Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity, Visualized | Brain Pickings

See this article from Brainpickings.org

See this article from Brainpickings.org

I know I have been away for a while.  Life has been very complicated.  I am still writing, and I am ready to jump back into blogging.  While I am getting ready to go full-steam again on posts, here is an article for thought:

Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity, Visualized | Brain Pickings.

I have been doing a lot of reading lately on writing productivity, and while I don’t think this article really makes any key points on when writers should get up, I do think it is an interesting study on the habits of many prolific writers.  It’s worth a look, even if it’s just for entertainment.

Enjoy, and share your thoughts writing schedules in the comments!



Improve Your Writing in 5 Minutes a Day

Yes, I can help you write better, and all it will cost you is five minutes of your day.  That’s a pretty lofty claim isn’t it?  I’m not talking about some sort of online lesson or scam.  I’m talking about meta-writing.  That’s right, writing about writing.  But what does that mean?

Probably the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing was start keeping a writing journal.  This isn’t the same journal in which I write what is going on in my life (I don’t actually have one of those).  This isn’t the same journal in which I record all my latest ideas for new stories and novels (I do have one of those).  I keep a journal in which I write every day about writing.  It’s how I start each writing session, and sometimes I end it there, too.

Writing about writing helps me keep my head clear.  All my ideas and worries are on paper, so there’s no risk of forgetting them.  It lets me break my writing problems down into manageable chunks and focus more deeply on each individual issue.  When I come to my writing with a clearer head, I can focus more on the words I am writing, rather than everything I need to work on.

But what do you write about writing?  Anything.  It could be favorite bits of writing advice, or what you plan to write that day.  Mostly I use it to express how I’m feeling about the writing process.  Maybe yesterday I had a bad writing day, and I’m still a little frustrated.  I’ll start my next writing day about why I was frustrated, and then how I plan to work differently to make sure that doesn’t happen again.  Other days, when I’ve got a thousand ideas about what I need to be working on, I’ll write about them to help create a plan for my writing session and make sure I come to it focused.

Another awesome benefit of this is that you can see trends in your writing.  Maybe Wednesdays are stressful at work, so your writing tends to be more unfocused on Wednesdays.  Getting to see patterns can help you come to your project more prepared.

Writing is all about ups and downs.  It’s also nice to see that when you’ve had a really bad day that you’ve been there before and gotten through it, plus you’ll be able to see how you got through it and repeat.

What do you think about writing about writing?  Do you do it?  Does it help you?  Leave a comment.



5 Tips for Writing More Productively

It’s easy to get bogged down and distracted when you write, so today I want to share five easy tips for how to write more productively.

1. Set time limits

When you sit down to write, sometimes you can get overwhelmed thinking of how much you have to do.  If you set clearly defined stopping points, it is easier to be productive because you don’t have time to dwell on what you have to need to get done.  Choose a time to finish, and no matter what, stick to it.  This will make you cut out the frivolous actions that you use to waste time.  If a self-imposed limit doesn’t seem to work for you, try writing when you already have plans.  When I know I can move my limit back, I sometimes get distracted.  If I sit down to write an hour or two before I have to be somewhere, though, I am almost always more productive, because I know that’s the only time I get to write.

2. Know what you’re writing for the day

Even if you’re a pantser, you should know what scenes you want to write for the day.  Doing this will help you get focused and make sure you don’t spend a lot of time jumping around and trying to figure out the flow of your writing.  I try to have an idea of which scenes I want to write when I finish writing the day before.  This lets me process those scenes overnight and come to writing with a clearer idea of what needs to happen.

3. Change your setting

I don’t mean to change the setting of the novel, but rather your writing atmosphere.  Sometimes if I feel like I’m being unproductive, I will try sitting somewhere else.  I will move from my desk to a comfortable chair to the bed and back again.  This keeps me from getting antsy in one place, and just sitting somewhere different, even in the same room, can help you feel more creative.

4. Take notes as you write

It’s easy to start thinking about other scenes or about something you need to research when you should be writing.  Rather than breaking the flow, pause just long enough to jot down a note so you don’t forget, and keep writing until you reach your time limit.  After that, you’re free to do any research you want.  I keep sticky notes on my desk for such things.  I’m always afraid that I’ll forget something I needed to work on, so knowing that I have my list and won’t forget what I need to do helps me focus.

5. Turn off the internet

When you start thinking about things you need to research or wondering if any friends have commented on your Facebook, it’s almost instinctual to go ahead and open your browser.  Because it’s habit, all it takes is just a second to realize what you’re doing and get back on track.  Next time, manually go into your internet settings and disable it before you start writing.  Usually by the time I’ve opened the browser, remembered that my computer is offline, and taken the time to reconnect, I’ve realized what I’m doing and gone back to writing.  My rule is that once my writing program is open, I try not to open any other windows until I reach my word count or time limit for the day.

Next time you get stuck writing, try a few of these tips in order to get more writing done.

Do you have any other tips for productive writing?  Leave a comment.

