7 Productivity Hacks For Your Writing + A Last-Minute Bonus One

yellow-dailyshoot-8257834-lDid I just use the word “hack” in the title? I did. Those of us who have been around for a long time remember when “hack” was a word thrown at writers who had sold out, who wrote crap for money.  But now it is more often used (some would say overused) as a synonym for tip, or hint, as in household hints. Trust me, these used to be very popular, things like “cleaning hints for pennies,” or “how to remove photos from an album with a sticky backing.”  I took these from the Hints for Heloise site.

Today I do not have any household hints because I’m a bad housewife.  (If you could see the cobwebs on the window in my family room, you’d agree.) But I have hacks—and not the bad writer kind, the good productivity kind.  The you’ll-get-tons-more-writing-done kind.   Because I don’t know about you, but my writing life is often more about making sure my butt gets in the writing chair and stays there than anything else.  So here goes.

  1. Accept your creative process as it is. Your process involves frequent breaks for scouring the web? Or knitting? Or wandering down the block to chat with the neighbors? So be it.  If you’re getting the work done (and that’s the most important part of this equation) then accept your nuttiness.  I love this post  by Danielle LaPorte.  She says it much more lyrically than me.  Also, if you’re not getting the work done, then keep reading.
  1. Get your lazy ass up and walk around once in a while. Oh, sorry, that’s what I tell myself all the time. Didn’t mean to be quite so indelicate with you.  But maybe that’s what you need to hear, because I know it’s what I have to remind myself.  You will be more productive and feel much better at the end of the day if you get up often. I know the stereotype of the writer is the opposite: there we sit, so absorbed in our work we forget to eat, forget to get up to use the bathroom, forget everything but the work.  Even if you should be so lucky that you experience that transcendent state regularly, it is not good for you.  Sitting is killing us.  You must get up regularly.
  2.  Pomodoro yourself. The Pomodoro method is a whole thing, but you don’t need to take their classes or buy their product. You just time yourself—25 minutes working, 5 minutes off.  I use this online timer  and when it goes off tell my lazy ass to get up (see #2) and walk around the house. Works like a charm, especially if you…
  1. Stay hydrated. This is my secret weapon for productivity. Because, number one, drinking tons of water makes you feel better.  But also it makes you have to pee like a mo-fo.  And that requires getting up a lot. (Again, see #2.) I also trick myself by leaving my water in the kitchen, so that I have to go on walkabout to get to it.  Oh, the mental gymnastics we do to keep going.
  1. Keep scratch paper by your computer. This way you have a place on which to write all those brilliant notes about your novel that occur to you while you’re writing a blog post. So as to prevent yourself from switching from said blog post to novel mid-work session, make a note of it.
  1. Have a way to file those brilliant ideas. If you’re smart and organized, you’ll figure out one system and stick with it.  If you’re like me, you’ll constantly search for a new and better technique (just as I search for a new and better calendar).  I love One Note  and I know others like Evernote, too.  But I also love paper. I’ve tried index cards and putting them in a small file box, and I’ve tried notebooks.  I just made myself a to-do book that is supposed to contain all my things to do and ideas, too.  So far, it’s not working so well.  And that would be because, um, I forget to look in it.
  1. Schedule a few minutes for it. Say you’re busy closing the deal of the century and you are working on a novel at the same time.  When the deal heats up, the novel will suffer.  But one thing you can do to maintain your productivity is work on your project a few minutes a day.  C’mon, you’ve got five extra minutes.  Or even 15.  Because, as the wonderful Rachael Herron says, “If you gave fifteen minutes a day to moving toward a goal, you’d spend ninety-one hours on your project this year!” Huzzah.  Go write for fifteen minutes.
  1. Last minute bonus hack! Literally as I was finishing this article, an email came in advertising that the Freewrite  is now available for purchase. Go check it out—it’s like a typewriter for this millennium, with the bonus of no internet access.

So, those are some ideas that I hope will help you.  Got any writing hacks yourself? Please leave a comment and tell more!

 

Otherwhere: It’s Almost Christmas!

6a00d8341cb7f353ef01b8d0b226d1970c-320wiI’ve got a bushel full of links for you today, many of them Christmas-related, because, in case you hadn’t noticed, the big day is only five days away. Awk! Excuse me while I go wrap some presents.  No, instead I’ll do what I always do when I’m feeling overwhelmed: fart around on the internet.  Here are some of my finds:

If you haven’t seen it yet, this video of Santa signing with a deaf child is worth a view.

