Note: every writer writes differently. What works for one writer may not work for another. Trust your gut.
One of the most common questions I’m asked is how I manage to write so much whilst seemingly also having, y’know, a life.
Usually, I find this question quite funny, because I never really considered myself a prolific writer, not until recently, anyway. I used to write one-thousand to two-thousand words every day, which usually took me two or three hours. To me, that wasn’t really a lot. If anything, I felt guilty for not spending more time writing than I did. ‘If I could spend five hours writing, I’d get five-thousand words written per day…’
But two things made me resist my target.
Firstly, it’s because I was doing what I was told by other writers too much.
Allow me to elaborate: every corner of the web you visit (bar a few. How many corners does the web have, actually?), you’ll find advice on what a ‘respectable’ amount of words per day is. I think the most common upper word limit, we can safely agree, is one-thousand words. For some reason, one-thousand words per day appears to be some sort of holy grail for writers. Anything higher, and the writer is either a.) rushing, or b.) writing crap.
By digesting all of this advice, we kind of start to believe it a little, which is what was highly frustrating to me. I was finishing my 1k per day in just over an hour and, because of the cauldron of rights and wrongs on the internet, actually felt a little guilty for writing any longer. I was, quite simply, a little bored.
The second reason I resisted my pursuit for 5k per day is because five solid hours at a desk sounds like a hell of a long time. There’s no way my creative juices could solidly run for that long, I believed.
I was wrong. Well, kind of.
I could give you a list of ‘this is what you should dos’, but I won’t because I think that when ingested, that kind of advice can be bad for your health. Instead, I just want to introduce you to a few productivity methods that can see you hitting the thousands by lunchtime.
That’s right. A whole afternoon off to catch up on whatever crap’s on Netflix these days.
Bear in mind I’m talking about first draft words here. Not rewriting. That’s a different matter for another post. However, these techniques can be used everywhere. But anyway…
1.) The Pomodoro Technique
You may or may not have heard of the Pomodoro Technique. I hadn’t up until a couple of weeks ago, but since I’ve started implementing it, my daily wordcount has doubled, and I feel refreshed and a sense of achievement because of it.
Basically, the Pomodoro Technique is this: you set a timer for twenty-five minutes and you do whatever task it is you want to do (in our case, writing). You work solidly on that task for twenty-five minutes, and then when the time is up, you take a five minute break, no matter what. Nip to the loo, refill your glass of water — Pomo’ don’t discriminate.
Then, you repeat the cycle again. After four full cycles, you take a longer break.
Can you see how beneficial this is to writing? I usually start writing somewhere around ten-thirty in the morning. I complete a few cycles and then take a lunch break. On a good day, I’ll have a couple thousand words written by the time I take lunch. On a great (read: early start) day, I’ll have hit 5k already.
The best thing about it is, because it breaks your work up into smaller chunks, you don’t feel as drained as you would do if you’d spent several solid hours. My productivity method used to be this: wait for the clock to hit the hour and then write until that hour is up. But it was a poor method, in hindsight — I regularly got distracted and my words per hour were nowhere near as high as I know they can be.
Another bonus? Maybe you do only have twenty-five minutes per day, but with the Pomodoro Technique, you can turn those twenty-five minutes into a goldmine of productivity. Do you have twenty-five minutes per day? Then you can finish a novel in eighty days. How’s that sound?
You can purchase various apps or visit websites for the Pomodoro Technique. I use an app called Focus Time. The official website is well worth visiting too. I mean, those little tomatoes look awesome, and I’d definitely have one if I wasn’t such a digital geek.
The Pomodoro Technique has helped me realise my potential. It really is as simple as that.
2.) White Noise
I used to write with no music, and then I went to university and realised I was kidding myself in thinking I’d get a moment of peace there. My experience of writing with music has always been hit and miss. Sometimes, it really suits the project (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack work was perfect for my creepy novella, The Painting), but often, I just find myself distracted.
Enter: white noise. There isn’t really much exciting to say about white noise, to be honest, other than it’s great for blocking the outside world out. Now, I use it all the time, whether it’s quiet outside (it usually is — I live in the countryside nowadays) or not. It’s become a part of my productivity regime, and for that, I salute it.
I usually listen to this clip on my iPad. It’s free, and it’s pretty much endless, so it fits the bill.
3.) A Writing Tracker
I’m a sucker for keeping track of myself. I used to have so many of those days where I don’t feel like I’ve done as much as I actually have, so I realised I needed to create something to keep myself in check.
Now, I have a spreadsheet. I know, I know — I hate spreadsheets too, or at least I did. Now, I kind of love the things. All I have is columns for the date, hours written, word count for that session, and then two extra columns for the daily total hours and words.
It’s a great way of keeping track of things you might not initially be aware of. For example, I used to be convinced I was a late night writer, but my 10pm to 10.25pm total was short of my earlier average. I was wrong about my own habits.
I’d really recommend setting up a spreadsheet as basic as mine. It’s heartening to see a novel’s wordcount grow, and provides you with plenty of motivation to continue.
4.) Freedom App
I’ve discussed Freedom in the past. Sick of being distracted by social media? Is researching your novel getting in the way of the actual writing of your novel? Then Freedom App could be for you.
Again, nothing overly exciting here: you key in a time and it blocks your internet for that number of time. The only way you can access the net is if you restart your computer, which for a lazy slob like me, isn’t worth the effort.
Freedom is available for Mac, and I believe there is a Windows version these days, too.
5.) A Folded Up Bolton Wanderers Ticket
‘Cause Apple’s Pages in full screen mode still doesn’t give the option to hide wordcount whilst writing, I have to do it that manual way. Damn them!
Yeah, I don’t like seeing my wordcount. If I’m checking my wordcount, I’m not focused. Don’t fall victim to the wordcount. Buy a Bolton Wanderers ticket. We could do with the extra fans.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! An update on the fiction front: mailing list and Twitter followers will already be receiving details on the launch of my new novel, Killing Freedom. I’ll be blogging about that tomorrow, but if you can’t wait…
http://www.twitter.com/RyanCaseyBooks — s’all on there. This rollout launch is part of a bigger strategy too. You’ll see! I hope.
Image courtesy of AndyRobertsPhotos via Flickr.