So far in this series, I’ve been talking about life and how you can make that work for writing, rather than how to write. There are already just a few blogs on that topic, eh?
I’m not going to dive into that crowded pool, but in this penultimate part of the Pursue Your Passion series, I am going to talk about some specific tips to help the organisation and productivity of your writing, helping you make the most of the time you’ve made to write.
I don’t know about you, but I have a range of ideas for a range of types of writing. There are a couple of non-fiction books I’d like to write and several fiction ideas at various stages of gestation. I also have blog post topics floating about. Not to mention research I need to do and processes my writing needs to pass through before it’s fit for human consumption.
How the hell are we meant to organise all this?
Workflow, my friend.
What the hell is workflow? Well, I tried to find a definition online, but most of them seem to be written by robots. Exceptionally dry, corporate robots.
So I’ll try to explain: workflow is the series of steps a piece of work or a project goes through from start to finish. It should be something that’s repeatable and can be applied to many projects of the same type.
For writing, you could think of your workflow for a whole novel (could be something like: concept –> development and research –> planning –> drafting –> editing –> beta readers –> final edits –> submission).
You could also consider the workflow each scene/chapter of a novel goes through, or your blog posts, podcast, photographs …
Workflow helps us keep a project moving forward, it can give a helpful framework or sense of direction when working on a project (‘What’s next?’ suddenly becomes an easy question to answer.), and it can help you understand how you work. It’s also great for keeping track of the different stages a project or parts of a project might be at.
In short, workflow is awesome!
And my favourite tool for implementing workflow is Trello.
Oh Trello, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!
Ahem, sorry, I got carried away, but I really do adore Trello. It’s amazing. Here, take a look:
This is my Trello board for my fiction ideas. An idea has to pass through these workflow stages in order to become a finished book:
Initial idea –> Brainstorming –> Research –> Outline –> Draft –> Edits –> Beta readers –> Final edits –> Submission/Publishing
And my Trello board helps me manage that. I can see at a glance what ideas I’ve got in the pipeline (however small a snippet of a concept), what stage other ideas are at and what I need to do with a project next. I have similar boards for non-fiction and for blog posts.
I also use it to help me manage my to do list when editing (in a similar vein to Rachel Aaron’s editing method).
You can colour code cards, move them around, and add comments. It’s super visual and simple to use.
So, you see why I love Trello?
There are loads of great resources out there about motivation – a couple of my favourites are Raj Persaud’s The Motivated Mind, based on psychological research [affiliate link, and the US version], and The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey, by Joanna Penn [affiliate link, US version here], which helps with all different areas of brain wrangling (seriously, I finished reading that book and turned right back to the beginning and started again!).
One of the most effective ways I’ve found of improving my motivation is tracking and it seems to be one that helps loads of people.
When I’m drafting, tracking my total word count and my words per hour, ticking off planned scenes as I write them, and representing this visually is a huge help. I’m deep in the editing pit (at least that’s how it feels) at the moment and I’ve written up a long to-do list of changes I need to make – these get crossed off as I do them.
Yes, in terms of organisation it helps, because I know what I’ve done and what’s left to do, but just as important is the psychological impact that has on my motivation. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and tracking all this helps me see each step I’ve taken, each mile I’ve progressed.
A graph of total words done in my first draft lets me see that I’m getting there. I put it above my desk and the great thing about a graph of total first draft words done is that it just goes up and up and up, unerringly towards that projected total of 90,000 words (or 115,000+ if you are a glutton for punishment write fantasy like me).
Your Golden Hour
Know thyself. Not just an ancient Greek quote, but infinitely useful advice.
In this particular case, knowing yourself allows you to know when you’re at your most effective.
I have trouble getting started: it takes me a while to get going in the morning, to feel really alert and leap into action on my projects for the day. Which is why, for me, working at a day job is kind of useful – it forces me to get up and get going, then by the time I get home in the evening I’ve got that momentum, so I write when I first get in (and during my lunch break, sometimes).
I could set my alarm for half an hour earlier every day, but that doesn’t work for me – I’m an owl, not a lark.
Find the time that works for you and, if you’re not sure, try different times of day (and give it a real chance, not 5 minutes before you give up). It might be that your house is quiet straight after work, because no one else is home yet, or maybe that’s peak chaos for your household.
Protect Your Time
When you’ve worked out when your golden hour (or half hour or whatever it is) is, protect it, safeguard it, hoard it jealously.
Avoid scheduling anything else in that time. Put it in your diary – block it out with highlighter.
Use an app like StayFocusd, which blocks the whole internet or just specific sites (I’m looking at you, Facebook and Twitter!) for a certain timeframe.
You need to prioritise your writing, because no one else will.
Get into the Groove
Make it a habit, try to be as consistent as possible. You might not be able to do the same thing every day, Monday to Friday, but can you form a habit that Tuesday and Thursday you write as soon as you get home, while Monday, Wednesday and Friday you write in your lunch break?
Habit, momentum, rhythm – these things make it easier to get started and quicker at the work itself.
Habit-forming is helped by prompts, such as the time and place you write. Perhaps you always go to a café to write, so that sound of hustle and bustle will become a trigger to write. Little rituals can help, like having a specific drink, switching off the internet and only opening Scrivener when it’s time to write.
I have made my desk into a trigger location – when I sit there, it’s time to get my head down and focus. My pinboard with motivational quotes, inspirational images and quotes that remind me of my goals and my book help that even further.
Plan for The Next Thing
Knowing what you’re going to do next will help avoid that flailing, sinking feeling when you finish a project.
You’ve finished editing one book – good stuff! What’s next? Is there a project ready to start drafting? Do you have some research to do?
I find it helps to have a solid idea ready to go when I’ve finished one piece, so I brainstorm, research, collect and experiment with ideas, and start outlining while I’m still working on the previous book. I try not to get too deep into the next piece, but its easier to get started on the next project when some planning is already in place.
Having deadlines and stretch targets can also help, but, again, that depends on you and your personality.
Some other resources I’ve found really useful for my productivity:
- An online pomodoro timer, with a variety of time combinations and an alarm.
- 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love [affiliate link; US version here] – this fantastic book by Rachel Aaron made my productivity explode. Before reading it and following its techniques, I could do about 1,000 words an hour, now I can top 2,000 words an hour (and those are both typing, not dictating – that’s next on my to-try list).
- Monica Leonelle’s Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Day (Growth Hacking For Storytellers #1) [affiliate link, US version here] – this does revisit a lot of similar ideas to Rachel Aaron’s book, so I wouldn’t recommend reading both too close together, but I did find a slightly different angle in Monica Leonelle’s book, together with some different ideas. Plus the second part of the book includes her own journal entries/reflections, which were interesting to read.
As for this series, next week is our last part, come back for some closing words …