Authors: 15 Tips To Increase Your Productivity

Whether you’re a full-time writer or a newbie working on your first novel, the issue of  speed – how fast you’re creating that opus – has probably come up for you. I’ve tweaked a few things this year and my productivity has improved, but I’ll continue to search for ways to crank out really good plots at a faster rate. Here are a few things that work for me:

1. Start, already.
Girl@ComputerMorguefile_OPOverthinking is one of my personal issues. If I did it this way, would the end result be better? No, wait, if I approach the project from that aspect, would my time be spent more effectively? Phooey. Over-planning is not a results-oriented strategy. Sometimes you just need to start and figure out a strategy or plan through trial and error along the way.
2. Define what you write.
That means genre, word count, type of protagonist, etc. Consider this your “elevator speech.” It’s not so much a formula as a path, and when you know the path you want to take, it makes it easier to define subsequent books. It takes out a lot of the guesswork. If you haven’t yet defined your work, it’s time. Here’s mine:

I write women’s fiction /mystery novels set in in Northern California that feature strong, independent female characters who are professional and/or amateur sleuths. My stories are both character and plot-driven, include both friend and romantic relationship elements but no graphic sex or gore, and run 72K -75K words in length. My protagonists are flawed and smart and imperfect but manage to improve, both personally and professionally, in some way, through every story line.

3. Think “series.”
Writing a series provides automatic fodder for subsequent books. You can stretch your characters’ personal lives out through the series and have them tackle new things and get into lots of fun and trouble. Their “issues” will help introduce sub-plots through the series, and since you’re familiar with your main characters, you don’t have to “get to know” new people every time. Many successful authors say that starting with a series helps sales across all titles. Also, Per Smashwords 2015 survey, “series books outsell standalone books.”

4. Write at your most productive time of day.
We all have a certain time when we feel most creative, focused, and productive. For me, that’s first thing in the morning. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to arrange my schedule so I can sit down with coffee at my laptop from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. If you can, figure out your ideal writing time and dash off a few thousand words during your peak hours.
5. Know what you’re going to write before you write it.
One of the secrets to speeding up output is to formulate the scene in your mind before you sit down to write it. And one of the best ways to know about the scene is to pre-plot (or at least semi-pre-plot) the book. It’s the old panster vs. plotter conundrum, but hands down, there is no argument: if you know what you’re going to write about before you begin, you won’t be spending time formulating the scene. You can just dive in and let the words flow.

6. Have more than one project going at once.
Every author has days when they just don’t feel the creative juices flowing for any particular project. Rather than giving up and not writing at all, you can work on plotting the next book, work on thinking up titles for future books, write blog posts and guest posts, and/or create book blurbs. Always have something else to turn to. It will keep motivation high and make you feel as though you’ve accomplished something.

7. Create simple systems, methods, and formulas.
I’m a formula person. I like to create systems that work well, then repeat them over and over. Whether you use Scrivener, a Word doc system, or whatever, establish systems – for writing, editing, and checking your mss for errors – and use them. Organization cuts down on lots of messing around, and less messing around = higher productivity. Here’s my method for writing a new book:

I set up a plot outline in Excel and use separate columns to track the key elements of each chapter, the progression of time, and chapter length, then use Excel’s Autosum function to track total word count as I write. I write each chapter in a separate Word doc file, and save these individual file names with the number of the chapter + the key elements of the scene. That way I don’t have to scroll through a massive single document and I can easily move chapters around if I need to. Compiling the final doc is simple: Open a new Word doc, go to Insert > “text from file,” highlight all the chapters, and Word will do it for you (if your chaps are numbered chronologically).

I also have a standardized manuscript proof checklist that I run through prior to every edit. Long story short, the process I use is familiar, it’s in place, and it works really well for me. All that makes the actual writing go faster.

8. Establish goals – have a plan.
This is basic. You must have a good idea where you want to go before you can get there. You need to plot your course, from daily or weekly word counts to how many books you want to write in a given year.

9. Minimize distractions while you write.
Turn off your phone, the TV, email, the Wifi, and arrange play dates for the kids. My friend and fellow author Laura Zera rented a small office close to her house for $100.00 a month that didn’t have WiFi – or anything but a serene view – so she could complete her memoir. If you’re serious, you need to identify your biggest distraction(s) and find a way to neutralize them so you can get your work done. Unplug. Write offline as much as possible.

10. Schedule brainstorming sessions.
I brainstorm blog titles, book titles, book cover images, and research potential plots a LOT. I take advantage of walks, drive time, and quiet moments for this, scribble or record notes, and file them away. I like to start with the book title and a cover image – it often sets my mind whirring through potential plots and subplots and plot twists. And you know what would be great? To have a handful of friends you could sit around and brainstorm plots with.