5 Tips for Getting Organized

Image by Master Isolated Images; Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Image by Master Isolated Images; Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

I’m an organization nut.  I can’t deal with clutter, especially in my writing space.  I feel like I can’t create if I’m sitting in a mess.  While I use Scrivener for a lot of organization, I have a lot of notes and items that help me through the planning project, and I feel like I waste writing time if I’m digging in piles for a specific paper.  Here are five tips for keeping your writing space organized while you write.

1. The Book Binder

I like to have physical copies of notes, rather than files on my computer, even thought Scrivener makes it easy.  One of my favorite ways to keep my papers organized is with book binders.  What I do is take a regular 1″ binder with pockets and fill it with notebook paper.  Then, any time I have an idea for a story, I put it in that binder.  That way, all my notes for a given story are contained in one place.  The best part of using a binder rather than a bound notebook is that I can change the order of the pages at any time.  If I decide I want to organize them chronologically, or by subject, it’s no problem.  You can put your most useful subjects up front, or use tabs.  I have separate binders for each project, because I feel like they get too muddled and full if it’s all in one.  Another thing I really like about book binders is that when I want to write away from my desk, all I have to do is grab my binder and my laptop, and I’m ready to go.

2. One-Subject Notebooks

While we’re on the topic of notes, I also have lots of one-subject notebooks in my writing space, and just like my binders, each of them is for a different purpose.  I use one for blog notes; one for ideas that I haven’t formed enough to be binders; my book journal, where I keep track of all the books I’ve read; and my writing journal, where I write about how my writing is going.  (I’ll post about the last two later.)

3. Sticky Notes

I think sticky notes are one of the greatest things that were ever created.  My mind tends to wander when I write or plan, and when I don’t want to break the flow, I just jot a down a note and move on.  It’s a great way to make sure you don’t miss any great ideas, but it keeps you focused.  It’s easier to focus when I’m not trying to write and remember an idea for later at the same time.  If I come up with a new story, it goes on a note until I can put it in my notebook.  If I’ve realized I need to research something, it goes on the note.  If I need to develop a character, it’s another note.  Any notes I need for the long-term are stuck around the shelf on my desk.  If that’s full, I start sticking them to the surface.  I like to group them together for each project, and then by subject after that.  All my character notes for one project go together, while setting goes in another place.  I like being able to look up and see whichever note I need right away without any fumbling.  Different colors and shapes help designate different projects and subjects.  This is a great way to easily differentiate which notes go with what project.

4. Folders

I always keep several folders.  One is usually just for random pieces of paper that I want to hold on to, but I haven’t found a permanent home for yet.  The other is a multi-subject folder.  It’s the kind that opens, and the compartments pull down.  I use it to store old projects that I’m not working on anymore.  If I finish something, or decide not to work on it for a while, it migrates from a binder to one of the compartments in the folder.  I never throw any writing away, because you never know when you’ll need it again, but this keeps it out-of-the-way and safe.

5. Cork board

My next organization project is to get a cork board.  A lot of times, I have a specific note I use a lot, or one I want to think about for a while.  I tend to think about things better when they’re where I can see them all the time.  I’m going to get my board and use it to pin-up things I want to keep handy all the time, inspirational pictures or quotes, or anything that catches my interest.

How do you stay organized?  Share your tips in a comment.

Why Getting Distracted is Okay

Photo by Renette Stowe

Photo by Renette Stowe

A lot of writers say that writer’s block is nothing but laziness, and I don’t necessarily disagree with that.  All that’s going to help you finish your novel is the will power to sit down and actually write it.  I think writers need to try to write even when they don’t want to.  How else can you form good habits?  I’m not going to tell you avoid writing on days when you don’t feel like it, but I think a lot of writers, especially newer ones, take this too far.  It’s okay to let your distractions get the best of you once in a while and do something rather than writing.

Pushing yourself when you aren’t being productive will cause burn out.

I think it’s important to try to write as often and as much as you can, especially on a first draft, but it’s just as important to realize that everyone has his or her limits, and those limits can change daily.  Goals help keep writers productive, but they shouldn’t always be static.  Some days, when the planets align, everyone is out of the house, and you finally have that  quiet you’ve been dying for, 5,000 words is easy, but on other days, 300 words really is the best you can do.

You may already be stressed about trying to reach your goals, but is it really productive to keep watching the cursor blink for an hour?  Is it worth it to risk becoming even more burnt out by trying to force it, and finding yourself in a cycle of stress and bad writing?  Nothing can kill creativity or focus quicker than stress.  It’s hard to make something worthwhile when your brain is in 100 different places at once.

Since you aren’t focused on the words, your mind wanders to the dishes and the laundry.  You think about the bills you haven’t paid yet or about appointments, or maybe you’re worried about work.  Before you know it, you’re writing a to-do list rather than a novel.  What if instead, you’re thinking about the television show you missed last night or the book you’ve been dying to read?  With everything on earth going through your head but your writing, you probably aren’t going to get any work done until you take some time away from your draft.

You’ll probably spend more time editing something you wrote when you were burnt out.

