No one who knows me will be surprised to hear that I frequently work too hard. I’m a perfectionist and have a serious type-A personality. Combine that with an insatiable curiosity and desire to achieve my goals no matter what, and you’ve got a recipe for burnout. I’m notoriously terrible about taking breaks. It’s gotten me in trouble before. Still, I’m stubborn. I never learn.
Recently, I got sick. It was just a cold, but it absolutely drained me. I couldn’t stop coughing, I had a fever, and I was exhausted all the time. It was all I could do to get dressed in the morning, let alone go to work and then come home and do housework and writing tasks. It got so bad that I even went to the doctor to get checked for mono (which I didn’t have, thank God).
This bout of illness opened my eyes to a truth I’d been trying to ignore: I need to rest. I need to take breaks. Every once in a while, I need to make time for myself, spend a day on self-care, and things of that nature. I can’t spend all my time working or I’ll wear myself out. And if I’m worn out, I can’t be productive. To me, a lack of productivity constitutes a death sentence. There were no bones about it: I had to scale back.
Since recovering from being sick, I’ve been working on a plan to reduce my stress levels. I’m scheduling blog posts and bills and things as much as I can, and the rest of the time, I’m setting limits on how much I can work outside of my day job. While it’s still too early to have seen real results, I’m positive more breaks will make a difference in my writing.
Learn from my mistakes, people. Take more breaks. Go easy on yourself. Your writing will thank you.
A couple weeks ago, I saw that the wonderful Cheyanne Young had posted a photo on Instagram. It was of an old-school word processor, the kind that only holds text and doesn’t connect to the Internet (settle down, now). She went on about how it had improved her writing productivity and was one of the best purchases she’d made in her life. I was thoroughly intrigued. I had to get one for myself.
After minimal searching on eBay, I found an AlphaSmart Neo2 with USB cable for only $29.99 and free shipping. Now, before you go all, “But you can turn off the Internet on your computer or shut off the modem for free”—yes, I’m aware. I know I can do that. I know HOW to do that. And I know that a lot of writers find success with this method, but you know what? I’m weak. Sometimes, I am LAZY. And on those days when I want to do anything but write, it’s too easy for me to toggle the switch back on. I have to make it as hard for me to procrastinate as possible.
Enter the AlphaSmart Neo2. When I’m using it, I can’t do anything on it but write. I’m forced to be productive. No matter where I am (it’s portable and battery-powered), once I get it out, I’ve committed to getting things done. In fact, I wrote all of the blog posts for this week on it in about half an hour’s time, just because I wasn’t distracted. How awesome is that?
For those of you worried about losing text, you’ll be relieved to hear that the Neo2 saves everything locally in individual files. If you want to transfer the writing over to your computer, all you have to do is connect it via the included USB cable. It’s that easy.
I never imagined that something like this could make such a difference in my writing life, but I swear, my productivity has grown in leaps and bounds since purchasing it. Now that it’s almost summer, I especially love that I can take this thing almost anywhere. So far, I’ve written on my back porch, in the waiting room of the dentist’s office, lying in bed, leaning over the edge of the bathtub (I walk on the wild side), in a parked car (not that wild), and under a tree.
All in all, I love this thing, and that’s why I’m sharing it with you guys. I believe in it. It WORKS.
And for less than fifty dollars, I’m ecstatic about that.
What do you think of using an old-school word processor to write? How do you avoid distractions while writing?
“I never imagined that something like this could make such a difference in my writing life.” @brianawrites (Click to tweet)
I love following other writers on Twitter. It’s great to get to see other authors’ processes and methods for writing productivity. I’ve mentioned how Twitter can be useful for writers before, but in case you’re still not sold on the idea, let me share a more concrete example.
I’m not sure where exactly the idea came from—whose tweet sparked my inspiration—but a year or two ago, I discovered a unique method for increasing writing productivity. Various authors were posting pictures of paper calendars covered with stickers. Often, there were multiple stickers on different days, or different colors with different meanings. The authors using this method usually posted some kind of key with their pictures, revealing what the number and color of stickers stood for. Most of them even used this method for editing.
It seemed so simple that I was convinced it wouldn’t work. I shoved the idea to the back of my mind. I would find another way.
Flash forward to last month. I happened upon a pack of cute summer-themed stickers in Target’s Dollar Spot, and grabbed them up right away. I was in the middle of a writing slump and had tried almost everything. What could the sticker method hurt?
When I got home, I decided on a simple system—one sticker each day I made some progress in my WIP. Even if I only wrote a sentence, that would translate to a sticker. And you know what? It worked.
I couldn’t believe it. Halfway through the month of April, I realized I’d written almost every single day utilizing this method. And now into May, as you can see from the picture, I’m still going strong. I’ve even bought some more stickers to use once these are gone!
