5 Productivity Tips: Avoid Distractions And Write More

5 Productivity Tips: Avoid Distractions And Write More

In our Team Up writers’ sessions, we’ve been discussing productivity, and our biggest challenges in writing more.

Productivity is a challenge for most authors. We can be busy, without being productive — we write and write, but we can’t seem to meet our deadlines.

Productivity: focus and write more

The biggest challenge? Distractions. No one in the group found concentration and focus easy. However, without focus, there’s little chance that we’ll write as much as we could.

Of course, some things are more distracting that others. It’s hard to turn off your phone; it’s a little easier to avoid Facebook. Various apps help you to avoid distractions, but goals work better, so that’s our first tip.

1. Set overall goals and daily goals for your project (Scrivener, and other writing apps help)

Scrivener makes it easy to set word count goals for a project, as well as for each writing session. Ulysses offers a similar feature; I know that other apps do too. Check the Help files of your favorite writing app.

When you know that you need to write a certain number of words in your session, you avoid Facebook and similar distractions until you’re done.

2. Sit down in a chair, open the document you need, and write 50 words

The hardest part of writing is getting started. So, as the old saying goes — place your butt in your chair.

Then write 50 words. You can write 50 words even on your worst day, when you have a blinding headache.

Keep up this process until it becomes a habit — it’s easier if you schedule your sessions, and sit down in the same place every day.

3. Handwrite or dictate your first draft (or choose a writing method that’s fun for you)

Few things are scarier than a blank computer screen.

Get some words onto the screen, any way you can. I either handwrite or dictate my first drafts.

On days when I’m feeling resistant to writing, I handwrite several pages. It helps that I have a fountain pen addiction, and enjoy writing with pens. Think about what you enjoy when it comes to getting those initial words.

I know one writer who writes her first drafts on her phone. She’s very productive, writing several books a year. I couldn’t write on my phone, but it works for her.

4. Know what you intend writing each day before you sit down

Not an idea in your head? Yep, this happens to me too.

However, over the years, I’ve learned to avoid this disaster by outlining several scenes ahead. For me, and for other writers too, this scenario, in which you’re trapped like a deer in the headlights, leads to procrastination… and your productivity dies.

By nature I’m a pantser. I’m happy to start writing when I know the basic story question of a novel, and my main characters. Then I create a mind map or two, and a rough outline of the next four or five scenes.

Unfortunately on some days I realize that — oh no… I’ve nothing outlined. My mind maps suddenly seem dreary and uninspiring.

On those days, I drop back two or three chapters. I reread those chapters, and then I’m good to go — I’ve got inspiration for the next several scenes.

If I’m in a panic because I know that I need a major plot twist (if the midpoint’s coming up, for example, and I realize that I haven’t laid the foundation for it); I might go back to the beginning of the novel, and reread until I’m inspired again.

5. Back yourself to success: no one else will, until YOU do

Without a doubt, the biggest productivity killer for authors is a lack of confidence. Sadly, self-confidence ebbs and flows. No matter how many books you’ve written, every book is a new experience.

One way to gain self-confidence (maybe the only way) is to back yourself. After all, no one else will, if you don’t.

Backing yourself is a decision. I’ve no idea how an author gets to the point where he makes the decision: I will succeed.

Whenever I’ve asked an author when he decided that he’d back himself to succeed, he said something like:

  • “I don’t know…” (sounding surprised);
  • “I decided that I would succeed, no matter what…”
  • “I got sick of my doubts — so I decided to ignore them…”

Decide to back yourself. You don’t need anyone’s validation. It’s your decision, and you need to make it for real productivity.

Onward. Happy writing. 🙂

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Newbie Novelist: 3 Tips To Ignite Your Imagination

Newbie Novelist: 3 Tips To Ignite Your Imagination

You’re a newbie novelist. Although you have lots of ideas, you’re uncertain about shaping those ideas into a book. When you try to write down what’s in your head, your words seem flat.

Alternatively, you’ve written many novel beginnings, then run out of steam. You don’t know why you lose inspiration — you fear that you’re not meant to be a novelist.

Newbie novelist: forget the words — imagine

When you’re new to writing fiction, you focus on the words. That’s understandable: you’re “writing”. You’re self-conscious and tense. It can take years to get over that feeling, and improve your fiction, if you’re not aware of what’s happening.

Here’s the best advice anyone can give you — and I wish that someone had shared it with me. It would have eliminated years of self-doubt and misery… Forget the words, focus ONLY on your imagination. Get what’s in your imagination, and what you’re feeling, onto the page/ computer screen.

Any words will do. You can tinker with the words later, if your grammar’s shaky — but don’t try to pretty up the words and “write.” You’re a storyteller, so tell stories.

Three tips to ignite your imagination

Waiting for your imagination to ignite, and nothing happens? 🙂

Over the years, many adults lose the imagination they had as children. Everyday life takes over. Give yourself permission to play with characters and stories.

These tips may help.

1. Your imagination doesn’t take orders, relax and day dream

Imagining your stories is similar to dreaming. As with your night dreams, you can’t order your subconscious to deliver the day dreams you want on cue.

Stress kills your imagination. Some authors rely on alcohol or mind altering substances so that they can relax. Avoid these dangerous crutches. Instead, try playing music, or take long baths in a candle-lit bathroom.

Over time, you’ll be able to switch on your imagination as if you’re switching on a light, but this ability takes time to develop.

