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S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tools for Writing More

Write more or write better?

The answer, of course, is both.

Which is why Tools for Writing Better (posting separately) is the conjoined twin of this blog post.

"The most important thing you can do is a huge volume of work." - Neil Gaiman

For more convincing on that point, see this inspirational video by Neil Gaiman:


Tool #1 - Managing Your Breaks
Turning off social media is a "no duh" tool, but in case you need convincing, studies show that productivity is reduced by HALF (50% is a big number no matter how you look at it), by taking "two minutes" to check Facebook. So turning off social media is the first step to gaining a sustained, distraction-free environment in which to do your creative work. But there's a reason we're drawn to distractions. When you're working intensely, you WILL need breaks, both mentally and physically. Even then, social media or email can rob you of time and concentration - it's far too easy (for me at least) to lose a half hour to email when all I needed was a five minute stretch and then to dive back in. So consider taking a walk, emptying the dishwasher, or some other time-limited task you're unlikely to get lost in, but that will give you a physical and mental break. 

Then get back to work.

Tool #2 - Tracking
Tracking your wordcount daily as a motivational tool is foundational to NaNoWriMo, but it's also fundamental to almost any behavior change you want to make. Setting aggressive targets can be fun (if those work for you), but also frustrating (if you fall behind). I've tracked various ways - counting new first-draft words, logging % progress through a manuscript for revisions - but this year I'm taking a broader approach. Those targets usually got me through a project, then I'd enter a relatively non-productive phase. It was a start-stop-stall-out-and-not-start-again routine that didn't jive with my workman approach to writing: i.e. the idea that I needed to be writing all the time.

This year's goal: no zero word days.

I used to write just weekdays, taking the weekends off, but I found even that short two-day break made it tougher to face the blank page on Monday. On the weekends where I did write, even for an hour, my momentum was much greater during the week. So now I'm writing every day, with higher targets during the week and lower on the weekend, but with the idea that there's room in every day for some writing.

Tool #3 - Production Schedule Planning
I'm a hyper planner. But writing is my profession, and I need to have a calendar to work with to schedule editors and let others (including readers) know what they can expect from me in terms of production. When I laid out my writing plans for 2014, I realized it seemed crazy ambitious (per usual). I had my boys calculate how many words I would have to write each day to meet it. I made it a really awesome word problem with all kinds of conditions (2/3 time drafting, 1/3 time editing, time off for vacations and holidays, more writing during weekdays, less on weekends, and a total wordcount goal for the year = 300k). Their answer? Between 1500-2000 words per day (drafting). Keen observers will note that's like doing NaNo every day... but that's exactly what professional writers do. And it's do-able.

So that's my target. I get a green box on my tracker if I meet it, red if I don't. So far 2014 looks kinda sad, doesn't it (see above)? Actually, I've learned a lot from that short run of days:
1) Even if I don't meet target, I'm still writing. Those words add up
2) I have three zero days in there on days when I had emotional turmoil in my life; keeping my life balanced is critically important to keeping my writing balanced.
3) Even with all that red, I still wrote 17,000 words in two weeks!
Conclusion: stay on an even keel and writing every day will add up fast.
Tool #4 - Value Your Work and Value Your Life
The number one challenge (for me, at least, but many writers who have lives, work, family, etc.) is somehow meeting all these ambitious writing goals as well as getting the kids fed, the laundry done, and keeping the house clean enough that the Health Service doesn't come and condemn the place (I aim low, as you can see). Most writers I know (and women are particularly vulnerable to this) feel guilty about everything: if they're writing, then they're neglecting their family; if they're with their family, they're neglecting their writing. Both are important and both deserve your time. 
  • Let go of the guilt - it's only going to hold you back. 
  • Let go of the people holding you back - or at least let go of the need for their approval or support. 
  • Gather people and support systems around you to make it all work. Outsource everything you can except the creative work and loving your family- those are the only two things that you alone can do.
Getting serious about that outsourcing part? KEY. Also having the strength to say "this is writing time, no family will intrude" as well as "this is family time, no writing will intrude." 

Tool #5 - Be Gentle With Yourself
Set goals. Be ambitious. Breathe out the stress. Get enough exercise. Hug your kids. Know that you're amazing and creative and the world needs your stories. Be gentle with the hard-working, striving, caring person that you are and remember that she's trying as hard as she can. Give her a cookie every once in a while and pat her on the back for a job well done. 

And keep on keeping on.


  1. My productivity improved after I started using a simple,free time management device: Tomato timer.

    Am doing SO much better in 2014 for all kinds of reasons. Writing is now at top of the day. And I agree about taking weekends off. Another thing I have discovered: the more you write, the faster you are ABLE to write. --Lindsay

  2. Facebook = colossal time suck if you let it be. There seems to be no such thing as simply checking in. Half an hour later I'm still checking this one or that one. Being kind to ourselves is key as well and balance, still working on that one.

    Good post, as always.

  3. I'm getting better at doing all this stuff - but thanks, that was a timely reminder.

  4. Susan-I always feel like you 'hit the nail' on the exact way I have felt or am feeling. Thank you, you encourage so many people with your insights!

    1. I'm so glad it resonated with you, Taryn! :)

  5. Three words: Write or Die. Works like a charm for me.

  6. Good thoughts here. I think it is important to have a goal to strive for, no matter what season of your writing journey you're in.

    My current goal is to get my morning routine organised enough so that I can do a writing activity every day between getting the kids on the bus to school and leaving for work myself. I am also going to experiment with trying to get up a bit earlier to assist with this. I think it all comes down to trying things out until you get a routine that works for you - something that you can maintain.