A few people have expressed their surprise at my production cycle. I’m going to share with you some insights as to how I maintain production. I’ll touch on making time, time management, time-saving techniques, and neurology.
How did I write a 2.5-million-word fantasy series (in need of deep edits), one western historical, one contemporary mystery, one 60k-word collection of romantic short stories from different genres (Heartened by Crime), one contemporary sports romance, contributed to 3 anthologies with more on the way, and have more works in the ways? (I’m writing a 15k-historical fiction romance short story, a second contemporary romance 70k-word novel, a 40k- word historical western romance, a 35k alternative history supernatural romance, a 70k-cyberpunk romance, and that’s my goal between now and February 2022. All first drafts).
The first thing I did was cut down my television time to a few hours a week. By a few hours, I mean I only watch three to six hours for the entire week, even on days when I’m dog tired.
You would be amazed at how much free time you have when you cut down on television. At first, it seems a bit weird to not sit in front of the television, but the productivity boosts you get from doing more exercise, writing more, and partaking in another activity sheds your mind of dead weight.
Sitting and staring at a television for twenty-three hours a week (the average for Canadians, or thirty-five hours per week for the average American or twenty-eight hours for the average European) drains a mind of imagination, harms the body with aching joints and sore necks, and reduces opportunities for a person to engage in meaningful activities.
Sure, people need to switch off now and then. Absolutely, people need to be entertained. But, in my experience, watching so much television drains a person’s willingness to engage in other, more soul-inspiring activities.
I significantly reduced my television watching time about six years ago, at about the same time, I decided to make writing a part-time job. Do I earn enough from writing to have it considered a part-time job? As of yet, no. But I strive for it, and I feel better about myself when I’ve written than when I’ve only watched television.
Playing computer games is another time sink. Again, you can have fun and enjoy playing them. I recommend you be mindful of how much time you spend playing them.
Now that I have more time on my hands (from not watching television), I spend it wisely. I keep a schedule where I build in slack. One of the most comment errors in creating a schedule is being overscheduled. Pad your schedule to allow for slower traffic, time overruns, cranky children that don’t want to leave on time, poor weather, construction, and life’s regular ups and downs.
I plan slack throughout my day. It’s guaranteed that slack is consumed by answering emails, responding to voice mails, and addressing other concerns. However, I stay on top of things because of the slack.
I build slack in my work life to not carry anxiety after hours. I have a full schedule, but a productive one. At the end of my workday, I can itemise what I’ve accomplished, stay on top of things, and still have wiggle room to play for the next day, week, or month. I also build slack in my non-work life. That sense of control reduces thoughts that crowd my brain and frees space to think creatively.
Sometimes this kind of slack can’t be negotiated. There are, however, other ways to reduce the stress you experience, such as taking up meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong, among other restorative practices.
While I walk (or drive or grocery shop, or do other activities), I stack my time. I use my exercise time to listen to audiobooks to keep current on what’s happening in the market (or to listen to books on writing to improve my craft). I average one to one and a half audiobooks a week. I sometimes use dead time (such as waiting for a Zoom call or showering or cleaning) to ruminating about what I’m going to write about.
Slack. The more you can build it into your schedule, the less rushed you’ll feel, and the less stressed you’ll be. Stress is a huge drain on energy—both physical and mental.
By the time I sit to write, I’m prepared. I’ve built in enough slack in my day to feel productive and non-rushed. I’m a prolific plotter and have an excellent idea of what I will write before I sit down and write it. If I’m stuck, I have a series of notebooks in which I write word associations, wordplay, and ping the Twitterverse to get me over a hurdle. I write in sprints. Often, sprints are 45-60 minutes intervals in which I write as many words as I can. I average 1,000 to 1,5000 words during that time.
For those who don’t have that amount of time free at once, consider writing shorter sprints on your cellphone or in a notepad. There are always five-minute chunks of spare time or moments where you can dictate the outlines of a scene or come up with the back and forth for some zippy dialogue. If you’re a discovery writer, you can dedicate that time to think over the first scene you will write.