It’s not too late for a holiday baking spree! (I’ve got cookies in the oven even as I type.)

And how about some Christmas ornaments from Paris?

Okay, enough of this holiday foolishness, let’s get down to writing.

Like everyone else, I watched the Adele special. (Because, Adele.) At one point she commented that singing is hard. Writing is hard, too, as this post attests.  But, like all the good things, it is totally worth it.

One of the reasons it is hard is that as a writer, one must learn to weather rejection and failure.  Here’s some advice on how to do this, from one of my favorite authors.

How do you describe your protagonist?  Because, when you are writing in their viewpoint, it can be tricky.  The ever-reliable Janice Hardy has advice for you.

And, here’s an interesting take on what takes some writers so loooooong to write.

Here is one of the links referenced in the above post.  This one is from Joanna Penn on writing fast.  It’s a podcast, to which I am morally opposed (because who has time to listen to them) but bless her writerly heart, she’s got a transcript on the page.

Okay, that’s it, that’s all I got.  I’m off to In-law Dinner #2.  By happenstance, last night we attended a dinner party with the in-laws from my son’s side.  Tonight it is dinner with in-laws from my daughter’s side.  Lucky for us, we all like each other!

PS–does anybody know of a way to save a WordPress post when you’ve accidentally deleted it, as happened to me the first time I wrote it?  You know, like word has the little squiggle icon that you can hit when you want to get something back.

The Secret to Writing More Than You Ever Thought Possible

Cartoon guy with crayonTo get more writing done, you could get up earlier, or stay up later.  To get more writing done you could close the door to your office and post a sign threatening death and dismemberment to anyone who enters.  You could escape to the coffee shop or go on a retreat. You could run away from home or refuse to leave it.

All of those are great ideas for getting writing done.  But none of them are worth the powder to blow them to hell without this one thing.  And so, da da da dum….the secret to getting more writing done than you ever thought possible is…wait for it…

Focus!

I swear, in this day and age, focus is more precious than a king's treasures.  We have so many distractions pressing in on us all day, every day.  (For an amazing infographic that shows how much data is created every minute on the internet, click here.) And it's not just the internet. Some of us have families. (And don't think for a minute that once your kids are grown up, their distractions end. Ha! Then the grandchildren come along and it starts all over again.) Some have demanding jobs.  Or farms to manage. Or marathons to run.

All of these things combine to make focus a rare and twinkling jewel that is often hard to attain.  And since I am one of the most distractible humans on the planet (bright shiny object!) I have made a study of practices and techniques and even pills (yes, pills) that will help.  These are lessons learned the hard way, by me, the Queen of Beguilement. So here we go:

1. Know where you're going.  If you don't follow any of the other tips listed here, try this one.  It is the one that makes the most difference for me, hands down.  If I know what I'm going to write next, I'll get to the page and write it.  If I don't know, I stray onto the internet and before I know it, my time for writing is done.  A confused brain is a wandering brain.

2. Timed writing sprints.  Life saving.  Use the timer on your smart phone or find an app on the computer.  Set it for a pre-allotted period of time and then write and do nothing else until the timer goes off.  Then get up and walk around-sitting too long isn't good for you.  (Or get a stand-up desk.  I just did.) Start with 30 minutes and see how that works.  I've been working with 30-45 minute sprints.

3.  Remember, the writer is the one who stays in the room.  Last May, my daughter and I went to Seattle for the weekend.  We spent one glorious afternoon ensconced at a table at Elliott Bay Books.  She read design books and I read books on writing.  I perused a book by an author whose name escapes me and what impressed me was his quote, something to the effect that the writer is the one who stays in the room.  Because, I know I'm guilty of writing a sentence and then allowing myself to get distracted in the name of thinking.  Pay attention to how you work, you might find the same thing. So stay in the room.  This is actually a mindful practice that gets easier over time.

4. Chunk it down.  Sit down to write a book and you'll get totally overwhelmed.  But tell yourself that all you have to write is one paragraph–or one sentence–and that is something you can do.  So break your writing up into doable sections.  Remember what Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird–she keeps a small picture frame by her desk to remind herself that all she has to write is what she can see through the frame.

5.  Try a probiotic.  Here's that pill I promised you.  The good organisms that grow in your gut have a direct impact on your brain, and if you don't have a healthy stomach, you might have trouble focusing.  There's been a ton of research on this coming out recently.  You can read one article here

6.  Cultivate healthy thinking habits. When I'm stuck, or just need to think for a minute, I convince myself that taking a brief break on the internet will benefit me.  Ha! There's a rabbit hole, for sure.  What does work is for me to get up and walk around the house, or step outside for a minute.  It works for me to knit a row or two, or go put a load of laundry in the washing machine, or drink a glass of water.  I need to remember these healthy habits and use them instead of the unhealthy ones.