Another problem that writers may face from not taking breaks is that the writing suffers.  If you aren’t focused, you aren’t getting the words right, your characters aren’t developing, and your plot stinks.  If you keep pushing, not only will you waste time and energy trying to put the words down, but you’ll waste a lot more time later trying to revise something that clearly isn’t working.

When I’m revising, I always know where I was struggling when I wrote the draft.  Those scenes are slower, and I can tell that I didn’t care what words I put in so long as the word count was going up.  They’re tedious to read, and even more tedious to try to make sense of later.  When I’m excited about writing, however, I feel like I can work forever, and although I still have edits to make, the draft usually doesn’t need to be revised as thoroughly.

After trying many ways to keep my energy and excitement about a project high, I’ve found the most effective is taking more frequent breaks.  Writing in spurts keeps me from wearing out as quickly.  Rather than trying to reach a high word count for an entire day, I’ll set myself micro-goals and reward myself with a break.  If my target word count is 5,000 words for the day, maybe I’ll set my first goal at 1,500 words.  Even if I want to keep writing, I’ll finish my sentence and take a five to ten minute break.  It keeps my mind fresh and the words flowing, and each little break gives me the opportunity to think through what is working in a draft and what isn’t.  When I come back, I pick up where I left off, often in the middle of my paragraph, and I have a better idea of where I’m going with that scene.

Your brain might be telling you that something isn’t working.

If you keep getting bogged down in a scene, it’s often because something isn’t working.  When you’re trying to get everything down in your first draft, it can be difficult to step back and look objectively at the work.  This means you ignore many problems in your draft.

Be honest.  Have you ever tried to deny that what you’re writing isn’t working?  Have you just kept trying to write your story, scene, or novel, hoping that it will all work out in the end, but you already knew that it wasn’t going anywhere?  I have.  I recently started over on the my novel, but it took me a while to admit that it wasn’t working.  And by a while, I mean 35,000 words and hours of work.

Oh, I knew before I started that I had no idea how I was going to make this mess of a story work for my characters.  By 10,000 words I knew my novel was an unsalvageable mess, and what did I do?  I kept writing.  I didn’t take breaks.  I kept pushing myself, because I was afraid if I stopped I would have to address the fact that the whole novel was a wreck.

I would agonize to get to a few hundred words written, and rather than taking a break, kept pushing, hoping that something would click.  That never happened.  I ended up being forced to take time away from my draft for a week, and in retrospect, I’m glad.  When I came back I knew what I had to do.  Sure, I moped around for a day or so asking if I really had to do it, but I knew the answer.  I sat down and tried to fix the plot, and when that didn’t work, I tried to figure out what was working in the draft and build on it.  When I finished, I had a brand new plot and knew I had to start over.

Did I throw away 35,000 words.  Yes.  Did I keep anything from the first draft?  Pretty much only the names of the characters.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  I learned a valuable lesson, and my novel is all the better for it.  When you’re staring at the screen, and the cursor isn’t moving day after day, it probably means there’s something fundamental not working in your scene or story, and if you give in to yourself permission to get some distance, you might figure out what the problem is and fix it before you’ve wasted too much time.

This time around, I’ve worked on taking regular breaks, and whenever I start feeling restless, I try to do something else for a few minutes, and I can already tell how much better my novel is.  I’ve written this draft faster than the first, and the plot is working.  When you pre-plan breaks, or at least listen to your body when you get tired it forces you to stop and think mid-flow, which can help make a better draft.

Letting your brain recharge can revitalize your story.

All I’m saying is that sometimes it’s okay to give in to distractions.  I’m not saying to check your Twitter account every ten minutes like you want to do, and you probably don’t need to watch every episode of How I Met Your Mother in one sitting (Yes, I know it’s addicting!), but if you keep pushing, and you aren’t getting anything out of it, take a break.  One or two episodes of your favorite show won’t hurt.  Get up and move around.  Think about something different.  Call a friend.  Catch up on your favorite writing blogs.  Do whatever it takes to reenergize before you come back to your novel or story.

Maybe fifteen minutes is all you need, and you can get right back to it, but sometimes a worse block needs more time.  I think getting some space from your work for an hour or two, or even a week if you need it, helps get creative energy flowing.  Ever since I trashed my draft, I’ve tried listening to what my brain is telling me.  Often it’s when you start to feel restless that something is wrong with the draft.  Usually after a break I have a better idea about where I want to go with the story, and I actually start to get excited about writing.  Try to get space for a little while and think about something else, and you’ll come back to the draft with more energy and better ideas.  Plus, who knows?  Maybe that show will inspire you.

Don’t forget to go back to your story.

I’m not trying to say that you won’t have to push through parts of your first draft, but I think it’s important to listen your own mind and body when you’ve hit your limit, and letting yourself have time for distractions can improve your writing and your productivity.  Keep in mind that it’s easy to get carried away when you give yourself a free pass to get distracted, so just make sure you do everything in moderation.  Set a timer to remind yourself to get back to work if you have to, so you can recharge without going overboard.  If you think you  need a longer break, stop working on the project you’re struggling with, but try to work on some other project in the meantime.

And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun.

Have you experienced writing burn out?  Do you have more tips on how to avoid it?  Leave a comment.