With so many stories bouncing around in a writer’s mind, it likely comes as no surprise that most writers seek to write more—or to be more efficient in the time they have to write. In the month of November, known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to the writing community, thousands of writers endeavor to write 50,000 words in a single month.
To give you perspective, 50,000 words is roughly 200 manuscript pages (at approximately 250 words per page). For non-writers, that number is probably akin to a month of torture. For writers, it may feel that way, too. Yet, it’s a delightful torture we do to ourselves… every year.
But regardless of the month of the year—whether it’s NaNoWriMo season or any other month—how can writers more efficiently put words onto the page?
1. Make a writing schedule and track your progress
It’s important to make writing a routine. Depending on your lifestyle, such as if you’re a nurse, you may not be able to write daily. Find what works for your schedule and make it a routine. Meanwhile, track how much you write to keep yourself accountable.
2. Determine when your peak creativity is and plan your days around that time
Some people like to write in the morning, some at night. Assess your daily habits to see when your creativity blossoms throughout the day. If it’s in the morning, adjust your schedule so you go to bed earlier. If it’s at night, try putting your kids to bed earlier (if you have kids) so you have more time to write.
Whatever your circumstances are, adjust your schedule so you are available to write during your peak writing time.
If your peak creativity is at a time when you are at work, for example, and can’t make time to write, I have unfortunate news for you. You will likely need to write at a time when you don’t “feel” creativite. Part of the difficulty of being a writer is you can’t only write at the times you feel like it. Learn to be creative through discipline.
3. Restrict your writing time to only writing
Don’t use social media or anything else that might be distracting while you are writing. Allow your writing time to be strictly that: a time to write. If that means going to write where there’s no WiFi (and therefore no temptations), do it. Also, consider leaving your phone in the other room when you write.
4. Utilize the Pomodoro Technique (also known as “writing sprints”)
If you have ever gone on the online writing community, namely the communities on Twitter and YouTube, you will likely have heard of writing sprints. In short, it’s a designated amount of time (often ranging from 10 to 40 minutes) where writers will write as much as they can in that allotted time.
Recently, I stumbled across the Pomodoro Technique, which is similar in theory to a writing sprint. Essentially, it’s a time management method created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo where you work in timed intervals, usually 25 minutes in length, and it’s separated by short breaks.
I’ve found the following schedule works for me:
- Write for 20 minutes
- Rest for 5 minutes
- Write for 20 minutes
- Rest for 5 minutes
- And so on
During the 20 minutes of writing, I write as much as I can. In the five minutes of rest, sometimes I will read over what I’ve written or my outline for the remaining/next chapter, or I might hop on social media or do some other menial task and let my mind rest until the five minutes are over.
Test it out to see what works for you. I highly recommend setting a timer on your phone (or another device). There are also Pomodoro Technique apps.
Compared to having an hour and saying to yourself, “I’m going to write for an hour,” and then writing for 20 minutes and fidgeting on social media for the other 40 minutes, the Pomodoro Technique encourages single-tasking and efficiency.
5. Avoid editing as you write
This is a tip you will hear everywhere, but I think it’s great to voice one more time. Your first draft is supposed to be an imperfect retelling of the perfect story in your head. Allow yourself to be messy, to have typos, and so on as you write the first draft of your manuscript. Only put your editor hat on when it’s time to edit that first, completed draft (or section of the book).
If you’re an edit-as-you-go writer (which is totally cool), NaNoWriMo or speed writing may not be the thing for you. Or, perhaps, allow yourself to speed write a chapter before going back to edit it.
As always, take my advice (or any writing advice) with a grain of salt. Experiment to see what works best for you!
6. Ignore all other shiny novel ideas
Got a fantastic novel idea for your next novel? Does it somehow—rather suddenly—seem so appealing to explore? That’s your brain trying to avoid working on your current book—something it likely sees as stressful or hard work. Our bodies and minds are wired to want to be the most efficient and take the path of least resistance. However, fight the instinct to divert your creative attention. Instead, write these shiny new ideas down and explore them at a later time.
7. Have your computer/notebook handy
You never know when you will have downtime. Consider using any spare minutes in the car between appointments, before a doctor visit, etc. to jot down a few words or book ideas. If you know you will have free time during your day, such as while you are at the airport, bring your computer or notebook to write. If you don’t want to bring your personal computer while you travel, download the Google docs app (or a similar writing app). That way, you can open up your Google docs on your work computer or on your phone and write whenever you have free time.
