INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)
12 Things That Can Increase Your Productivity
It’s not all in your mind. Writing takes place in the material world and there are things you can do that materially affect your output.
1. Deadlines—Deadlines not only can help you write, they are absolutely essential to get anything finished. It’s not just you. 99% of all writers need a deadline. They raise your productivity and your confidence level. But how can you create a meaningful deadline for yourself? A deadline is only a meaningful deadline if there are rewards and / or consequences. To get a cookie, you have to do a chore.
a. Short-term Deadlines—Set your computer or a kitchen timer for 5 or 10 minutes, then write for 5 or 10 minutes straight. Once you get going you’ll probably want to keep going, so do. If you need it, give yourself 5 minutes off (set the timer). Then set it for 10 minutes and write for the next 10 minutes. Build up your deadline in 5- or 10-minute increments.
b. Mid-term Deadlines—In Phases 1, 2 and 4, your goal for a daily quota can be 1–3 hours a day at your desk doing something on your project. Build up to that with 1, then 2 hours a day if you have to. In Phase 3, you’re going to need some more substantial quotas to keep up a good pace, but we’ll get to that. Phases 1, 2 and 4 lend themselves to smaller, more focused tasks: draft the next scene, untangle that story knot, research that topic. You can start with 1 task per session.
Throughout the process, it’s also important to have a weekly deadline. A weekly date with a Writing Buddy or Coach makes you responsible to someone else. You may put off writing until the last minute, but you will almost certainly come up with something to meet the deadline because you don’t want to . . .
● let them down
● waste their time or
● have to pay them anyway
A weekly deadline also gives you an opportunity to take a step back from the daily process and assess your progress. If you thought of, noted and / or wrote 3–5 decent chunks this week, you will have to admit you made progress. And progress is what the writing process is all about.
c. Long-term Deadlines—Let’s set a deadline for the end of Phase 1 (Gathering): one month from now. That’s long enough to assemble a good amount of material and short enough so you can feel the daily countdown. Unless you’re writing non-autobiographical non-fiction, in which case gathering can go on much longer. Noted bio-pic screenwriters Larry Karaszewski & Scott Alexander (“People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Ed Wood,” “Man in the Moon”) often take 6 months to research a subject before they even start to structure their movie.
If you do miss a deadline . . .
2. Don’t Waste Time Beating Yourself Up For Wasting Time—I know it’s tempting but, don’t waste time self-flagellating. You need that time for writing. Of course you should have written something years ago, or gotten started months ago or done more yesterday. So what? You’re doing it now. Maybe you aren’t meeting every deadline. Who cares? Everybody misses deadlines. Try and make it up tomorrow. Or what about right now? Less berating, more creating.
3. Get / Stay Organized—Organization of your writing materials and product literally expands the time you can spend writing because you don’t have to waste time looking for stuff. Keep your notes all in one place. Assemble relevant reference books near your work area so they’re ready to handle. Label documents clearly and put them in your project folder. (See “5 or 6 Guidelines for File Management”) This will save you time in the long-term—as long as you don’t get obsessive about organizing in the short-term.
4. Bite-Sized Chunks—Great journeys begin with a single step. They also continue and end with single steps, and have lots and lots of single steps in between. You can bite off bullet points, sessions, Kb’s, pages, word counts, chapters and / or scenes to measure progress. Your project is going to get written in contained, quantifiable pieces -not all at once. You accomplish wholes in pieces.
5. Wave Theory—Writing, like nausea, usually comes in waves. Momentum usually isn’t a steady consistent flow, so if you catch a wave, always ride it as long as you can. These creative energy surges propel you forward, and you can even coast on their momentum through patches that are less inspired. Unfortunately, with waves come troughs—and you have to surf through those too in the course of any long project. Keep writing and be ready for the next surge.
6. Rituals—Most writers have rituals associated with writing. Take a run around the block, brush your teeth, make a cup of coffee and / or light a candle before you start writing. Anything you do regularly and consciously helps establish the writing habit and gets you into a productive frame of mind. Scientists call this a ‘fixed action pattern’, an instinctive behavioral response triggered by a specific stimulus. In biology, it’s innate and inborn. Writers can establish their own pattern to ingrain behavior.
7. Chewing—There are scientific studies that seem to link increased memory and brain performance with chewing gum and I personally know writers who swear by it. TV writers’ rooms are notorious for their snacks. Just be careful of crumbs, grease or sticky goo on the keyboard—and runaway weight gain. (See “7 Steps To An Effective Writer’s Diet”)
8. Stimulants—All stimulants have negative side effects, but a lot of writers (and people) use one or more anyway. There are the usual suspects: coffee, sugar, cigarettes, chocolate, plus a variety of ‘healthy’ stimulants available now, including ginko baloba, B12, ginger, cacao, camu camu and green tea.
WRITERS ADVISORY: Watch out for energy swells and crashes—and be careful with cold medicine or mood-altering prescription meds, some of which can actually lower your productivity (and might limit your ability to operate heavy machinery).
9. Bribes—Incentives can definitely motivate your workforce. You can use benchmarks to trigger rewards. Write down 3 bullet points and you can watch a movie. Make a list of possible character names and you can have a cookie. Bribing yourself can be remarkably effective, although it can make you feel like a lab rat or a hooker, and it is hard to limit treats when you’re the briber and the bribee. Maybe you can enlist a friend or ally to dole out the reward when you prove you’ve met your quota or deadline. Maybe a date with them is the reward?
10. Bright Colors—There are studies that seem to correlate creativity with light blues and bright yellows, so try getting close to a window, wearing more vivid colors when you work or putting something bright on your computer desktop or screen saver. But don’t put off writing to paint your office.
11. Movement—This is super-effective for ‘Writers Block’ at any Phase. Running, walking and bike-riding stimulate mental processing. So does any kind of physical movement like waving around a Body Blade, weights or nun-chaku sticks. Just make sure you don’t smash your computer screen—or your partner’s face.
12. Compartmentalization—When you’re working on your project it’s usually most productive to close the door, turn off the TV (at least the sound), quit your e-mail and browser programs. That all makes it a lot more likely you will actually get something accomplished.
While we’re on the subject of getting things accomplished, have you done anything to move your project forward today? Reading this book doesn’t count.
How about writing some bullet point notes right now?
[This material is an excerpt from my book, “How To Be A Writer Who Writes: Strategies and Tactics to Start and Finish Your Book or Script“, now available on Kindle from Amazon or in a variety of other formats from Smashwords.]