For writers, staying focused and productive can be a constant challenge. Here are 10 tips for improving your writing productivity.
This post originally appeared on the Evernote Blog
Writing isn’t always easy. Some days, you might be extremely productive, while on others, you don’t get as many words on the page as you had hoped. Whether you’re writing a novel, maintaining a blog, or keeping a journal, the answers to these problems are mostly the same.
Writing is like exercise: adopt a sensible training regimen, apply it consistently, and you’ll grow stronger. But it’s also like meditation: open your inner doors, let go of distractions, and you’ll become more centered. In both cases, the keys are discipline and focus.
Every writer has their own method to the madness. Some writers collect every idea, others set aside blocks of time to write daily, and others need to set a very specific environment for a productive writing session. Whatever your writing style may be, there is always room for improvement.
If you do a quick search for tips on how to increase your writing productivity, you’ll find that many of them suggest you have the perfect environment and no distractions. In today’s world, that seems like an impossible task.
We live in a noisy world. You have to set up an internal space to write, not an external one. It isn’t realistic to ask the world to stop because you want to write, but you can set yourself up for success with these writing tips.
1. Understand when you’re most productive
Are you a morning person? A night owl? Do you crash at 3:00 every afternoon? Do you tend to use weekends and holidays for activity or recovery? Figure out what times of the day (or week) are your peak times for creative energy and which times are dead zones.
Many writers do their best work early in the morning before the cares of the day have a chance to clutter their minds, but you may do better after everyone else has gone to bed. Experiment with your writing times to discover what works best for you.
2. Carve out time
If writing is a priority for you, prove it. Put writing time down on your calendar, and keep that time as sacred as you can. If you’re busy, that may mean saying “no” to other commitments. Give your schedule a ruthless review. Your writing is important, so what’s less important? Get rid of it.
Sometimes it’s not a lack of free time so much as a lack of motivation. If that sounds like you, try setting a deadline for your writing and hold yourself accountable by telling people what you’re working on and when you plan to deliver.
Power tip: If you’re up against a deadline for your latest piece of writing, set a recurring task to write every day. That little bit each day, even just 15-20 minutes, will add up, and you’ll soon have a finished piece!
3. Claim your space
Stake your claim in a writing nook. Maybe it’s a desk in your home, a “quiet space” in your office, or a favorite café. Be sure to pick a comfortable place with a positive atmosphere, someplace you’ll want to visit every day. Build a mental wall around it. Whenever you go there, tell yourself this is writing time and let the rest of the world fade away.
If you can’t claim a physical space, no worries. You can still claim mental space with a tiny ritual that signifies you’re moving into your writing world, like drinking tea from a favorite cup and or loading up a playlist.
4. Scout the territory
Writing is usually easier if you know where you’re going ahead of time. That doesn’t mean you need a detailed outline, but it does mean you should do your homework. Research, brainstorm, and organize your thoughts, so you have a direction to follow. If you’re writing a story, visualize the next scene and put yourself in your characters’ shoes. If you’re writing an article, read and take notes on what other experts have said about your topic.
Power tip: At the end of your writing session, think ahead and jot down a few words about what comes next. When you come back later, you’ll be able to jump right in. If you keep all of your thoughts in a running list in Evernote, they’ll be there when you’re ready to write again.
5. Clear your mind
You’ve heard it time and again: eliminate distractions. But what does that really mean? First, unplug from email and social media. If you just can’t stay away from Facebook and Twitter, consider installing software that will temporarily block them. Don’t forget to silence your phone, too. If you like working to music, wear comfortable headphones and try music without vocals, like instrumental jazz, lo-fi, electronica, or ambient sound.
Getting rid of distractions extends to the tools you use. Switch your favorite writing app to full-screen mode or hide formatting toolbars, so it’s just you and your words.
6. Get in the groove
Starting from zero can be tough. Try loosening up with a few minutes of free-writing, like stretching before a run. Give yourself a simple prompt (perhaps the sounds around you or your favorite animal) and write about that for five minutes without stopping or thinking about the words. Just go. You don’t have to save what you write or look at it afterward. But it will flex your creative muscles.
Another good technique for longer writing projects is to start by reading over what you wrote the last time. But be careful: don’t fall into the trap of editing if you’re supposed to be writing (see #8 below).
7. Write in bursts
Some people are good at focusing on a single task for a long time. Most of us aren’t. If you have a short attention span, make it work for you by concentrating your writing into short, intense bursts. Set a timer for 15 or 25 minutes, then write as fast as you can until the timer tells you to stop. Give yourself a nice break (that means getting up and leaving the computer, not surfing the web), then come back and do it again.
Even little bits of writing can add up fast. If you can average 500 words a day, five days a week, you’re writing 130,000 words per year. That’s a book! Or dozens of short stories. Or hundreds of blog posts. Not bad!
8. Just keep going
Don’t let fear of imperfection slow you down. If you’re in the rough draft phase, let it be rough. Silence your inner editor (its time will come later) and get the words down on the page. Once you can see the whole draft, then you can fix it.
Power tip: Set a milestone for each writing session. If word counts are too intimidating, just commit to putting in the minutes. Keep your goals small, and the accomplishments will pile up quickly, propelling you forward. It always helps to cross something off of a list. So, make yourself a checklist of writing goals and cross them off as you make progress.
9. Reward yourself
When you do hit a milestone, celebrate. Tantalize yourself with big rewards for the big goals (an activity or a long-awaited purchase) and little rewards for the daily goals (a piece of candy or an episode of your favorite TV show).
Even a tiny reward can be powerful. Get a wall calendar and mark each day you hit your goal. Add a sticker or stars on the days you really crush it. Once you have a streak going, you’ll want to keep it up. Want to keep it digital? Use a calendar in Evernote, rather than a wall calendar, to keep track of your progress and rewards.
10. Always be ready
Inspiration can strike anywhere and at any time. You might overhear something on the street, stumble across a useful article online, or have a brilliant idea after you’ve gone to bed.
And remember, writing doesn’t always mean typing. If you have a great idea that you don’t want to lose, use your device’s dictation mode or record it as a voice memo, save it for later, and write context around it when you have more time. Recording your own voice speaking off the cuff is also a great way to ensure your dialogue stays natural.
Power tip: When you’re on the go, you almost always have your phone with you. Download the Evernote mobile app so that you can capture your ideas anywhere. If you’re an iOS user, you should set up an Evernote widget or Lock Screen widget so that you can quickly access the app when you need it most.
Apply these writing tips to your routine
Whether you’ve been writing for decades or you’re just getting started, these tips can help you improve your writing productivity, develop stronger stories, and make writing part of your daily routine. Understanding your productivity, prioritizing writing throughout your day, and rewarding yourself for the progress you’re making are all small steps you can take that will have a big impact.