2. Where’s the feeling? Go with the emotion

Stories which excite readers need to excite you first. Although your imagination won’t take orders from you, it will take them from your emotions.

Try thinking something like… “Now, Bethany tip-toes into the room, she’s uncertain about what she’ll find there. She’s angry with Thomas. We want something surprising, and a little creepy…”

Feel those emotions — the character’s anger. Then feel surprised — and so on. Your imagination will deliver.

Yes, I know, this seems weird. However, your creative self is your illogical self; it’s separate from your rational, everyday consciousness. Try this exercise.

3. Surprise yourself: boredom is deadly

When you’re writing, you’re focused on getting the writing session done. You have a deadline (even if it’s one you set), so you want to write that day’s words, and get on with the next project on your agenda.

This morning I wrote a scene in my current historical mystery, and realized that I was bored. Oops

Watch your own emotions. Treat boredom as a big RED flashing warning sign, and STOP. Initially, this is hard to do because you make excuses for your boredom, like: “I’m not in the mood to write today,” or “of course I’m stressed, because…” Yada, yada… You’re bored because you’ve switched off your imagination.

I went back to my process and rewrote the scene.

Keep writing, and imagining

Onward. Keep writing. Before you know it, your imagination will become your partner. Writing novels will be fun for you.

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New Author: 4 Tips To Help You To Write Your Novel

New Author: 4 Tips To Help You To Write Your Novel

You’re a new author, and you want to write a novel — a good novel. Perhaps you’ve already started writing.

You’re excited, and nervous. So far you’ve managed to shout down all those voices in your head which tell you that writing a novel is hard, that you don’t know enough, that you don’t have time… and on, and on.

Take this to heart: baby steps.

New author: want to finish your novel? Take daily baby steps

Nothing blocks a new author as quickly as the knowledge that he’s “writing a book.” Avoid thinking that.

Here’s why. Even a short novel contains at least 40,000 words. At 250 words a page, that’s 160 pages, give or take. A year from now, after you’ve written a book (or two books, if you catch fire) 40,000 words may seem easy-peasy. A stroll in the park.

However, for a new author, when the realization hits that you’ve written five pages and have 155 more to write, the thought of writing all those pages makes you cringe.

Instead:

  • Tell yourself you’re creating a title for a book you may want to write one day, or not…
  • Describe a character, who might appear in your hypothetical book, one day;
  • Imagine your new character in his daily life. Close your eyes. Can you see him? What’s he doing? Write it down.

Think “baby steps” — and write every day. It took me many years to stop thinking about “writing a novel”, and chunk a novel down into simple and easy daily tasks. Baby steps help you avoid drama and procrastination, and make writing easier.

Here are some tips to help you to write those words with brio.

1. Have fun: if you don’t have fun, readers won’t either

Many years ago, when I was writing my first novel, I though that writing was hard. Nevertheless, I love to read, so I was convinced that I could write a novel.

It took a multi-book contract from a major publisher before I realized that:

  • If I wasn’t having fun, or was bored, it came out in the words, which meant red slashes from my editor’s pencil, and rewrites; so…
  • I decided to have fun — to entertain myself.

Not only did the writing flow more smoothly when I was writing to entertain myself, I got far fewer slashes from the editorial pencil.

Moreover, I was eager to get to my desk to write each day.

Have fun.

2. Experience your novel, so that readers will too

In a similar vein, think of your novel as a series of experiences. Readers read to experience your novel.

In my career as a ghostwriter, occasionally someone asks me to write a horror novel, or a serial killer thriller. I refuse, because I can’t read those genres with pleasure. Why would I want to put myself through those kinds of experiences?

You’re a new author, so you’re very focused on the words of your novel. Make it your goal to get beyond the words as soon as you can. Aim to put your readers right into your novel, seeing through your main character’s eyes, to experience what he experiences.

3. It’s all about the characters: what’s your main character’s flaw?

From Characters in Fiction: Love Me, Love My Flaw:

How many people do you know who are perfect? No one’s perfect. We all have flaws – many of them. So characters in fiction need flaws too. Creating a flaw which works can be a real challenge, especially if you’re new to writing fiction.

While all characters are based on aspects of their creator, if you’re a new writer you’ll create characters who are Mary Sues or Marty Stus: idealized people, representations of yourself, and your counterpart of the opposite sex.

To avoid this, focus on a character’s flaw.

Here’s my favorite list of character traits. Pick a flaw (one or two for each character in your novel) which you can SHOW readers.

4. Ramp up the tension (you may not be able to do this in your first draft)

As a new author, your primary goal is to keep readers reading.

Here’s how. Use open loops.

From Write Fiction For Readers: 3 Tips For Narrative Drive:

Open loops are psychological strategies used most often as copywriting tricks. They’re hooks and unanswered questions. You can and should use open loops right throughout your novel.

Many novels use a rapid cutting technique of a series of cliffhangers — open loops. The author places a character in a tough spot, and leaves him there for a few scenes. When the author returns and rescues the character, he’s closing that loop, so he immediately opens another one.

As we’ve said, until you’re an experienced author, you’re unfamiliar with this strategy of writing to keep readers reading, so be happy to make this a goal when you write your second draft.

Also, in your reading, watch for open loops, and how authors use them.

And of course — have fun. 🙂

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Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

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Writing Success Secrets: How To Conquer Self Doubt, And Achieve Your Writing Goals, Starting Today

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Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out Angela’s books for writers.