Am I crazy? Maybe. Is this childish? Probably. But guess what—it does challenge me to keep writing each day. Every single day, in order to earn a sticker, I have to get words down. And that keeps me going.
The next time you’re stuck, consider trying something as silly as the sticker method. Don’t be too surprised if it ends up working out.
What are your tips for writing productivity? How do you stay motivated to keep your writing schedule?
How do you stay motivated while #amwriting? @brianawrites shares a surprising method that worked for her. (Click to tweet)
It seemed like such a small move in the grand scheme of things.
Instead of facing out into the room, I turned it so it faced the wall—blank, uninspiring, and free of distractions. Most importantly, I was out of reach of the TV.
By turning the desk around, I made it easier to sit down and start writing. Before, I had to go around the back of the desk to sit in my chair. I had to maneuver my way into the corner. Once seated, it was almost impossible for me to get out. Whenever I wanted to write, thinking about the difficulty of just getting in and out of the chair could be enough to keep me from writing. I got sick of not writing. It was time for a change.
I turned the desk around. In doing so, I made it easier to write, which led to more writing. It’s as simple as that, ladies and gents.
In life, we underestimate the power of small changes. It’s amazing how a haircut, new outfit, or altered recipe can shift our mood or way of thinking. Temperature and light affect our productivity levels, sleeping habits, and social interactions, all without our noticing. Imagine how much you can alter your writing productivity by making some simple tweaks.
If you’re not happy with your writing performance, a couple of small changes might be in order. Crank the air conditioning, pour yourself some wine, turn the desk around. You never know what change of pace might light a fire in you.
What simple changes have had the most profound impact on your life?
Stuck in a writing rut? @brianawrites discusses the power of small changes. (Click to tweet)
Find out why @brianawrites believes in “turning the desk around” sometimes. (Click to tweet)
If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I am ambitious.
I’m so driven that I pour every ounce of myself into my work, bleeding myself dry with every word I put down. This work ethic is a mixed blessing: I tend to accomplish many things, but it’s not uncommon for me to fall out of my chair exhausted at the end.
When Memorial Day Weekend rolled around, I promised myself to write 10K before going back to work on Tuesday. Long story short: I didn’t even come close. I spent the weekend resting, watching movies, and catching up on some books on my TBR list. And you know what?
The world didn’t end.
As human beings, we spend so much time rushing around and trying to make everything happen that we often don’t notice how exhausted we are. Our minds don’t get the chance to rest. When that happens, it can be difficult to get any real work done, creative or otherwise.
In order to stay productive, you have to take breaks. Take care of yourself. If you’re like me, you might not notice you’re a victim of burnout until you find yourself teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Relax.
Author Ava Jae has a great post about self-care for writers. If you don’t take care of your mind and body, your writing will suffer. In order to succeed, you need to stay sharp. If you want to stay sharp, you need to take breaks. It doesn’t matter how long the breaks are or what you do during them that matters – it’s the fact that you’re stepping away from the work to give yourself some breathing room.
What are your tips for avoiding writing burnout? How do you feel about taking breaks?
Writing is a tough job. @brianawrites offers a tip for avoiding burnout. (Click to tweet)
I just discovered ZenWriter, and I am so in love with it.
For those of you who have never heard of it, ZenWriter is a program that gives you an open, peaceful place for composing your thoughts. It’s a fullscreen text editor that offers customizable backgrounds, music, and a nifty word count at the bottom of the window. By default, there’s also a typewriter sound effect that coincides with your keystrokes (and makes you feel like the next Hemingway, just so you know). It even saves your work automatically, so you don’t have to worry about losing anything.
The fullscreen format helps cut down on distractions and keep you focused on writing. The music and backgrounds are calming, which reduces any blinking-cursor-on-a-blank-page anxiety you might feel. Since I started using this program, I’ve consistently written 2K every day. In fact, my last two installments of BLOOD AND WATER were both written in there (and then copied and pasted into Scrivener for safe keeping).
There are only two downsides I’ve found to this program: it doesn’t offer formatting options, and it saves your work as a text file, rather than a document. Of course, I like the lack of formatting and spellcheck in the editor because it keeps me focused on the task of writing, rather than the tedious details that come along with it. As for the saving as text issue, it doesn’t affect me because I copy and paste my work into Scrivener, anyway.
Bottom line: if you’re like me and prefer to do your actual writing in something besides Scrivener, ZenWriter makes a friendly and effective alternative to Microsoft Word and other office suites. Give it a try and see what happens. What do you have to lose?
A free trial of ZenWriter is available here, as is the $17.50 license for the full version. I can honestly say that it’s worth every penny.