7.  Remember your passion.  A passionate mind is a focused mind.  When was the last time you were so engaged in a project that time passed and you were unaware of it?  That's focus at its highest level.  And passion can take you there.

8.  Meditate.  I hate this one, but it works, if for no other reason than it calms your mind.  And a calm mind is a focused mind.  I'm an on-again, off-again meditator, and I've probably not ever done it long enough at one stretch to really reap the full benefits of it, but I know when I do do it how much it helps.

9.  Get your ya-yas out.  Otherwise known as journaling.  When your brain is full of things you have to do, people you're holding grudges against, or other minutia of daily life, it is not a well-functioning brain.  It is an overloaded brain.  One way to deal with this is to dump it all on the page.  Journal first thing in the morning or last thing at night.  Use your journal as a brain dump, putting it all out there so your mind doesn't have to deal with it.

10.  Keep a notepad, scratch paper or index cards next to your computer.  When you have an idea that distracts you–a thought for a different part of the project, something you forgot to do, an item to add to the grocery list–note it and carry on with your writing.  Then make a time to go through all your jottings and deal with it accordingly.  This is an enormously helpful practice.

So those are my hard-won ideas about focus, what are yours?

Photo by julosstock.

From The Archives: Why Writing a Novel is a Good Thing–Even If You Never Get it Published

And here's one final offering from the archives, back in September of 2012.

Yeah, so, you want to write a novel.  And you're even thinking of doing Nanowrimo this year. (Nanowrimo = National Novel Writing Month, just in case you don't know, and it's in November.) 

But then the voices begin:                             

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The dreaded blank page.
The dreaded blank page.

You'll never get published.

Why bother?

It's a waste of time.

You could be doing other things.  Worthy things.

You think you can write?

Who do you think you are to write a novel?

And so on.  I'm sure you know the variations.

But I'm here to tell you otherwise.  To inform you that writing a novel, in and of itself, for no other reason than to do it, is a worthy activity.  It is.  Even if you never get published.  (Which, with all the publishing options we've got these days, you probably will, one way or another.) And here's why:

1.  It's a creative act.  And the world needs as many of these as we can get. Creativity breeds creativity, just as energy breeds energy.  Who knows what spending time writing this novel might lead to?  It might lead to a best-selling novel, or an amazing idea in another area.  And, it doesn't matter if that doesn't happen because the simple act of sitting down to create is important.

2.  Novels change the world, in big ways and in little ways.  Novels deliver stories, which we're hard-wired to accept, and stories change us.  Think of novels with grand, culture-baring themes.  Or remember how you felt the last time you read a small, intimate novel.  It changed you a little, didn't it?  And that's how changing the world happens–one person at a time.

3. Novel writing makes you happy.  At least it makes me happy.  I love it.  And I presume that it will make you happy, too.  Lest you think that happiness is an unworthy goal, remember that none other than the Dalai Lama says that happiness is the point of life.

4.  Writing a novel is an accomplishment.  The first time I finished a novel (it's the one sitting in my office cupboard)I was so amazed at how much oomph it took that I vowed to respect every single book ever written, even the crappiest romance novel.  And I do.  You should too–especially the one you're writing now.

5.  Writing a novel hones your skills.  And remember, getting better at one thing affects the way you do everything.  Improving your novel writing will impact your blog posts.  And your articles.  And your diet.  As the ancients used to say, as above, so below.

6.  Writing a novel helps you understand the world.  To write a novel, you must populate it with characters, and to create characters, you must understand people.  And, guess what?  People are what make our world go around.  Writing a novel helps you understand them.

7. It's your deepest, most heartfelt desire.  Don't let that desire go unanswered.  Go do it already. 

Here's what I recommend: create your own list of reasons to write a novel.  Name it the Novel-Writing Manifesto, or something a bit less grandiose.  Post it next to your computer.  Read it often–especially after something has shaken your confidence.  It'll snap you right back into a novel-writing space.

What are your reasons for writing a novel (or any project)? Do you use them to steer yourself back on course?

And if you'd like help with your novel-writing effort, remember my Get Your Novel Written Now Class begins in October!

