8 habits of effective—and productive—writers

Effective writers have organized work spaces, specified writing times, and zero tolerance for distractions. Follow their lead to boost your productivity.

When it comes to blogging, we all know content is king and keeping things updated is the No. 1 priority.

But how do you do that when you have a monkey on your back?

Between children, co-workers, construction, and other “c” words that stand for chaos, it is a wonder we can get anything written at all. This is when you need to develop some habits that create calm and order in the middle of mayhem.

Here are some tips on writing and staying productive—even when confusion is knocking on your door:

1. Pick an off time to write.

It might be early in the morning, late in the afternoon, or even in the middle of the night. You know when it is in your life: That time when everything seems to settle down for a little while, or right before it starts all over again. If you can find this prime time and get writing, you will be a lot more productive.

This might mean that you get up before everyone else, but so be it. If early morning is not your thing, try for mid-afternoon. While everyone else is munching on chips and staring at the clock to see how many minutes are left until it is time to go home, be productive and write. If you are a night owl or have flexible hours, the witching hour is a great time to get a lot of writing done in peace and quiet.

I would not suggest writing when the kids get home from school, your spouse gets home from work, or during meal times. It may be just a wee bit distracting.

2. Set aside time to write every day.

Beyond finding opportune times to write, you also need to make writing a habit. When you make writing a part of your day like any other necessity (eating, sleeping, etc.), it can make it feel like less of a struggle. Habits are easy to form and hard to break, so make it a habit to write.

When you set aside a certain time every day to write, you also get less crud from those around you. If you are always busy at 4 p.m., chances are that nosy co-worker will stop bothering you after a week or two.

The same goes for working at home. If the neighbor wants to chat every afternoon but you are busy elsewhere, she will eventually get the picture.

Setting aside a time to write means fewer interruptions and more work accomplished. Setting aside the same time every day also means your brain will be ready to cooperate when you sit down. It will be used to gearing up for writing around that time, and just like when you get hungry around noon, you will start to get antsy to write around your accustomed time.

What a great natural motivator, right?

3. Make a space.

When it comes to chaos, a closed door is your friend. Pick a space to write where you can get away from it all. The living room or kitchen isn’t a good place, nor is anywhere close to the water cooler or coffee pot. Places where others hang out do not make good writing spaces. Instead, try to find a quiet corner or room with a door you can shut, and tune out the rest of the world.

You should also set up an environment that promotes writing. A solid desk, an ergonomic chair, and other basic necessities are a good idea. Do not try to use the edge of your bed, or balance your laptop on a windowsill. It is not pretty, and not conducive to writing long term.

To be a productive writer, you also need to be organized. That means keeping your office space your own. I know it is not always possible, but do your best to keep your stuff in your hands only.

4. Crank up the tunes.

If noise is your problem, I recommend investing in a good headset or ear buds. Crank up the music and get writing. For people like me, music with lyrics is out. I have a tendency to listen to the lyrics instead of concentrating on what I’m writing. For those like me, I recommend instrumental music or nature sounds, like ocean waves or rain.

If you are stressed and need to think, turn on calm music. But if you want to write fast, crank up something a little quicker. Remember, the faster the beat, the faster you type.

5. Turn off the phone.

There is almost no situation where you can’t turn off your phone for an hour or two. Alert the masses with a text and then shut it off. No one will pine about not being in contact with you for a short time.

Do you remember the time before cell phones? Harken back to a quieter, more independent time and shut it off.

6. Get anti-social.

If social media is your time waster of choice, shut it down. You do not have to check Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest every five minutes. You won’t miss anything.

I have found myself losing hours of valuable writing time on social media before. Instead, use it as a reward. If you write two pages, you can look at three tweets, and so on. After a while you will find you don’t miss it.

7. Learn what an emergency is.

There are emergencies, and then there are emergencies. Some things can wait and others can’t. Learn to tell the difference and prioritize.

Giving the dog a bath can wait until after writing time. Taking your child to the hospital can’t. Make writing a priority and think before you act.

Remember, it’s OK to tell people “no” or “later.”

8. Take notes.

Often when I sit down to write, especially in a chaotic environment, I blank out completely. I can’t think of any of the great ideas I had just days or even hours ago.

Instead of losing all those great thoughts to the chaos that is my life, I carry a pen and notebook with me wherever I go. That way I can catch inspiration when it strikes!

Don’t think a word or two will suffice, either. I still have a paper with “blindfolded coconut” written on it, and I have no idea what that means; I just remember it was incredible. Instead of just jotting a word or two, take a few moments to write down the whole idea, outline and all if need be. Make a list of the important points and possible title ideas.

The best thoughts often happen at the most inopportune times, but don’t let that stop you from capturing and saving them for great writing fodder later. You can also do this when unusual or interesting things happen in your life. Did you hear about a great site? Write it down. Did you see something cool? Write it down.

Just like a photographer always needs to carry a camera, writers always need to carry a notebook and write down ideas as they come up. It can save you a lot of frustration and give you some great ideas when you draw a blank.

These are just a few of the ways I’ve learned to write despite the junk going on around me. Most of our lives are not a calm sea—they are more like a hurricane. Sometimes you just have to do your best to hang on and keep going.

Debra Johnson is a blogger and editor of www.liveinnanny.com. A version of this article first appeared on JeffBullas.com. (Image via)


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.