Quarterly Column Archive
Know Your Traits: Productivity Tips
Anybody can be a productive writer. The trick is to go with the tide rather than against it. Here's some advice for working with personal traits to create a self-tailored writing habit.
A morning glory or a night owl?
If you're at your creative best in the morning, dedicate the very start of your day to writing. Even if you can only spend an hour before getting ready for work, you'll plant a seed to come back to later in the day or the next day.
If you're at your best in the evening, lop off the end of your day to devote to writing. Follow this simple equation: The time you need to get to bed minus the amount of time you need to be productive equals the time you start to write. You'll have to trim back on television and social engagements, but if you want to write then something has to budge.
A sprinter or a long-distance runner?
Do you have a short attention span? If so, set daily word counts. By setting word counts, you aren't requiring yourself to sit for a set period of time. On days when your creative energy flows, you'll reach your goal before you begin to feel the need to stretch. When it isn't flowing, you're free to get up and return after a break or later in the day to reach your daily count in spurts.
If you have staying power and/or need to stick with something for a while before your creative juices start to flow, the best way to get a discipline going is to set time goals. The amount of time you set for each day can vary, so be realistic. You'll need to schedule days when you devote a good chunk to writing to make progress. On days when you don't have enough time to warm up, do a small task such as reworking a paragraph.
An idea factory or a blank slate?
If you have more ideas than you need, then it's time to get organized. For each possible writing project, establish how long it would take to write. Form a hierarchy by placing the project that will take the least amount of time on top, and so on. Get started with number one.
If, however, one project on the list keeps calling you, then that's the one to start with, even if it will take the longest to write and you're not sure it will see the light of day (read: publication). You have to do what you have to do, so don't fight it. Fighting just eats up precious time.
If you suffer from the recurring problem of sitting down to write and drawing a blank, then start with some writing exercises. Chances are one of the exercises will click and become a longer project. You can also turn a newspaper article into a fiction or investigate a topic you're burning to know more about. Whether you're writing fiction, poetry, or nonfiction, come up with a question that baffles you and write to find the answer.
Deadline-driver or self-starter?
If you're deadline driven, then set deadlines. Find contests to enter. Take classes. Agree to exchange work with a friend by a set date and stick to it. Pitch a monthly column to a Web site or magazine. A series of columns can morph into chapters that eventually form a book.
If a deadline is a noose around your neck, don't set one. Draw up a plan instead. For example, if you're writing a novel and you write 300 new words a day, you'll have a 356-page draft in a year. Focus on day-to-day goals rather than a due date.
Now take what you've gleaned from above and create a writing habit.