Make batches of food. Plan your meals in advance and have some nutritious meals available in the freezer so that anyone in the house can prepare dinner. It takes just about as much time to prepare a dinner for four as it does to make the same dinner for eight. Use that time to write.
Do other things in batches. If you blog, write a few blog posts one after another. If you have social media posts, create one or two weeks’ worth of content simultaneously. Your brain is already in the mindset to work on it—why not make more?
Get everyone in the house on the same routine. Routines might be difficult to establish, but once put in place, everyone knows the rules, responsibilities, and expectations. Conflict often arises from ambiguity and unclear expectations. Routines help navigate this.
What if your schedule is more rigid? Look for downtime—waiting for medical appointments, sitting in traffic, cooking, ten minutes here and there. Negotiate with your family for fifteen or thirty minutes of uninterrupted time to write. Negotiate for different responsibilities, if not every day, then for a few days a week to give you more time. Before you write, use that downtime to ruminate and know what you’re going to write. There’s nothing worse than having the time to write and staring at a blank screen.
Develop supports to look after the kids, reduce the amount of cleaning (if everyone cleans up just that much more after themselves, there’s less housework to do), and create boundaries around your time. It’s hard at first, but it will help boost your self-esteem, give your more agency, and help create a healthier balance.
Writing at the same time every day gets you into the rhythm of writing. Patterns help your body and brain adjust. If you think more clearly in the morning, then get up thirty or sixty minutes early to write. If you think more clearly in the afternoon, do your best to adjust your schedule accordingly.
Quality sleep has boosted my productivity. I have at least eight hours of solid sleep a night. I borrowed some time from my television-watching to strive for nine hours of sleep. That extra one hour of sleep has yielded extraordinary results in other areas, including focus, creativity, and over well-being.
Once you have time to write, get used to writing faster. If you improve your baseline skill, you’ll be able to write faster and better. In turn, you’ll need fewer revisions to produce excellent work. I’ll include a list of books at the end of this blog to help you write faster and better.
How do I accomplish so many writing projects? I’ve made writing a priority. I regularly take craft-related courses to boost my craft. I listen to craft-related books.
You have friends and a social life. Yay! It’s important to stay connected to the real world. It’s healthier to maintain genuine friendships and laugh and play and experience life. Is your child at a birthday party? Great! Negotiate parameters. Stay awhile, slip out of the party to sit in your car for fifteen minutes to plot or write on your phone, then pop back into the party. Instead of bumming around an entire afternoon at your friend’s place, say that you’ll be there one and a half hours. Build-in slack for two hours and then get back to your place to do other things.
Find a way.
Maybe you can’t dedicate as many hours per week to writing as I can. That’s okay. You can dedicate thirty minutes or two hours or whatever it is you can per week. Guard that time with your life. Those are sacred hours. Build a fort around them. Have archers walk the parapets to protect your time.
Know your brain. I cannot write one project and edit a second on the same day. That’s not how my brain works. I need to see a project through before I can switch gears to a second. Knowing this, I structure my work to have one writing project (plotting, writing, editing, etc.) done before starting another. It helps my mental hygiene, and I find I write better.
Dedicate some time (even if it’s 10 minutes) every day to your craft. If you’re too tired or rushed to write, find something writing-related. Come up with some social media posts, plot, listen to a craft book, participate in a writing exercise, edit one paragraph. Whatever it is you can do for that day, do it.
Lastly, commit to your craft. It takes time and effort to develop your abilities. I view writing as a work in progress where every day I get better, and I (hope) will get better until I die. I decided to be a writer, and with that decision came the decision to improve my skill. I strive to be better tomorrow than I was today. I don’t see the changes day on day, but I do see them year on year.
Writing is discipline. Defend it. Cherish it. Embrace it.
How do you maintain your productivity? Reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron to continue the conversation
Thank you, @LouSchlesinger, for the topic suggestion.
Here are some great books on how to hone your craft to write more with less time:
Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron
5,000 words per hour by Chris Fox
Point of View in Fiction by Marcy Kennedy