On writing: Writing more productively

Last week I wrote about cultivating a better writing atmosphere. Here are some additional tips and reading recommendations for those who want to focus on writing more productively.

Shut off your devices

Here’s one that’s going to be hard for a lot of people: turn off your internet and cellphone while you write. Internet, messaging apps, cellphones: all of these things are just fancy distractions keeping you from being more productive. To write more, you need to buckle down and focus, and this means eliminating as many distractions as possible.

Some writers go so far as to have a computer that does not have an internet connection and they use this computer for their writing. George R. R. Martin shocked the internet back in 2014 when he shared that he still uses a 20 year old DOS computer for his writing. While his point seemed to be that he preferred the word processing software of the older computer, I still imagine he must get much more done on a machine free of the distractions of modern software.

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On writing: Creating the perfect writing atmosphere

When writing, one of the most important aspects for being productive is the atmosphere or environment. It is common for a writer to have a particular set-up for writing. Whether that is a special place in their home, such as a desk dedicated to only writing, or just cultivating a particular writing atmosphere, where and how writing takes place is quite important.

George Bernard Shaw's writing hut newspaper article 1929Where writing occurs can be essential in creating a productive writing atmosphere as documented in the case of many famous authors: some authors such as George Bernard Shaw and Roald Dahl had dedicated writing spaces in the form of a writing shed, separate from their home. Maya Angelou was known for renting a hotel room where she could go during the day to write, free from the distractions of home.

Even if they did not designate a specific space for writing, other authors have focused on how they write. It’s common to sit at a desk, but Ernest Hemingway and other writers have preferred standing up while writing, while others like Mark Twain and George Orwell swore by lying down to write. Vladimir Nabokov wrote on index cards so he could rearrange the cards if he wanted to change the sequence of events. Other authors prefer writing longhand, moving to typewriters or computers for later drafts.

Most writers don’t have the kind of flexibility that famous authors do in creating the perfect writing atmosphere. But you can still try to create a more productive writing environment starting with these strategies.

Writing in seclusion or at home?

Secluded writing shed (Photo by Paul Itkin)As discussed already, some writers absolutely require seclusion when writing. Are you this kind of writer? Do you find yourself easily distracted while at home or at your desk? Do you live with other people who do not understand the meaning of a closed door, or the request to give you some quiet time while you write? If this sounds familiar, you might need to a secluded writing spot away from home.

Now, I can’t imagine many readers will have the luxury of building a writing shed à la Shaw or renting a hotel room à la Angelou, but you can still get out of the house. Try finding a public space where you can work uninterrupted. There’s the cliché of writers at coffee shops for a reason: some people need to get out to write, whether that’s because they need to find some outside inspiration or they just can’t get any writing done at home. Continue reading

When is it too late to join NaNoWriMo?

If you’ve ever thought of taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), you might have run into this question: when is it too late to join NaNoWriMo? Many people start planning for NaNoWriMo well before November, but for others life has a way of, well, getting in the way.

I ran into this problem the first year I heard about NaNoWriMo since I heard about it well into the first week of November. Though I was already lagging behind in word count, I still tackled the challenge and managed to finish by the skin of my teeth on the last night. But this might be the exception to the rule. At a certain point, no matter how determined you are, NaNoWriMo becomes unfeasible.

NaNoWriMo crestSo, how can you figure out if it’s too late to take up the NaNoWriMo challenge?

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On writing: Editing in the first draft

One of the polarizing subjects in the writing community is the question of whether or not to edit in the first draft. The first group believes editing in the first draft helps get the draft to a “good enough” state, which allows the writer to move on to the next section without worrying the previous part was trash and the whole draft is inherently flawed. The second group believes editing in the first draft is Sisyphean in nature since most final works are significantly different from the first draft. After the first draft is complete, entire scenes, chapters, characters are cut and left behind, and any time the author invested in perfecting those sections of the work is, in a way, wasted.

I tend to scribble a lot by Nic PheeI have seen a first draft referred to as an “exploration,” which I feel captures the nature of drafting a story: it’s a journey into other worlds, other people’s lives. What will you find? What characters will you meet? You might start with a clear idea, but things become fluid and change. As I write, I discover new characters, new plots, and new relationships, and sometimes there are quite a few surprises along the way.

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On writing: Word count spreadsheets

NaNoWriMo is coming and with that the word count crunch! For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, here’s the blurb from their About page:

NaNoWriMo crestNational Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.

50,000 words in one month is pretty daunting: most writers aren’t nearly that prolific. But this challenge is for anyone, as NaNoWriMo emphasizes. So how’s the average writer supposed to tackle such a gargantuan task?

Well, one common answer is word count spreadsheets. A spreadsheet won’t do the writing for you, but it will help you keep track of your progress, and as you chip away at that 50,000 word mountain, you’ll see that 50,000 words in a month can be done.

Note: to modify these word count spreadsheets, you’re going to need a program like OpenOffice or Microsoft Excel, or use a service like Google Docs.

The Basic:

Justin McLachlan has made a very good basic word count spreadsheet for writers who only care about word count.

NaNoWriMo Tracker by Justin McLachlanThis spreadsheet tracks the very basics: word count, the day’s target, if you are meeting your goal, and how far along you are. But what I really love about this spreadsheet is the colors used to visually cue the user as to their progress towards their goal. Utilizing the stoplight colors of red / yellow / green helps the user know when they are on track and when they are falling behind. Green is excellent, yellow is good, but red means danger, Will Robinson!

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