NaNoWriMo—Kevin’s Elevens Writing Productivity Tips 7 & 8


Write during the writing stage.

Edit during the editing stage.

Even though both activities involve a writer sitting at the keyboard staring at the screen, Writing and Editing are two very different processes. Each one requires a separate set of skills and talents; each uses a different part of your brain—the creative part and the analytical part. Learn to recognize the difference, and teach yourself to focus on only one process at a time.

Writing is the creative part of the process. When you’re writing—creating—let yourself be caught up in your story. (See Tip #4.) Get swept away by the characters, the situation, the events taking place as the plot unfolds. Don’t worry about the commas. Write the story first. Tell what happens, where it happens, and who it happens to, without getting hung up on fiddling with the previous paragraph, polishing one bit of dialogue, rearranging the sentences, researching subtle rules of usage, looking up historical dates, or finding the proper punctuation. No need to get every spelling or grammar guideline correct at this stage. 

 You’ll have ample opportunity later.

Once the creative part is done, when your draft is written and the story told, then activate the more analytical part of your brain. Change hats and become an Editor instead of a Writer. Now is your opportunity to look at the sentence structure, cull out the redundant phrases, correct the grammar, add the appropriate punctuation if you didn’t get it right the first time, run your spell check. As I’ll describe in Tip #9, I have two totally separate methods for writing and editing. I do my initial drafts by dictation while I hike (thus, it’s not possible for me to worry about, or even see, cosmetic nuances of grammar or punctuation), and after I dictate the first draft, I do my editing on the computer.

You can always go back and make changes—always. If you allow self-doubt (or the lack of the “perfect” word or phrase) to keep you from moving on to the next sentence, then you’ll never finish that paragraph—which means you’ll never finish that chapter, which means you’ll never finish that novel.

Too many times I’ve seen writers derail their creative process by stopping the action to tweak a word or a sentence. If you write a few paragraphs, then go back and polish them, you destroy all the forward momentum you had. It’s like shifting gears again and again, forward, reverse, forward, reverse, and you could burn out your mental transmission.

Save the criticism for the second draft. That way you’ll actually finish writing and have something to polish. As far as I know, no one has ever published a “perfect,” but only half-completed, novel.



So, you’ve developed a writing routine, set up an office or at least a place where you use your laptop. It’s the way you’re accustomed to writing. But habit doesn’t necessarily make your setup the best. Have you ever stepped back with an objective eye to consider whether it works for you?

Is your “office” (whether it’s a spare bedroom, a corner of the kitchen table, or an old desk in the hall) conducive to productivity? Don’t just accept your environment as it is.

 Consider other possible rooms, desks, tables in the house. Try to create a “haven” for yourself, a place you can call a writing office, so that when you’re working there, you—and everyone else—regard it as your real workplace.

Look at where you have your computer or laptop set up. Is it on a TV tray in the middle of the living room with chaos and clutter all around? Probably not the best spot. A corner of the kitchen table with any old chair pulled up? A place where it’s easy for friends and family to chat with you? Is the television on and distracting you?

Now, look at your writing surface and your chair. See that they’re adjusted at the proper height: your bent arms should form a loose “L” to reach the keyboard. Most regular chairs are much too low for a typical table surface. If you hunch over or have to reach up for the keyboard or mouse, you could end up with sore arms, wrists, shoulders, and that can lead to serious repetitive-stress injuries such as pinched nerves, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, or cubital tunnel syndrome, to name a few. (I know from experience—my wife has had four arm surgeries to correct damage caused by an improper office setup from when she worked a full-time office job.) Sit on a pillow if you have to, or install a keyboard shelf.

Next, consider your personal habits and schedules. These will be different for each writer. Some people write best at home in familiar surroundings, while others find the home environment filled with distractions and numerous little household tasks. Some find themselves stimulated to write in a coffee shop with constant comings and goings and background chatter, while others prefer to get away from distractions by renting a separate room to be used specifically as an outside office. I happen to be most productive when writing or editing with loud music playing; my wife works best in total silence (which means we have our offices on opposite ends of the house).

(A side note: I use a set of noise-cancelling headphones while I travel. They are remarkably effective at shutting out the background hubbub of airports, train stations, and coffee shops—which lets me concentrate completely, even amidst the chaos.)

What time of day is your peak imagination and energy? I’m a morning person, and I get the most work done first thing in the day with fresh coffee running through my bloodstream. Rebecca is a lot slower to get moving and doesn’t do much creative work until later in the day, but then she stays up well beyond the time when my sleepy brain is shutting down.

 If you’re a night person, try to arrange your writing time for late at night; if you’re a morning person, get up a little earlier to do your creative work.

Just because you’re used to writing in a certain place at a certain time, doesn’t mean that’s the only way you can be productive. As an experiment, try writing under different circumstances, at various times, and in a variety of places, then determine the best environment for you. Which collection of variables allows you to produce the most pages? You may be surprised. Then, once you’ve figured out how and where you can be most productive, arrange your schedule and your office environment to accommodate that.


You may also be interested in attending our Superstars Writing Seminar, an intensive three-day seminar on the business of writing and publishing, how to build your career, taught by six international bestselling writers and heads of major publishing houses. February 6–8 in Colorado Springs, CO