8. Write in different places
Whether you are a creature of habit or you like variety in your writerly routine, consider the place you write as yet another contributing factor to your productivity. Do you have a favorite place to write at home? A desk or office, perhaps? Write there. If the words aren’t flowing onto the page, however, consider swapping locations: kitchen table, local library, couch, bed, coffee shops, a local pub (if you are of age), and so on.
9. Write when others are sleeping
Whether you are a parent or live in a busy household, consider writing when others are sleeping—either late at night or first thing in the morning. The hours before the world wakes up or after it goes to sleep are some of the most productive hours, as there are less distractions or other obligations vying for your time.
10. Remove distractions
Turn off your WiFi, put your phone in another room, or remove any other distractions that might tempt you to do something other than write during your writing time. For me, it’s tinkering on my website. As a result, I will turn off my WiFi and only allow myself back online when I’ve hit my daily word count goal.
11. Find an accountability partner
I hesitate to include this tip. From what I’ve seen, many writers will place the responsibility on their accountability partner to keep them writing. But, in my opinion, that responsibility falls solely on the writer, themselves. Therefore, consider finding a fellow writer to touch base with weekly or every now and again. Encourage each other to keep going, and don’t be afraid to bounce book ideas off them if you are stuck. But do not count on these people to remind you to write every day. That’s what calendar alerts are for.
12. Outsource non-writing tasks
As many of you guys know, I’m a mom. And goodness knows my to-do list is about as monstrous as my TBR (to-be-read) list. During the month of NaNoWriMo or any other month you are looking to pump out some extra words and increase your productivity, don’t be afraid to ask for help in non-writing tasks (that might otherwise take away from your writing time).
If you have a spouse or partner, ask them if they wouldn’t mind doing the dishes or laundry that week. If you are at school, ask your roommates if they could go grocery shopping for you. If you live at home, ask your parents or loved ones to chip in as needed. You would be surprised how your family and friends will go out of their way to help you if it means supporting your dreams.
13. Say no to non-writing activities
Unfortunately, you won’t have time to do everything. If you’re invited to a barbeque that’s during your writing time, you may have to say no to get that next chapter down. Look at your schedule. Decide if you can (or have) hit your goals with your remaining free time that week. If not, consider saying no.
14. Give yourself deadlines
Sometimes, simply saying, “Write 50,000 words in a month” is a little too vague for our writerly brains to grasp (and ultimately attain). Instead, consider giving yourself weekly deadlines, such as writing 12,000 words by Sunday night each week. Most importantly, use these deadlines to keep yourself accountable!
15. Make a long-term plan with short-term goals
Similar to the first point in this blog, make short-term goals for your writing. Write down attainable goals that are within your power. For example, a goal within your power is to write 50,000 words in a month. A goal not within your power is to get a literary agent in the next year.
Track your progress throughout and adjust your timeline as needed.
With these short-term goals in mind, consider how this will impact your future. Do you want to have a published book within the next five years? If so, you will want to factor in other things to your timeline, such as the time it takes to research agents, query, go on submission, etc. To accomodate for these things, which are outside of your control, you may want to give yourself a deadline to complete draft one, another deadline for self-editing, another deadline for exchanging chapters with CPs, and yet another deadline for beta readers so you have extra allotted time for the time it takes to get literary representation and then go on submission.
Time moves faster than you think; so consider where you want to be in your author career in the coming years.
16. When all else fails, use bribes
If looking into your future and thinking about having your book on a bookshelf in five years is just too darn far away to motivate you to write right now (vs. binging a television series on Netflix this very evening), you may want to utilize my favorite writing productivity technique: carbs.
I mean, bribes.
It may not sound flattering, but humans aren’t all that different from animals. Classical conditioning (also called Pavlovian conditioning) works on us, too. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, discovered in his research in the 1890s that dogs began to salivate at the presence of the technician who normally fed them, and not salivating at the presence of food. In short, he discovered dogs could be trained over time to respond to a stimulus and associate it with food.
Similarly, we can learn to associate hitting 2,000 words per day with a well-earned bowl of pasta. Just saying.
Meg LaTorre is a writer, YouTuber (iWriterly), creator of the free query critique platform, Query Hack, co-host of the Publishable show, blogger, and she formerly worked at a literary agency. She also has a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. To learn more about Meg, visit her website, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, sign up for her monthly newsletter, and subscribe to her YouTube channel, iWriterly.