On Being Productive

All writers have different habits, good and bad, that influence their productivity. Some prefer to write things out long-hand, some like to plot and plan, some simply need to check Facebook and Twitter and twelve different email accounts before they can focus on fiction.

We all know our own foibles, and we know equally well when it’s time to knuckle down and just write.

For me, the best very best thing I can do to ensure that words appear on the page is to start writing as soon as I wake up. And I’m talking as soon as. In pjs, before coffee, eyes still bleary with sleep. It doesn’t have to be a long writing session (though that is a bonus) but if the first thing I think about is writing, then I’m bound to get more accomplished than if I try to do other things first.

This is obviously not always possible. When I’m teaching the first thing I do is hop on a bus to the university, then spend most of the day talking about essays. When I was working on my thesis, I’d be teaching, then researching, then working the paid research job, then marking, then finally writing fiction (feeling guilty the whole time that I was neglecting my never-ending PhD of Doom)… so during semester, fiction often happened at night.

I also realised that my most productive days, no matter what I’m writing, are the ones in which I ignore my email, Facebook, Twitter, and even my phone for as long as possible. If I have a whole day set aside for writing, I’ll hold off on checking these things until lunch — or, if I’m working on a new story, until dinner. On the days when I don’t have hours and hours free to write, it still helps to start writing first thing — it gets the backbrain percolating on the story, so even if I’m working or marking or out buying groceries, I’ve got my writer brain switched on. If I don’t write in the morning but do a bunch of other tasks, it is always so much harder getting into the swing of things late in the day.

I love hearing about how other writers work — how many morning people are there out there? How many night owls? Are you scribblers (like me) who take notes on anything that comes to hand, or do you store it all up in your heads and then spill, spill, spill as soon as you’re in front of a computer? Do you write many drafts, or edit as you go? Do you do best in marathon writing sessions, or in short spurts?

I should also say that ‘productivity’ is soooo subjective. Today I wrote about 1,000 words but it felt awesome. I’m always slow at the beginning of stories — it takes me a while to nail the voice — but once I do, the speed picks up. More importantly, speed depends on the style of story. The one I’m working on now is a bit of a “period piece”, so though I did most of my research before I started writing, I still stopped to check a few details here and there along the way. Again, this makes for a slower — but still productive — writing session.

Knowing this is how I work doesn’t give me an excuse to be slack on the days where I can’t write first thing in the morning — but it helps me to make the most of my days off.





  1. OMG, I wrote about 95% of my reply and then bam! I clicked something by accident and it all disappeared to the realms of the internet world. Anyway, I’ll try to remember what I wrote.

    I’m a morning person. I need to write before I change, before I eat. It takes me a while to pull myself away from the computer to even go to the loo on one of my writing days. In the mornings, it feels like my writer’s mind has re-filled with ideas, inspiration and words that I need to get down on paper.

    I take a notebook wherever I go because one of my fears is that something I neeeed to include in my novel will be forgotten about if I can’t get it down. My characters don’t give me suitable times to write their story…

    I’ve just finished my 7th draft of my novel because when I started it, I didn’t even know what ‘show, don’t tell’ was. Yep. I had a lotttt to change. At least I can now type as fast as a paint mixer can shake up a can.

    As for writing sessions, I’ve probably gone about nine hours straight before, but I’m a full-time worker. Those times are limited. Most of the time, I’m calculating how I can squeeze in another five or ten minutes.

  2. Oooh, I hate when that happens (re: the disappearing comment)!
    And I know *just* what you mean about not being able to pull yourself away from the computer — today I kept thinking, “Just another minute.. Just another paragraph…” When you work, it feels like every minute of the writing day is precious. It’s so great to have long writing sessions, but all those five and ten minute stints add up too. 🙂
    Congrats on your novel — 7 drafts! What an achievement.

  3. I’m a morning person. I deal with me email and social media while eating breakky, the somewhere between 9-10am I start. I need to have three hours – I can’t get started unless I know I can sink into the story. I might not use it all but I need to know it’s there. Days I don’t want to work I tell myself I have to do just one hour and then I can give up. Most days I end up continuing 🙂

  4. Yay, another early bird! I’ve tried to do the social media with brekkie thing, but inevitably end up spending waaaaaaaaaaay too much time on it. 😉 But I love the idea of telling yourself you have to do an hour — I often find that just getting started is the hard part; once you’re on your way, you can knock over more words than you think! (Though I’ve yet to reach your awesome totals in one day! 🙂 )

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