Producing a finished product is a struggle for many writers. They have lots of ideas, but not much to show for all the time they sit, think, and write.
As someone who has ghostwritten or authored more than 30 books and written more than 1,000 articles, I know how important it is to be productive. It’s not enough to have a good idea. After all, ideas aren’t the problem. You need a way to get over the inertia and uncertainty.
Whether you are looking to successfully complete your own writing project or one for clients, here are some productivity tips to get you there:
Realize this is work
Despite your romanticized ideas about writing, know that this is work. And that means you’ll have to put in time doing it. It won’t magically flow from your fingertips. You’ll have to make the time for it to happen and put in the effort. I’ve seen people become discouraged and even give up on their writing because it doesn’t come to them as effortlessly as they’d like. Whatever gave them the idea that writing wasn’t really work? You’ll have to get over your fantasies about writing if you want to make it an actual reality in your life.
This may not seem like a productivity tip, but if you’re an unproductive writer, you’ll realize it absolutely is. If you don’t think writing should be work, then you certainly won’t work at it.
Get over your perfect self
If you are someone who is afraid to write because you think what you produce won’t be perfect, I have a very small piece of advice: Get over yourself. Why would your writing be perfect? Is anything else you do perfect? Did you make a perfect omelet this morning? Did you get all the tasks at work done just perfectly? Are you raising your children in a perfect way? How is your driving? Perfect, did you say? None of that is perfect, so why would your writing be? Why are you putting so much pressure on yourself to produce this perfect, brilliant piece of writing? If you release yourself from this unrealistic expectation, you might actually give yourself permission to produce something that is actually pretty good.
Make the time for your writing
There will always be plenty to do. So you’ve got to set aside time for your writing. If you can’t set aside a lot of time, that’s all right. Just set aside what you can. Whether that’s 20 minutes or two hours, just set it aside. Mark it on your calendar. Tell your spouse or kids not to disturb you during this time. Whatever you need to do, do it to get that time on the calendar. And then stick to it. You can complete a writing project by stringing together enough small writing sessions. So don’t be deterred by the idea that you “have no time.” Got 20 minutes? Well, then you have time. And if you can’t even find 20 minutes in the day, then, let’s just be honest: Writing isn’t all that important to you. Because this is the deal. We make time for what’s important. If we say we don’t have time for something, then that means it’s not important. Simple as that. So make the time or stop talking about it.
Plant yourself in the seat
You can’t write if you don’t write. Sure, you can do all the activities surrounding writing, but if you don’t write, it won’t happen. It’s not enough to brainstorm, research, outline, and everything else, if you don’t actually write. This is actually the piece of writing advice I give most often.
To produce a writing project, you’ve got to actually take the action! Work on your project every day or every other day or whatever schedule you’ve set. But then actually do it. Don’t just bemoan the fact that you haven’t written anything. Don’t waste time just thinking about it or talking about it or being scared of it. Write. Doesn’t matter how good or how bad the work is right now. (Well, assuming it’s not a project you are doing for a client. If it’s a client project, then yeah, it needs to be good.) When you’re struggling to produce, the main point is to produce. Just get somewhere and sit down in front of a computer and get the words on the page. You can edit later. Set a goal of a certain amount: one page, 500 words, a chapter, whatever. Get those words out.
Find a good writing spot
If the people and responsibilities at your house keep pulling you away, then you need to get away. Look for a place where you can write. Maybe that’s a coffee shop. Maybe it’s the library. Maybe it’s the back seat of your car. The point is to look for a relatively comfortable place where distractions are at a minimum. I said relatively comfortable, because it can’t be so toasty and comfy that all you want to do is stretch out and sleep. Your bed, for example, probably isn’t the spot.
Hold yourself accountable
Some of us won’t move unless there is a penalty, punishment, or some other unpleasantness associated with a poor result. If that is you, then here is a productivity tip that may work: Tell somebody about your writing project. Tell one person about the project who will hold you accountable — someone you will be embarrassed or a bit uncomfortable to disappointment. Tell this person about your project and the fact that you will finish it within a certain period of time. Invite this person to check in with you from time to time. You don’t want this person to keep asking you how the project is coming and you have nothing good to report, so that pressure may be just the thing you need to get to work. This person can be a friend or family member, if you have such a person in your life. Or this person can be a professional, such as a writing coach. In fact, that leads us to the next productivity tip…
Seek professional help
If you just can’t seem to make progress on your own, it’s time for the heavy artillery. It’s time to find a writing coach. Look for someone who will get a clear idea of your goal, who knows the ins and outs of the writing process, and who can sufficiently motivate you along the way. A professional writing coach or mentor can be the person to help you finally complete a project.
You can be a successful writer only if you write. Whether your productivity issues are related to the mind game (I don’t think of writing as work or my writing has to be perfect) or the practical trappings (I don’t have time to write), you’ve got to overcome them. Are you ready to finally finish your project?