How to Be a Productive Writer

Hi, writer! How’s your writing life going? Like, how’s it really going?

I’m asking because I know things can be tough to stay on track and be productive. If your writing life isn’t going the way you want it to, things can feel out of whack and out of balance.

I know how that feels.

I also know how it feels to have my writing life going the way I want it to, where I’m getting things done and kicking ass.

You love writing. You dream about being a professional writer, filling your days and pages with words that express your creativity. You want to tell stories, touch people’s hearts, and reflect on the truths about our culture, society, and world. Maybe you even dream about having a writing retreat where you can look out the window, have a cup of your favorite hot beverage, and spill all of those other things onto paper, undisturbed.

I know I dream about those things, especially that writing space. (Currently working on that view—mine is of my apartment complex parking lot!)

Even though you love writing, you have some not-so-positive thoughts about it.

I wish I had time to write.

I wish I could conquer my writer’s block.

I wish I had a nice space for writing.

I wish I didn’t procrastinate and get lazy.

I wish I was motivated and disciplined.

Besides, you’ve got obligations outside of writing. Maybe it’s a day job, school, or having children. And then, when you finally have free time to write, you’re uninspired, stuck, or frustrated. You set personal deadlines that unceremoniously pass you by, often pushed to the side to make room for something easier like Netflix.

I know that happens to me, too. (Currently binging Altered Carbon.)

Despite all of that, you can’t deny your love for writing. It’s even tied to your identity—you’re a writer. You’re a writer who doesn’t write. You procrastinate because you’re too busy, too uninspired, too anything, and you’ve become trapped in this non-writing place. Deadlines continue to whisk by, and you continue to feel struggle with your writing life.

Does that sound familiar?

Yeah, it does for me too. And that’s ok. That’s the reality for a lot of writers and creative folks. You aren’t alone in those dreams, aspirations, and struggles, or even that Netflix binge.

How to Be a Productive Writer

The Writing-Life Balance

I’ve fancied myself a writer for my entire life. I’ve been creating stories, characters, and filling pages up since elementary school. Sure, there were some years I wrote more than others, but I still wrote.

I entered writing competitions. I studied English in college and grad school. When I wasn’t writing fiction, I was writing papers.

And then, I graduated, and I stopped writing.

I didn’t write anything for nearly two years.

I was stuck in a job I didn’t really enjoy, and I was strangled by imposter syndrome. When I got home from my day job, I wanted to watch Netflix or play video games until it was time for bed. I certainly didn’t want to spend that time forcing myself to confront my imposter syndrome or doing something hard.

Because that’s the truth: writing is hard. We like to pretend it’s not, but writing is really hard. It’s pouring your heart and soul onto paper and letting people read it. Besides, you can’t exactly write a novel in a weekend, and it’s a tough industry to break into. Publishing houses move slowly, and self-publishing can be expensive. In short, writing (and publishing) takes time.

But, if I could pick one quality I’m most proud of, it’s my ability to manage my time wisely.

One day, while ruminating on all of my writing dreams, I had a breakthrough. Maybe it was from drinking too much coffee or reading a lot of self-help books, or maybe a bit of both, but I realized that I was approaching writing entirely the wrong way.

When I was in preschool, I started playing tennis, and I wanted to be good. My parents and coaches told me that if I wanted to be good at something, I had to practice. In high school, no matter the season, I played tennis four to five days a week. Even if it was just for an hour after dinner, I practiced.

And the same thing can be said for writing.

If you want to be a writer, you need to write. You need to practice.

It sounds like a pretty obvious piece of advice, but when you’re stuck in a rut, it’s easy to forget that our skills, talents, and hobbies must still be practiced.

So, that’s exactly what I did. I dedicated time several days per week to writing. It started off as blogging and writing creative nonfiction essays, but I got back into writing fiction as time went on. It was like day and night. When I realized I needed to practice writing, my inner self-manager came out. I set goals for myself and developed a new schedule to help me reach those goals. That’s how I became a productive writer for the first time in two years.

How to Be a Productive Writer

Becoming a Productive Writer

So, how exactly do you become a productive writer?

1. Set your goals. Figure out what you truly, specifically want to get out of writing, and understand why that’s important to you.

I had to do some journaling and soul-searching to figure out what I wanted from my writing and why it was important to me. My projects have shifted over time, but my goal has always been the same: to share my stories and create a life (income) that works for my schedule and needs.

2. Be disciplined. This is a lot harder than the first step, but you have to be disciplined. Put your butt in your chair day after day, even when you don’t feel like it. Build a routine around your writing. Make it a habit.

For me, I jot down my writing time into my daily schedule (I’m super Type A), but you can do something as simple as write a few paragraphs each morning while you have your coffee or tea.

3. Build a system. This part takes time. As you stay disciplined and keep writing, make time to look back at what’s worked and what hasn’t. That includes everything from the time of day you write to how much you outline to where you work. Once you find what works for you, hold onto it.

4. Stay accountable. Remember those deadlines I talked about waaaay back at the beginning of this post? Yeah, you’ve gotta set deadlines again. At the very least, you need to be honest with yourself.

If you choose to watch Netflix rather than work on your novel, remind yourself that it was your choice and being behind your deadline is because of that choice.

5. Stay realistic and flexible. Jumping off of what I just said, you still need to be realistic. There will be days when you’re sick, or you’re tired, or you are in a funk and you really just need to spend your whole day binging The Office.

You’re building your ideal writing life, and that needs to include some down time and room for other hobbies and interests.

If you want to write four days a week, save your binges for your non-writing days. Alternatively, if you must mess with your writing schedule, reschedule your writing to another day. Ultimately, it’s about finding what works for you and your crazy life.

If you want to work through those steps like I did, download the free printable mini workbook!

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It really is as simple as following those steps. It’s hard, and it’s certainly an adjustment, but I believe in you. You can be a productive writer who gets shit done!

*2020 update* If you’re a writer who struggles finding time to write, you don’t know how to get started with—or expand on—the above, and want to put pen to paper, I published a book in 2019 about finding a system that works for both your needs and personality. There’s no one-size-fits-all for productivity and work-life balance, but there are steps you can take to find your new system for the new year. Productivity for Creative Writers: Refining Your Process and Building a System that Works for You is available for Kindle (ebook and KU) and in paperback.

Are you ready to be a more productive writer? Download the free writing workbook to increase your productivity, manage your time, and conquer your writing goals.
Are you ready to be a more productive writer? Download the free writing workbook to increase your productivity, manage your time, and conquer your writing goals.