As someone who writes nonfiction for kids for a job, I find myself confronted with an obstacle that primarily affects me when I work on my personal fiction. Which is, I don’t want to do it. After all, for my nonfiction I have an editor and a deadline and most importantly, I get actual money from it to pay my bills. Those things get me typing away. And while I’m working on making more of a profit with my fiction, I don’t have the same motivation in terms of structure and incentives that I do with my nonfiction. So here are some things that have helped me get my words down despite the financial incentives.
Major. These actions have had the most effect on my productivity.
- Goals and Deadlines. I always have one project or another in the works so for me there is no shortage of things to write, but plugging away at a project until it is really, truly finished is often a challenge. So concrete goals are a major plus. An example is: I will write 500 words a day on Novel A from January to April or whenever I finish it. Deadlines can be moved, of course, but committing to one is intrinsically motivating.
- Figuring out what to write. Yeah, this seems obvious, but unless you’ve got a pretty good idea of your story you can find yourself seriously blocked. I started out a pantser but found that writing method time-consuming, frustrating, and ultimately inefficient due to rewrites and tangents that had to be cut. So now I’m an outlining convert.
- Setting a time. Observe yourself when it comes to writing. Once upon a time I loved to write at night when everyone was asleep and it was quiet. Now, though, I find that I’m too tired at the end of a long day to write regularly–I may do it, or I may not do it, and that’s just not very effective. Morning works better for me. And there’s even evidence that you are more creative in the morning. By setting a regular time that is devoted to writing, I am much more likely to actually get it done. Committing to it is also a big factor. I’ve committed to getting my fiction writing done in the morning before I start my nonfiction, and though it has taken some time to get used to that routine, it works for me.
- Support. I can’t overestimate how valuable this is. Making myself accountable to other people has me producing on a regular basis. I don’t want to welch on my commitment to them, plus there’s a bit of competition in the mix. Having a writing group that meets regularly is the most helpful as I want to have something to turn in for feedback.
Minor. These are mainly useful when I sit down to write and just don’t want to get going. I find myself clicking on social media or finding some other task to distract myself with. Sometimes a little push is enough to get me going.
- Change something. If you normally type out your story, try dictation or handwrite on actual paper. If you normally write in your office go to another room or a coffee shop. You get the idea.
- Sprint away. This combines support and competition. The idea is to challenge at least one other person to write nonstop for 30 minutes and compare results at the end. Set a time that you agree on with another person or a number of others, check in beforehand, then at the appointed time, communicate with one another to “Get ready, get set, GO!” Thirty minutes is a succinct amount of time that eliminates distraction because hey, I can check Facebook later. Plus, there’s another person out there furiously banging away at the keyboard. At the end of our sprint I don’t want to say: “Hey, I wrote 16 words.” You can either share what you’ve written or not. I usually don’t, but whatever works for you is good. The Pomodoro technique is a similar productivity technique that many people, find useful, though it usually doesn’t involve another person.
- Special Events. Attending a writing conference or class can be motivating as well. Conferences often fill me with new ideas and techniques so that I want to get cracking on my project. Classes provide structure and the need to turn in assignments. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is another example of a special event that gets people writing in the month of November, at least. I usually participate in some fashion. I find the idea of writing an entire novel in one month way too intimidating, but I can commit to other actions. For instance, I sign up for a mini NaNoWriMo on LiveJournal and commit to writing a minimum of 100 words per day in November. This November I decided to edit a recently finished project instead. I finished it on November 30, just in time.
- Sound. I’m not one of those people who can listen to music with lyrics while I am writing, but instrumental music does work. I like to put together special mixes that fit the “mood” of my project and listen to them if I am stuck. Music composed for video games is often helpful, especially during fight scenes. Soundtracks are also good. The Last of the Mohicans is one of my favorites. Finally, I love using binaural beats. The idea is that you wear earbuds or headphones and listen to specially designed tones. They are different for each ear which is why it’s essential to wear earphones. These tones activate centers in your brain that increase focus, concentration, creativity, and can induce relaxation and sleep. Needless to say, don’t do the sleep one or you’ll never get any writing done! YouTube has lots of videos for free. I especially like the Relaxing Records channel since it includes instrumental music atop the tones.
I’ve probably missed other helpful actions in this list, so feel free to mention them in the comments. Otherwise, here are a couple of projects I’ve completed making use of these methods.
Xina Marie Uhl lives in sunny Southern California with her family and a minor menagerie of dogs, cats, birds, and aquatic creatures. She has worked at many different jobs in her life, from accounting clerk to history instructor, but writing has been something she has always done. In addition to The Cat’s Guide to Human Behavior, she also has fantasy adventures Necropolis, A Fairy Tail and Out of the Bag, The Ruling Elite and Other Stories, and The King’s Champion, Book 1 available through XC Publishing.net.
Her education has been in history. She holds both BA and MA degrees, and, in addition to writing fiction, also works as a freelance writer of children’s nonfiction and educational materials. When not writing, she enjoys photography, travel, pizza, and fine Arizona Mexican food, not necessarily in that order.