How to be a productive writer

by Nathan Bransford |

The start of a new year is often a time for reflection and renewed commitments. Many of you may be looking toward the days ahead hoping this will be the year you write a book or improve your productivity.

Here are my 7 steps for being a more productive writer:

1. Reclaim your ability to concentrate

2. Get in touch with your goals

3. Block off the time you need to write

4. Avoid obvious potholes

5. Hold yourself accountable

6. Power through

7. Believe

Read on!

1) Reclaim your ability to concentrate

In order to write a book, you have to be able to concentrate for long stretches of time. You need to be able to block out distractions.

Phones and social media are kryptonite for writers and not just because they are time wasters. The constant pings, notifications, and your pavlovian urge to swipe and refresh wreak havoc on your ability to concentrate on literally anything for longer than five seconds.

When I was struggling to write a new novel last year, I realized I needed to turn off my phone notifications, go on a social media detox, read more books for pleasure, close my thousand open browser tabs, and learn to block out distractions.

Even if you don’t want to go as extreme as an internet diet, go on walks without your phone, exercise, meditate, and READ BOOKS.

For further reading:

How to regain your concentration

How to return to writing after a long break

Turn off your phone notifications. All of them.

2) Get in touch with your goals

Before you even start writing, it’s worth taking a moment to think about what you want out of your book.

Do you want to be traditionally published? Do you want to self-publish? What genre is your book going to be?

The answers to these questions don’t have to be set in stone, but if you know roughly how long your book should be, how long you want to spend writing it, and what kind of a book you’re writing, you’ll have a clearer idea of the task in front of you.

If you have even a passing notion that you’d like to pursue traditional publishing, you’ll need to be at least somewhat familiar with word counts, genre conventions, and reader expectations. Knowing these things will help prevent your book from getting away from you.

For further reading:

Should you self-publish or traditionally publish? 7 questions to ask yourself

Why it’s important to know your genre

Everything you need to know about novel word counts

3) Block off the time you need to write

Time is a finite resource. And at the end of the day the only way to write a book is to sit in a chair long enough to finish it.

If you only write when you feel inspired, I’m sorry to say you will never finish a book. That’s just not how it works. You’re going to have to write at times when you would rather be doing nearly anything else in the entire world.

I am a fervent believer in tracking your time. You only have so much time in any given week, and seeing what you spend time on will help you see where you’re wasting it.

I don’t set page count goals for my writing, but I do set hourly goals per week. Put workblocks into your calendar, and get in the habit of visualizing your day and sticking to what’s in your calendar even if you don’t feel like it.

Once more for emphasis: the only way to write a book is to spend the time it takes to write a book. Sure, some days will be more productive than others, but when you start thinking in terms of sheer time and not magical alchemy, you’ll have the right mindset to organize your life accordingly.

For further reading:

Increase your productivity and happiness with extreme calendaring

4) Avoid obvious potholes

Being productive doesn’t just mean working hard. It also means working smart.

Be efficient!

While you’re inevitably going to make mistakes and have to re-do sections of your book, you can save yourself a ton of time and heartache just by avoiding the most obvious errors.

Does your novel have a plot? Do you have a sufficient platform to attract a publisher for work of nonfiction? Do you know your novel’s perspective?

Simply avoiding the “what not to do’s” will save you so much time.

And when you’re editing your work, prioritize your changes intelligently so you can avoid spending time on parts of your books that you’re going to rewrite anyway.

For further reading:

The most common mistakes writers make

Are you the right person to write that book? (nonfiction)

Do you suffer from one of these writing maladies?

Do you have a plot?