Guest Post: Becoming a Productive Writer

Posted By on January 19, 2014

PictureToday’s guest post is from Maria Rachel Hooley, who has written over 30 novels. As part of Get Organized Month, she shares how to make time for writing.

While there are many quotes I could use to describe all the frustrations about writing and not writing and not writing when you want to, “A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today,” by Karen Lamb, seems most fitting because writing, and particularly the writing of novels, is something that requires consistency and devotion, which means writing even when you may not feel like it.   There’s no other way to get the novel finished, and the longer it takes you to commit to it, the longer it’s going to be before you can embark on the writing career you’ve always wanted.

Of course, here’s where a lot of people drag “the muse” into things as an excuse for not writing.  That’s what it is—an excuse.  While what we write may be magic, the process isn’t.  It’s work.  Truthfully, however, the most productive writers follow one simple rule:  apply butt to chair and don’t get up again until you’ve achieved your word count goal.  It has nothing to do with the muse acting like Puck from A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.  It has to do with training your mind to accomplish the goals you’ve set for yourself and remembering that if writing were easy, everybody would finish a book.

So now let’s look at some tricks and tips to help you get into a writing mindset.

  1.  Establish ultimate goals.  Are you going to write a book you want to see in print?  Do you want a blog to reach out to people with common interests?  Do you want to write a screenplay in the hope of breaking into that market?  Yes, this is all writing, but mentally, you will approach each of these projects a little differently.  Some will require more research.  Others will need time spent on characters and plot.  Whichever project you pursue, set up a realistic deadline to finish the research/prewriting portion before you start writing.   Also set up a realistic goal for finishing the writing of the book.  If you base daily goals on word counts and figure out how long you want the project to be, you can figure out how long it’s going to take.  Notice I used the word Realistic.  The first way to cause yourself grief is to set up goals you can’t achieve.  You want to succeed.
  2.  Set up either page counts or word counts for each day.  Add this to your To-Do List.  If you don’t make your writing a priority, no one else will, either.  Yes, you will probably get complaints from family and friends and maybe even employers, too, but that happens to most of us.  Other people don’t understand why we need to lock ourselves in a room with only a computer for company.  Some are still looking for the DSM-IV TR to diagnose this condition.  They won’t find it.  Even the psychotherapy community knows better than to mess with writers….
  3. Get a calendar or planner and jot down your page count for each day. Highlight that count with one particular color so at the end of the month you can see what you did to further your dream.  This accountability will either make you very happy or make you want to get your butt in gear.
  4. Always have pen and paper handy.  I’ve been known to work on my book for the fifteen minutes I was waiting for “the rest of my life” to work itself out.  Besides, who isn’t sitting at a doctor’s appointment or waiting to pick up kids from somewhere?  This will make the time pass more quickly and give you something to show for it.
  5. Give yourself to inspiration.  For me, it’s movies, music, and books.  When I see a story done well, it makes me want to work, to try to make someone else feel the way I felt when the credits rolled or I finished reading that last novel.  If you don’t feed your creativity, you can’t expect it to produce good stuff.
  6. Network with other writers.  Yes, I know this seems counter-intuitive because it takes more away from the writing time, but even the most introverted writer needs friends who write.  Think of it as cheap therapy.   Sometimes that  “therapy” will keep you writing when nothing else will.  And another pair of eyes on your work can be invaluable.  Someone else can often see the gaping plot hole you manage to miss.
  7. Figure out whether you are a plotter or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer.  This bit of knowledge hit me when I had to ditch ninety pages of a novel and start from scratch because the story was going nowhere.  I’m a die-hard plotter.  If you know which of these writing personalities you are, you’ll find it so much easier to get from point A to point B.  How do you know which you are?  If you don’t want to know the end ahead of time because it ruins things for you, you are probably the latter.  If you care more about the path making sense along the way and you need a schedule to do most things, you are probably a plotter.  While that’s not a hard, fast rule, it is a good general guideline.  Knowing which type you are is important because it will allow you to spend the time where you need to in the pre-writing stage.  Most plotters go for extensive outlines.  If you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, you’d do better to spend time knowing your characters really, really well because that’s pretty much the only blueprint you’ll have.
  8.  Set up a Dropbox or other type of cloud back-up.  This will save your sanity when your computer suddenly goes on strike and keeps you from abandoning the novel because it’s too much work to re-write.
  9. Treat writing like any other part of your life.  Give it time and realize that while “Richard Castle” may have a life you envy, that’s not what most writers’ lives are like.  Writing is a second job.  It can be incredibly hard and very frustrating.  Know this going in.
  10. Celebrate your victories.  I reward myself for every book I finish.  It reminds me that no matter what the world may think of my words, I value the creative side of my life.
  11.  Try to have a device that is strictly for writing.  If you decide that this device is only for writing, you will build a habit that gets words out there.  This will help you stay off the Internet when you want to work on a project.  This device doesn’t have to be a laptop.  I actually have a 7 inch Kindle HDX and keyboard that I use for this.  It automatically saves my work to my cloud service so the file is backed up on all my devices.  Conversely, you could set a tablet up for the Internet and dedicate your laptop to writing.
  12. Consider investing in a device that has speech-to-text capabilities.  My Kindle does.  It’s great because sometimes I just don’t want to sit at the keyboard and type but still want to get my word count in.
  13.  The very best thing you can do for writing is start today and stay committed to whatever project you start.  A lot of people will start a book and quit because it gets too hard.  Yes, writing is hard.  That first book is the hardest.  Write through it.  You’ll be surprised at how differently you view the process after you finish, and how many things will fall into line after that.
  14.  Have fun.  Or have heartbreak.  If you don’t feel the words, no one else will, either.
  15.  Remember why you are doing this.  First and foremost, it should be for you.

Maria Rachel Hooley has written over thirty novels, including New Life Incorporated and When Angels Cry.  Her first chapbook of poetry was published by Rose Rock Press in 1999. While her novels typically venture into different genres, the one constant is the theme of redemption.  She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and three children.  If she’s not writing, she’s probably teaching English to high school or college students.




2 Responses to “Guest Post: Becoming a Productive Writer”

  1. Winona Cross says:

    Maria, you can always perk me up with words of wisdom. For readers of this blog who don’t know my friend pay attention this woman knows how to write well. I need the messages in todays post, particularly now because I have several projects on the burner now. Very nice, Maria.

  2. Ellen Delap says:

    What a great list of ways to write! This list is a great way to accomplish any single goal. Starting and staying committed are the way I make a goal happen. I encourage everyone to find their best way to start and stay committed!