Have you ever used ZenWriter or another distraction-free text editor? What did you think?
.@brianawrites shares how she’s back to meeting daily word count goals with the help of a program called ZenWriter. (Click to tweet)
It’s hard for me to stay focused while writing. Sometimes I feel like there’s a perception on social media that I have my writing act together – which isn’t always true. While I do make an effort to concentrate when I’m working on something, it’s not guaranteed to happen. Sometimes the shiny lure of the internet is too strong to resist.
I wrote a similar post ages ago, but I’ve learned a lot since then. It’s time for an update. I want to share with you what works for me now, in hopes that you might find something that works for you, too. After a lot of trial and error, I’ve discovered some resources that help me stay focused.
- Write or Die. If you haven’t heard of Write or Die, check it out immediately. I’ve written some posts about it, but I’m not sure I’ve give you my settings yet. What works for me is setting the word count goal to 500 and the time limit to 30 minutes. You should experiment ad see what works best for you.
- Fullscreen mode. Whether you’re writing in Scrivener, Word, or some other program, going fullscreen is a great way to block out distractions and keep you focused on the task at hand. Ava Jae wrote a post about this technique.
- My laptop’s wireless button. Sometimes, the simplest solution is the most effective. If you just can’t bring yourself to stay off the internet, turn off your switch or your router for a while.
- Music and headphones. When I hear kids playing outside or my apartment is too quiet, I plug in my headphones and put some music on low in order to get in the zone. If you’re not a music person (first of all, how?), try a webapp like Coffitivity or focus@will.
- StayFocusd. I used to use this Chrome extension in college, but it’s been a while since I tried it again. Last night, I downloaded it and gave it a whirl. I’ve got to say, it’s just as great as I remember. Since I use social media for my job, I set the program to run from 5 p.m. when I get off work to 8 a.m. when I go into work. It lets me browse my blocked sites (Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) for 30 minutes before telling me to get back to work. There’s also a nuclear option if you want to block sites on the weekend or whatever, for a set amount of time. Give it a try.
I’m constantly on the lookout for more tips and tricks to keep me focused while writing. As I discover new methods for staying productive, you can count on me to share them with all of you here. While the methods in this post won’t work for everyone, I encourage you to try them out to find what works for you.
What are some tips, techniques, and resources that help you stay focused while writing?
Do you have trouble staying focused? Writer @brianawrites has some tips to help you write without distractions. (Click to tweet)
Whenever I start a new manuscript, I go to Spotify and create a playlist for it. Usually, I can only add a few songs in the beginning. As time goes on and I learn more about my characters and my story, I’m able to add more. Right now, I’m at the point in my writing where I have close to twenty songs in there. By the end of the novel, I expect to have thirty.
Creating a novel playlist is a great way to get you in the mood to write your novel. As soon as I press play, my brain knows it’s time to get into the zone. I make sure to only listen to this playlist when I’m writing BLOOD AND WATER, so the association is set in stone. If you’re feeling stuck with a project, try putting together some songs that remind your of your story so far.
A word of caution to this tale: adding songs to your playlist can become a vehicle for procrastination. Add a few songs to get started, and then save the rest for when you’re on a break. You can’t write the novel if you’re adding songs to your playlist all day instead. If you’re a plotter, you can set the playlist up when you’re outlining, as part of your pre-writing process. If you’re a pantser, try setting a time limit and then stop messing with the playlist once your time is up.
For my BLOOD AND WATER playlist, I chose songs based on their lyrics, tempos, and moods. Check out the track list below.
BLOOD AND WATER SOUNDTRACK
1. Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey 2. Too Close by Alex Clare 3. A Sky Full of Stars by Coldplay 4. I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers 5. Mess Is Mine by Vance Joy 6. Take Me to Church by Hozier 7. Love in the City by Lissie 8. Born to Die by Lana Del Rey 9. Come With Me Now by KONGOS 10. Sad Machine by Porter Robinson 11. Biting Down by Lorde 12. Bloodstream by Ed Sheeran 13. Sail by AWOLNATION 14. Where is My Mind? by Pixies 15. Weight of Living, Pt. II by Bastille 16. Oblivion by Bastille 17. Cemeteries of London by Coldplay 18. I Will Follow You Into the Dark by Death Cab for Cutie 19. I Can’t Make You Love Me/Nick of Time by Bon Iver 20. The Wilhelm Scream by James Blake 21. All Along by Kid Cudi
Want to listen to the playlist for yourself? Click here.
What other songs should I add to this playlist?
What songs would be on your novel playlist? Check out the soundtrack to @brianawrites’ novel BLOOD AND WATER. (Click to tweet)
I haven’t had time to watch television lately. I’ve been focusing on writing and editing (for myself and for others), which means working with the TV off until the work is finished. It’s my rule. This process repeats until the weekend rolls around.
