and limit the chances of getting distracted when it really counts.
As for taking breaks, I know to many writers this sounds like breaking a cardinal rule. So if this approach isn't your style, feel free to ignore this tip. But if you're someone who especially struggles with distractions, or simply can't be productive after sitting for a long period of time, there's a good chance this could be a game-changer. Obviously you'll want to find an individual approach that works for you, but when I'm in a writing stretch I aim to make my breaks last about half the time I've spent writing. (An hour of honest work in the bag? I've earned an episode of New Girl. A half hour tends to get me a coffee or snack break. Anymore than two hours of writing and I give myself a full hour off.) The point is to allow yourself time to breathe and step away, but to make sure you're writing at least twice as much as you're relaxing.
4. Set Yourself Up for Success
It's also important to limit distractions through your choice of workspace. Like many writers, my usual go-to is a cafe where I can avoid the urge to lay in bed or get caught up reorganizing my closet. That productive atmosphere combined with the judgement of strangers really can do wonders for my writing. Of course, recent global pandemics mean most of us have had to get creative when it comes to a distraction-free workspace.
The biggest tip I can give in this regard is to always, always work sitting up at a desk or a table. Sound obvious? Tell that to eighteen year old me laying in bed typing an essay or twenty year old me sitting on the couch, working on my script as another episode of Dexter starts. Similarly, if you can, I urge you to work away from the places where you relax. This means avoiding your bedroom, living room, and anywhere else with a comfy place to sit. If you have a solid charge on your laptop, I've alway found working outside to be especially helpful. There's something soothing and inspirational about being in nature that also doesn't quite allow you to fully relax.
Lastly, I advise you to keep your workspace as minimalist as possible. What do you need to write beyond wifi, a laptop, maybe a pen and paper? Avoid clutter that can potentially take you out of the zone and create distractions you may not even realize are distractions. If you can, I also recommend keeping your phone in a separate room from where you write. This way if you decide to check it, you'll at least be hyperaware of your decision to step away from your work. The goal is to draw attention to what your big distractions tend to be, then discourage these behaviors as much as possible.
So there you have it! Whichever of these tips you decide to incorporate, just remember that when creating lasting change it's important to start small. Don't beat yourself up for not immediately being able to write an hour each day if you've spent your life writing three times a week. Set your ultimate goals (i.e, write for five hours every day, finish your novel in three months) and then break them down into smaller, more attainable steps. Build to those goals, rather than disappointing yourself because you expected to achieve them right off the bat.
Never forget that even the best writers had to start somewhere, and chances are that start involved the same struggles and learning curves you're navigating now. Remember to begin small and stay consistent; recognize that no matter how passionate you might feel, the only way to succeed as a writer is to buckle down and get writing.