NaNoWriMo—Kevin’s Elevens Writing Productivity Tips 5 & 6

Writing Productivity Tip #5: Use Every Minute

If you think you need large blocks of time to accomplish any writing, then you’re kidding yourself. One sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time, one page at a time.

Sure, we’d all love extended, uninterrupted hours to do nothing but sit and think, to write page after page while immersed in the story and characters without a distraction in the world … but that’s a luxury most of us don’t have. In the real world, the majority of writers—even successful, published writers—still have full-time jobs and need to fit in their writing around other duties. Writers have families, obligations, even—surprise!—personal lives.

I didn’t actually quit my day job until I’d published eleven bestsellers. It was a 40+ hour per week position with heavy responsibilities, involving frequent travel, as well as constant pressures and distractions. Even so, by taking full advantage of snippets of time in the evenings and on weekends, and a spare lunch hour or two, I managed to write two or three novels per year.

If you have only a few minutes here and there, then learn how to do something productive in those brief bursts. You can plot a short story in the shower, develop a character background while waiting in the dentist’s office, map out a scene before drifting off to sleep at night. Make progress—however small—on your novel during the five or ten minutes of dimness in the theater before the movie starts, while cooking dinner, or while doing tedious household tasks. While riding the bus or vanpool, you can write down notes, scribble outlines, even mark up a printout of an earlier chapter.

Too often I’ve heard the lame excuse, “I don’t have enough time to do a serious amount of writing, so I’ll just [insert procrastinating activity] instead.” Science fiction writer Roger Zelazny used to advise authors to “write two sentences.” Not such an insurmountable obstacle. You may really only have time to write two sentences; in other instances, though, those two sentences will lead to two more, and then two paragraphs; ten minutes later you’ll have a page done. A free ten minutes is ten minutes you could be writing. Two sentences will take you two sentences closer to finishing the manuscript.

If you find yourself in a place where you really can’t jot down notes (in the gym, waiting in line at the grocery store, etc.) use every little snatch of time to ponder what you’re going to write the next time you get a few minutes at your keyboard. Do your mulling ahead of time, so that when you have a few spare moments to sit with your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keys, you can jump right in and get down to actual writing (instead of pondering what you mean to say).

When you have a bit of time to write—a day off, part of an afternoon, an hour, even ten minutes—use it to WRITE! Get as much written as you can. This takes a lot of discipline, and it’s easy to get distracted, but set your priorities. Do you want to be a writer, or would you rather complain about not having enough time to write?


Writing Productivity Tip #6: Set Goals for Yourself—and Stick to Them

I’m a goal-oriented person. Give me a target, or a list, and I’ll set out to accomplish the task, milestone by milestone. When I moved to Colorado, I got a book listing all 54 mountain peaks in the state higher than 14,000 ft, along with hiking or climbing routes to each summit. I immediately made up my mind to climb all of them—and I did.

Similarly, if you set yourself a writing objective, you have a target to shoot for, and a greater chance of achieving it. Make up your mind to set aside one hour per day of dedicated writing, or produce four pages a day, or complete a new story each month.

A caution: Know yourself well enough to set realistic targets, rather than ridiculous ones. If you repeatedly fail to meet your goals, day after day, you’ll get discouraged. Once you learn how to meet your goal of 1000 words per day, for example, then up the stakes to 1500 words a day. Push yourself.

If you find yourself making too many excuses to yourself, try a more clear-cut goal to keep yourself accountable. A regular writer’s group may provide you with incentive, if you need to finish a story before the next meeting. Or you can form or join a support/competition group of your own. Groups can set goals for their members (e.g., each member must submit a piece of writing at each meeting for the other group members to critique).

Rather than viewing this as undue pressure, you can see the friendly competition as mutual support among your fellow writers. The members of a highly successful group in Oregon regularly engage in competitions among themselves. In “the Race,” they compete with one another, keeping track of who has the most submissions in the mail at any one time. The reward is a dramatically increased writing output, as a group. The penalty? The loser buys the others dinner. But no one is the loser, really, because even the person with the lowest output is more productive than he or she would have been without the inspiration of those fellow writers.

Each November is National Novel Writing Month, where entrants challenge themselves to complete a novel manuscript in 30 days. In last year’s NaNoWriMo, participants produced 2.8 billion words in a single month. (Not as part of NaNoWriMo, but because if my deadlines, I wrote the first draft of each of the three books in my new Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series in less than a month, and all three will be published in the space of a year.)

Try entering writing contests, such as those listed in Writers Digest or Writers Market. All of these contests have deadlines which force you to complete your entry by a certain date. In the science fiction and fantasy field, one particularly successful contest is the Writers of the Future; it’s been around for more than an quarter century, and my wife and I are both judges, along with many of the most respected writers in the genre. We highly recommend it.

There are plenty of contests you can track down on the web, and the prospect of winning, as well as a set deadline for entries, may give you the nudge you need. (Beware: Avoid contests that claim all publication rights to submissions. You shouldn’t have to give up your story, no matter how good the contest sounds.)


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