Last Saturday, I watched a show a lot of people have been talking about, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It was smart, entertaining, and well-executed. Parts of it were funny, but not hilarious. Still, the show got me thinking and drawing connections to my writing life (as all writers do).
Throughout the show, Kimmy proves she is wise beyond her years—mostly due to her captivity in an underground bunker (I can’t even begin to explain that in this post, so just go watch it). One of her most profound ideas crops up in the second episode of season one, “Kimmy Gets a Job.” In the episode, she has to throw a party to impress her new employer. When her employer’s child complains about having to wait to open his presents, she assures him that he’ll be able to wait.
“I learned a long time ago that a person can stand just about anything for ten seconds,” Kimmy says. Cue flashback: Kimmy is turning a mysterious crank, and we learn she’s been doing the task for several days. When her “sister” offers to take over for her, Kimmy shrugs her off. “It’s no big deal,” she says. “You can stand anything for ten seconds. Then, you just start on a new ten seconds.” And she proceeds to do just that as she keeps turning the crank. Back in the present, she tells the boy, “Take it ten seconds at a time.”
That scene got me thinking. For me, one of the hardest parts of writing is just getting started. It’s sitting down and making the commitment to get the words down. It’s the ability to push past this mental block and write that separates the wannabe writers from the professionals. It’s not enough to want to write—you must actually produce something.
Kimmy Schmidt reminded me that a task is easier to accomplish when it has a definite end. I applied this idea to my writing life by setting a timer for ten minutes, rather than ten seconds. Ten minutes isn’t long at all. I sat down in my chair and told myself I only had to write until the timer went off. If I felt tapped out, I didn’t have to go on—the only rule was that I couldn’t stop until I heard the ding.
It’s been twenty minutes now, and I’m still writing this blog post. It took me forever to get started until I thought of Kimmy Schmidt. The next time you can’t bring yourself to sit down and start writer, set a timer and go. You don’t need to write something perfect, but you need to write something. How else can you expect to make a living as a writer? The key to success in the craft is production.
You can stand almost anything for ten minutes, darling. Go ahead and take it ten minutes at a time.
What do you think about this advice? How do you get started when you don’t feel like writing?
Find out how Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt inspired @brianawrites’ writing life. (Click to tweet)
Sit down and start writing – just take it ten minutes at a time, like @brianawrites. (Click to tweet)
I’m writing this blog post after a long day at work. Like many of you, I work full-time at a standard 8-5 job. At the end of the day, I want nothing more than to come up and curl up on the couch with my cat. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have any chores to do, emails to answer, or posts to write, but it is what it is. Even though I’ve worked all day, I know I can’t rest the minute I open the door to my apartment. There’s still work to be done.
You know how it is: you get home from work, grab a snack and a drink, plop down on the couch, and turn on the television. Next thing you know, you’re three hours into your House of Cards binge and you haven’t eaten dinner, fed the cat, or gotten any of the items crossed off your to-do list. You swear you’ll accomplish everything tomorrow.
The next day, when you get home from work, you grab a snack and a drink, plop down on the couch, and repeat the whole cycle. You know you’re wasting your life, but you can’t help it – or so you think.
That’s where I come in. No matter how set in your ways you might be, I promise you that you can change your routine. How do I know? Because I’ve been there. When I started this job (my first real full-time gig), I could barely keep my eyes open throughout the day, much less continue to be productive once I got home. Soon I realized that if I didn’t change my habits, I would never be able to accomplish my goals. I took a hard look at myself and took the plunge.
Now, I work a full-time job, run a blog, post on social media, film vlogs, and work on my novel – all while managing to keep the apartment in an organized state of chaos (caveat: my chaos is much cleaner than most people’s). So how did I manage to turn things around?
The biggest change I made was to turn off the TV.
Really. I’m not joking.
I already wrote a post about turning off your television, but I didn’t emphasize how it helps your productivity. For me, TV changes my whole mindset. Once I turn it on, I’m done being productive. I can say “only one episode” all I want, but we all know it’s easy to get sucked in to Netflix.
See how long you can go without turning on the TV. Make it a game. Each day, try to beat your personal best. You’ll be surprised how much time you have now that you’re not glued to the screen. With your new free time, you can read, write, or even do some chores around the house.
Try it for yourself and see how much more productive you can be. You’ll cut down on distraction, earn some peace and quiet, and carve out a few more minutes to do what you’re passionate about.
What are your secrets for getting things done after work? What do you think about avoiding the television?
What’s the secret to getting things done after work? See what writer @brianawrites has to say. (Click to tweet)