Links Round-Up: Nanowrimo

While I am out, I'm posting link round-ups of various sorts.  I looked at the calendar and realized, Nanowrimo is a little over a month away! (If you don't know what Nanowrimo is, you probably won't be interested in these links.  But for the record, it is National Novel Writing Month, wherein you write at 50,000 word novel in a month.)

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Here are some articles I'm published on the topic through the years:

Top 5 Ways to Prepare for Nanowrimo

Writing Beginnings: Nanowrimo, Day One, A Story About Sometimes

Nanowrimo Prep

Writing Inspiration, Whether You Are Nanowrimo-ing Or Not

There's a Reason Nanowrimo is Held in November

8 Essential Tools for Book Writing (Just in Time for Nanowrimo)

Writing Every Morning

And hey, if you feel like you'd like a little support for the novel writing, and some help prepping for Nanowrimo, consider my Get Your Novel Written Now Class, coming up in October.

Image by ktylerconk.  It's a quote from Henry David Thoreau, on a plaque at the New York City public library.

From The Archives: Love Yourself, Love Your Writing

Here's one from the archives for you:

We're awfully hard on ourselves, our own worst enemies.   At least I am!  And I suspect I'm not  Heart_light_blackground_518497_hso different from other creatives: I'm judgmental of myself –hyper critical at the best of times.  My thoughts run all over:

  • That thing I just said?  How idiotic!
  • What a lump for not speaking up.
  • Oh god, I look bad today!

And when it comes to my writing, it's even worse, because the voices are so insidious and ingrained.  It is such a familiar thought pattern that sometimes I don't even notice it.  When I do, it runs something like this:

  • This work isn't good enough.
  • Is that the right word? You idiot, that's not the right word.
  • They're not going to like it.
  • It's not good enough to sell.

And so on and so forth.  I'm sure you can add some of your own to the list!  (And let me be perfectly clear here–there is a difference between unloving critical thoughts and loving critical thoughts–the latter help us hone our skills, rewrite until the work shines, and strive for excellence.)

Do you know anybody who is as openly judgmental and critical as the voice in your head?  I don't.  If I spent all day every day with someone as condemning  as the voice in my head, I'd be physically withered at the end of the day.  And yet, that's exactly what's happening in our brains.

The solution?  Try turning love on it.  Warning: this is not easy.  And if you're successful at it, the practice will change your life.  Also, it's a process–you have to keep going back at it over and over again.  You have to consistently apply it to your life and your writing.

So herewith is a process to apply to self-judgment:

1.  Become aware.  Pay attention to those nasty little comments flinging about your brain.

2.  Fight back.  Sometimes called denials, this is when instead of cowering under the onslaught of all those vicious words, you make a stand and refuse to accept them.  Mentally uttering "That thought I do not want" (a Course in Miracles saying) is one way to do this.

3.  Form a new thought.  And then love bomb your brain with it, constantly, all day, and especially every time the old thought comes up.  Maybe something like:

  • I am powerful.  (My writing is powerful.)
  • I am enough.  (My writing is enough.)
  • I am a creator.
  • Whatever thought works for your individual circumstance.

The idea being to let thoughts like these become the constant soundtrack running in the background.  I know it's woo-woo, and it's ever so much more pleasant to think this way than the other.

4. It might get worse before it gets better.  Because old negative thoughts don't go without a fight.  And one way they fight is to get stronger when they fear being eradicated. But don't fall for their devious plan.

5.  Stick with it.  As I said, this process takes time.  Those fearful thoughts didn't get there overnight.  They lodged in your brain over a lifetime. 

 What do you think?  Willing to give it a try?  Or do you have another technique for quieting that voice?  Please comment.

 Photo by Victory to the People.

Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #49

Happy Fourth of July to those of you in the United States!  I hope you have all the freedom as a writer that you desire.  Here is the latest collection of prompts from my Tumblr blog.  Have a wonderful day and be careful whatever you do!  (It is so hot here and has been for so long that it is dry, dry, dry and everyone is hoping people restrain themselves with the fireworks.) 

#337  She liked change.  She liked changing her wardrobe, rearranging her furniture, changing her job.  But most of all she like changing husbands.  However, this time ….. 

#338  Huh.  It was so puzzling.  She could have sworn she hadn’t forgotten to do that, but apparently she had.  

#339  The woman started down the path into the forest, then turned, smiled, and beckoned him to follow.

#340  What is the one thing your main character (or you) cannot live without?

#341  When the sun rose that morning and lit the landscape, it revealed what the dark of night had not showed. 

#342  In the United States, today is Independence Day.  What does freedom mean to your main character? What are the ways they are free? What are the ways they are not free? 

