20 writing tactics to rev up your productivity

Grab a few minutes at time, or grab a crayon, a la James Thurber. This array of tips will unclog your creative axons and dendrites and get those words and ideas flowing again.

20 writing productivity tips

You want your latest writing project to move faster. Many great writers have felt the same way.

Don’t worry, it’s fixable. When the words stop, writers have effective ways of getting them to flow again. Here are 20 techniques:

1. Plow new ground. Write multiple drafts instead of obsessively editing the same one. You can tell the same story, but tell it over again. You will probably feel more encouraged. That part that you never knew how to fix? Maybe your new draft doesn’t have it anymore.

2. Commit to a consistent schedule. Write daily, not someday. Start today, not tomorrow. Find the best time for you. Resolve that 6 a.m or 9 p.m. will be your regular time for writing, and that’s it. If you don’t make time, you may not find time.

3. Use the time you have. After all, you can’t use the time you don’t have. Though it’s definitely easier to write when you don’t constantly switch tasks, you can’t wait for large blocks of time to appear in your schedule. Take advantage of the minutes between tasks, time that might have been misused. When you can’t write, prepare to write.

4. Set priorities. You can’t do everything. You can’t spend three hours a day watching television, four hours playing video games, eight hours at work or school, eight hours sleeping, two hours eating, and one hour writing. That totals 26 hours a day. You’ll have to cut something from your schedule. Do you want to write or not?

5. Count words, not minutes. You may feel lighter and freer if you know you can go play golf once you have written 1,000 words. You may write faster out of sheer anticipation.

6. Count minutes, not words. On the other hand, sometimes the words get hard and so does your chair. If your mind is strained, tired or muddled, maybe you should limit your writing time. Find a goal you can stick to. (This is not permission to give up easily.)

7. Don’t begin at the beginning. The title and first lines are the hardest parts to write. They get easier after you’ve finished the rest, and having perfected them might not help you write the rest more efficiently. So, don’t bother writing them first. You can change the title anytime before the release; that’s one reason movies have working titles.

8. Start in the middle. Actually, start writing the part that most inspires you. Start where you want to, where your creative urge is strongest. You can add introductions and conclusions later. Write your favorite part first.

9. Choose an audience. You write most effectively when you know whom you’re writing for, when you can picture them. Then you’ll know your purpose more clearly.

10. Change your audience. If your writing gets stuck or even boring, try picturing a different reader. Maybe you weren’t picturing any particular reader at all. No wonder your writing sounded unfocused. Imagine you’re writing to your best friend, your best customer, your biggest fan, or to your grandmother. (Write regularly to your grandmother, if you have one.)

11. Take very small steps. If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of writing the whole piece, tell yourself to write just one sentence and then stop. Science fiction writer Roger Zelazny used to advise authors to “write two sentences.”

12. Never rewrite until you’re done writing. There is a time for writing and a time for editing, and most writers can’t do both at once. Editing as you write will slow your writing, often to a standstill. It’s a major cause of writer’s block. Once you get started, ideas will come running fast enough that you won’t have time to refine them until after the stampede.

13. When one project bogs down, switch to another. We were built for variety, and the specialization of the Industrial Age has lessened us. You weren’t meant to always do the same thing. Keep more than one thing bubbling at any given time. If you (temporarily) lose interest in one writing project, you’ll always have something else to work on.

14. Please only yourself. You can pretend to be interested in a genre because it sells well, but you’re competing against other writers who aren’t pretending. Competition in the publishing world is tough enough. That’s not to say you should ignore market forces. If you enjoy writing in two genres, it’s fine to pick the more popular one. If you focus on what you know best, you can write faster and research less—and with less competition.

15. Your teacher is not looking over your shoulder. Too often, school teaches children to write and teaches them to hate writing. Writing gives us a way to share ourselves, and we should love it. Grammar is not sharing; it’s only an aid to sharing. Style is worthless if it doesn’t help your reader. You have no obligation to sound like anyone but yourself.

16. Keep a notebook. When you have a fresh idea, write it down and store it for the times when you don’t. Make notes of interesting expressions you’ve overheard, describe scenes you’d like to write about, record physical details.

17. Don’t wait for inspiration. If your Creative Muse doesn’t flit into your room and shower inspiration upon you, go out into the hallway and take her by the hand. If you were in your chair writing at your scheduled time of 6 a.m. or 9 p.m, she would have known where to find you. Look in your notebook; there should be some inspiration there.

18. Say what you really mean. If you get stuck or tangled in your writing, try this: Pretend you’re talking to a child and say, “What I really mean is….” Then say what you really mean. My college speech teacher used a similar technique. When nervous students showed up to give their first speech, she told them, “You don’t have to give your speech; just tell us what you would have said.”

19. Change your medium. If you can’t get your writing to move, tell your story out loud. Leave yourself a voicemail. Send it as an email to someone. Send it as a text. Write it as a series of headlines. Write only the outline. Use a pencil. Use a crayon, as James Thurber As his eyesight diminished, he had to write one letter per page.

20. Write any way you can. If you feel constricted as a writer and the words don’t come, work around your block. Don’t force yourself to stay on the main point. Tell your backstory, share your history, give the background, explain the alternatives. You’ll get back on track soon enough.

How many of these tips have you tried? What other tips have worked for you?

A version of this post first appeared on Daily Writing Tips.

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