I don’t consider myself to be an especially fast writer, but I do manage to be fairly productive with the time I dedicate to writing. So, here are a few things that work for me:
- Don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned. For instance, almost every writing book ever written includes the bit “Write every day!” It’s good advice, sure. But it’s not always feasible. I have a full-time job and an adjuncting gig and so I just don’t have the juice to write every day. I used to see this as a sign that I was a Terrible Undedicated Writer Who Would Never Ever Make It, and much angst ensued. And that, my friends, was a complete waste of spoons. If you set yourself a quota, and don’t make it, don’t waste a single bit of your precious energy beating yourself up over what didn’t happen today or yesterday. Take a deep breath and focus on the next round tomorrow.
- Figure out what work environment works for you, and consistently create that environment. I figured out that I am a binge writer. I can’t make good use of fifteen minutes here and there. I need an unbroken expanse of at least four hours to really get in the groove – and once I’m there, I can write thousands of words in a sitting. So, I figure out where I can have that time, and I block it off on my calendar so that I and my friends can see it there. I also need coffee, comfy pajama pants, and instrumental music. The little things do count; they tell your brain, “Hey, time to get to work!” I find it a lot easier to slide into the right mindset if I save certain playlists for when I intend to write.
- Work with your mind, and not against it. This goes hand-in-hand with “Don’t beat yourself up.” We human beings have a finite amount of willpower. The more time and energy you spend wrestling with yourself, the less ability you’ll have to wrestle with that tough plot problem. So, if you have that day when you know you have a short story deadline, but your brain really wants you to work on that scene in your novel? Go with your creative impulse, at least for a little while. I have gotten a surprising amount of work done by allowing myself to do that “guilty pleasure” writing I wasn’t “supposed” to be doing.
- Sleep is critical. I’ve certainly pushed some deadlines to the absolute limit and pulled all-nighters to finish something (or to just take advantage of an especially productive creative burst). But. I don’t make it a habit to short myself on sleep, because I know that my brain just won’t work very well in a state of chronic sleep deprivation. Figure out what you need sleep-wise, and make sure you get it.
- Recreation is critical. Your creativity needs to be fed, your brain needs to recharge, and your body needs exercise. Once upon a time, I got it into my head that I had to spend every last bit of my free time working on my writing craft. I’d get invites to go out with friends and turn them down because The Work needed to be done. Problem was, this led to me becoming grumpy, depressed, and creatively stunted. I was allocating more time to writing, but getting less and less done. In the past two years, I’ve spent more time going out to concerts and going out hiking, and I’ve allocated less time to writing. And yet my writing output is better than when I was holing myself up like a medieval monk.
- Don’t get stuck in the revision phase. This is a big one. Some level of revision is critical, but I’ve known too many people who keep working a single story or poem over and over and over, sometimes for years. Stick to two or three careful revision passes and get it out the door. Move to something new. If a story comes back to you with a good suggestion for revision from an editor, by all means, act on it. But keep your focus on finishing new work.
- Finish what you start. This may seem obvious. But if you’re the type of writer whose brain is bursting with ideas, and the idea you woke up with this morning always seems shinier than the idea you had yesterday … you might need to focus on finishing.
I hope these bits are helpful. What it comes down to is, figure out what makes you creatively engaged and productive, and do your best to arrange your life so you have those things.