Are you celebrating today?  How's your writing going?

Should You Write Every Day?

HappywritingI was at a gathering of writers last night (Portlanders, we meet every last Monday of the month for Literary Libations, join us) and Angela Sanders, an accomplished mystery writer who is doing very well with her books (can you say number one on all Kindle sales?) was talking about her career.

Angela talked about how she does very little social media, sends one newsletter out a month (subscribe here, its definitely worth it), and beyond that, "I write every day."

Because–that's the most important thing.

Writing.  

As often as humanly possible.

And yes, while writing in a journal, or writing a blog post, or ad copy for your next class, or whatever, is all terribly important, when we talk about writing every day, we're talking about writing on that project of yours.  You know the one–the novel that keeps you awake at night.  The one where the characters keep doing things that delight you.  The one you have in your head.  Or hopefully in a collection of notes carefully stored somewhere.

So, how important is it to write every day?

Well, I think its every thing.  Every damn thing.  I do.  I believe that writing every day is what we should all strive for.

But people scowl at me when I say this.  They throw things, like rotten apples, at me.  They yell and scream.  Okay, maybe they don't really, but I can see by the look in their eyes that they are wishing they could.  Because they really don't want to write every freaking day.

And that is what it really boils down to.  Whether or not you actually want to write.

I'm sorry, but that's the plain, hard truth of the matter.  (And for the record, I'm lecturing myself here as much as anybody.)  Once, years ago, I read something that bears on this.  I believe it was in a Julia Cameron book.  She said something to the effect that if a man is in love with you, no matter if he's the busiest executive in the world, he'll find time to call you.

So, ahem.  If you're in love with your writing (and you should be) you will freaking find time to do it, even a little, even if you're just thinking about it, every day.

And here's a little tip to help you do it every day:

At the above-mentioned Happy Hour wherein we discussed every aspect of writing, one of my most favorite writers (and human beings) in the whole world piped up and said she'd been writing every day.  

Gasp.  This required a huge gulp of wine to process.  Because Jenni, (who is likely reading this and rolling her eyes) has not written for months.  This has been the cause of much consternation and hand-wringing between my biz partner Debbie and I, because Jenni is a damn good writer, writing a really fun mystery.

So to hear her announce that she was now writing regularly again was amazing.  And we found out her secret, which is…..

Write for ten minutes a day.

C'mon, everyone can find ten minutes.  And the bigger trick to this is that once you start writing, you often look up and realize that an hour, not ten minutes has gone by and you've really not felt like stopping.

So, the moral of the story is that, yes, I do think every one should write every day if at all possible and that really, everything will fall into place for us all if we just write as often as possible.  

Please share what you think in the comments!

Image by Jem.

Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #35

Here's the latest collection of prompts from my Tumblr blog (minus one, because I forgot to do one on Sunday).

#240 She sat up quickly.  She forgot!  She had totally forgotten about it!  

#241  What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?  Write about it.  Work details can enliven fiction.

#242  Your character’s eating habits tell a lot about him.  Write about them.  Does he drive through McDonald’s every day for breakfast?  Cook lavish meals at home? Dine in the finest restaurants? 

#243  Doing new things is hard.  It is also brain-expanding.  What have you (or your main character) done that is new and different lately?

#244  TGIF.  What does your main character like to do on Friday night?  Date night? Stay home and watch a movie? Go to Happy Hour with friends? Get in bed early and read?

#245  Water.  Are you (or your character) afraid of it or do you revel in it?  Good swimmer or dog paddler?

 How is your writing going?  Do prompts help you write?

 

Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #30

Here's my weekly round-up of writing prompts from my Tumblr blog:

#205 The fog wafted and drifted around buildings and through streets, masking and silencing everything in its path.  So it was a shock when it lifted and…..

#206 Today is President’s Day in the United States, and lot of people (but not all) have the day off.  What holidays does your main character take?  What does she or he do on those holidays?

#207 Waiting….waiting….waiting…Was it worth the wait? Or not?

#208  Some people fear spiders, but snakes don’t bother them.  Others are the opposite—they hate snakes, but spiders are fine.  Which way does your main character fall?  What does this say about him/her?

#209 Procrastination.  Does your main character indulge in it?  How does it affect his life? How does he get himself going again?

#210 Certain objects may hold great significance for us.  They can contain memories, remind us of loved ones, act as talismans against evil, or connect us to our creativity.  Does your main character have a special object she loves? What does it represent to her?

#211 Oh, the glory of it all.

Happy writing! What are you working on?