Here’s a story that might sound familiar. A few years ago, after I got a book deal, I dropped down from full-time work at my day job, to working just a few shifts every two weeks. I was ecstatic about all the writing I’d surely get done. But when I started writing every day, I made a disturbing discovery: I wasn’t getting any more work done in my eight new hours of free time than when I had to cram it all into the one free half hour I had all day. I would write 1000 words no matter how long I had to do it.
Last year, I blogged about some tricks I picked up to increase productivity when working from home (internet blocking apps and what have you), but since then, I’ve learned a few more helpful ways to kick my butt into gear when the pull of the internet is strong and another episode of Big Brother is on the PVR (don’t judge). And because I’m nice like that, I’ll share them with you.
1. Use a calendar system to record progress. (Red dot sticker for 1000 words, blue dot for 500, yellow for 250, etc). To give credit where credit’s due, I got the idea from Victoria Schwab. It seems so juvenile, dare I say kindergarten-esque, to want to work hard for a sticker, but . . . I really want that sticker. A calendar with only a few pathetic red dots is so motivating. Conversely, a great week with many red dots is also motivating—I don’t want to sully my awesomely-full calendar with a bunch of yellow dots, or worse, no dots at all. It also doesn’t hurt that the calendar is in a prominent location in my home, there for all to see should I start slacking off.
2. Take more frequent breaks. It sounds counterintuitive, but there’s all sorts of research out there that says more frequent breaks improves the quality of work. I won’t bore you with that research, but basically: it’s a lot easier to focus on one thing when you’re only doing that thing for thirty minutes. Because I have epically horrible focus, I like to work for twenty minutes, then I’m “allowed” to take five minutes to unwind, check email, tweet, or what have you, before I start another twenty-minute session. After I reach 1000 words, I break for lunch, and then it’s back to work. Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve noticed a huge improvement in both my focus while writing and the quality of my work.
3. Push past “writer’s block”. When the words just aren’t coming, it’s easy to put it down to writer’s block and give up. And honestly? Sometimes I do that. Sometimes I just need a break. But since contracts and deadlines mean I don’t have the luxury of being able to take breaks every time I’m stuck, I’ve had to learn techniques to push forward. What I’ve learned is that most of the time, it’s just a matter of figuring out why the words aren’t coming. Maybe it’s that I don’t really know what I want to achieve with the scene, or maybe I’m not sure how I want to achieve it. Sometimes, it’s because I’m not sure where the scene will take the plot next, because even though I’ve outlined, my outlines are often written in broad strokes and finer details can cause major problems. Once I’ve figured out the reason I’m stuck, I can usually find my way back to the words. Laini Taylor says it best: “Never sit staring at a blank page or screen. If you find yourself stuck, write. Write about the scene you’re trying to write. Writing about is easier than writing, and chances are, it will give you your way in.”
Michelle Krys is the author of HEXED and the upcoming sequel CHARMED. She works part-time as a NICU nurse and spends her free time writing books for teens. Michelle is probably not a witch, though she did belong to a witchcraft club in the fifth grade and “levitated” people in her bedroom, so that may be up for debate. Visit her at michellekrys.com or follow @MichelleKrys on Twitter.