Productivity Hacks for Writers

We are heading into the busiest quarter of the year. The holidays are upon us, there’s decorating to do, gifts to buy, special baking, class and office parties, not to mention vacations and travel (and packing and unpacking and laundry...). In the U.S. we are heading into flu season and writing with a stuffy head is never fun (get your flu shot!). We are also just a few weeks from the start of NaNoWriMo, for those that are participating this year.


This is the part where we blink and suddenly it is January.


A forum I am on recently chatted about finding opportunities for deep focus. One user shared that she uses the Pomodoro Technique developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 80s and others were quick to chime in about its effectiveness. This is a way to focus your energy on a single task. You set a timer for a specific amount of time, usually 25 or 50 minutes and do just one thing for that time (write, for example). When the timer goes off, you stop and take a break for 5 or 10 minutes, then repeat. It is very simple, but for many people, it makes a huge difference in their daily word count.

This got me thinking about other organizational and productivity hacks.

Capture your thoughts - Story ideas and plot solutions can occur at anytime, so make sure you can capture them. Your phone is always within reach and there are great apps available to capture your thoughts. Every smart phone comes with a Memo or Notes app and most will capture voice memos. So either type it in or speak up, but capture those ideas.

You can also go old school and keep a notebook close by to capture these thoughts and ideas. Either something small that fits in your wallet or a hardcover, spiral bound journal — it doesn’t matter. Something you can carry everywhere is what matters. And a pen. You will need to something to write with.

Use your down time - 5, 10, 30 minute intervals between meetings, waiting in line, or sitting at soccer practice adds up. While being completely alone with hours of open writing time and the perfect scented candle on the desk is a great way to write, it is rarely realistic. Very few writers get to have writing as their full time job. The vast majority have day jobs, kids, volunteer responsibilities, family commitments, and chores to do. You have to learn to use these available moments. Literally. You have to train your brain to change tasks quickly and jump into the story.

Stop focusing on the commas - One of my clients is a former teacher and she tends to turn in early draft manuscripts that have great spelling and few punctuation errors. The problem with this is that she spends precious time searching for typos and making sure her commas are in the right place. Save this stress for the very last round of revising. Chances are good you are going to hire a proofreader anyway, and that is what you are paying them to fix!

You know what the proofreader can’t do? Add raw emotional depth to the story. Write dialogue that feels natural and yet contains subtext that drives conflict. Design a plot twist that results in an audible GASP! That is up to you, the author.

You are going to revise your story 10-20 times. You will rewrite scenes based on feedback from beta readers, critique partners, and editors. You are going to cut scenes that took days to write. There is a lot of work involved in making the story the best it can be. Get that right first. Leave the minutiae to the end.


So I am hoping we can help each other out and share simple solutions for productivity in the midst of so many distractions. How do you capture thoughts for future books that have to wait for the current WIP to be done? When it is time to sit down and edit, how do you tackle it? How do you organize your thoughts for the mystery/suspense elements of your book?