11. Don’t stop working between books.
As soon as you send one WIP off to your editor or beta-readers, start thinking about the next book right away. If you need a break from writing and editing, so be it. But there are lots of other things you can do to move your projects forward, such as plotting the next book, brainstorming titles, etc. See #6 and #10 above.

12. Don’t sally forth without tablet, notebook, or tape recorder.
You never know where inspiration will strike. That clerk at the check-out counter might be a great personality for your protagonist’s sidekick. You might hear a quick piece on the news while you’re driving that inspires a plot idea. As I said above, I use drive time as the perfect distraction-free environment for plot development, and I keep a small digital recorder in my glove box so I never have to pull over to the side of the road and take notes. I love this method!

13. Learn to say “no.”
This has always been easy for me, but I know other folks struggle with it. It harks back to having a plan, goals, and priorities. If someone asks you to guest post, you should always try to figure out if it’s an opportunity or a distraction in disguise. If it won’t move your goals forward in some way, consider declining.

14. Use time blocking effectively.
Also called “batching,” time blocking is grouping similar tasks – phone calls, errands, writing, social media time. Grouping similar tasks can help you save time overall, and that means increased productivity.

15. Work on shortcuts, skills and craft.
Simple things can also help ramp up productivity, such as increasing your typing speed. I know, interesting idea, right? If you already type 60 wpm, then this one’s for me. Another productivity-enhancer is to use Dropbox, so you can access your WIP from anywhere. And a great resource for writing faster is Rachel Aaron’s book, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. It’s a must-read for dedicated authors and a steal at .99 cents. What else can you think of?

Readers, I bet you have lots of things you can add. Won’t you please leave a comment and share?

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34 Responses to Authors: 15 Tips To Increase Your Productivity

  1. Anna Celeste Burke July 21, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    A lot of great ideas…some tips I can use. Thanks!

  2. Cinthia July 21, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    Hi, Molly! I love No. 9 because I’m easily distracted, and I think that I use such distractions as an excuse to escape the drudgery and agony of writing. Other times I think it’s because I’m afraid to write, afraid to know what’s inside my head. Whatever the case, I love the idea of a small space without Internet. I’ve noticed that my productivity has gone down since Wifi. Twitter and reading blogs is my biggest online “sin.” (See, I’m reading your blog instead of writing, lol.) Cheers, have a great week and happy writing.

    • Molly Greene July 21, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

      Hi Cinthia! I agree 100% – I use email, blogs, and mindless scrolling on Facebook as a procrastination tool, and just getting started is also hard for me. So when I sit down to write, I turn off the Wifi to get rid of the distraction completely!! That way I have no choice, I have to begin.

  3. elaine pinkerton coleman July 21, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    Thanks, Molly, for fifteen fabulous suggestions. I especially appreciated your suggesting series. I’m relaunching a long-neglected novel-on-progress, actually re-inventing it. I’ve just published a Kindle book Santa Fe Blogger, and am using previous tips (from marvelous YOU) for promotion. You are very generous in your sharing of expertise!

    • Molly Greene July 21, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

      Elaine, that is so exciting!! Thank you so much for your lovely comment, and I am so delighted if anything I have to say helps even one little bit. Yaaay!

  4. Judy Nickles July 21, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

    Enjoyed reading the tips–some of which I actually already do and the rest of which I NEED to do! Also grabbed the book! Thanks!

    • Molly Greene July 21, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

      I got the book too, Judy – always looking for ideas. I’d be thrilled to consistently write even 2k a day, and that’s my goal for my next mystery!

  5. Johh L. Monk July 21, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    Incredible, I loved #7. I also think one should know what it is they’re trying to do, have an idea where they’re going, etc.

    • Molly Greene July 21, 2014 at 7:13 pm #

      Thank you so much, John! I bought Scrivener and quickly decided that trying to figure it out would take a huge bite out of my writing productivity – so I messed around and kind of fell into my current Word-doc based writing process. It works really, really well for me. Thanks for the comment, and than you so much for linking to this article on your website!

  6. Thom Reece July 21, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    Another gem of an article by Molly Green… filled with on target, actionable ideas that will improve your productivity immediately. I just posted this article to the new issue of BMJ.

    • Molly Greene July 21, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

      Yay, thanks so much Thom! I’m always happy if I can help.

  7. Debbie Young July 22, 2014 at 1:09 am #

    Great list, Molly, and your list of books in the sidebar is subtle evidence that they work for you! Another tip that I’d add is to go public on your WIP. I’ve refined the way I use this one: at first, I used to just state on my author blog what was coming next, but then I found I kept changing my mind – which was easy to do, because all I had to do was edit the text to hide the evidence! But now I’ve refined that strategy: I commission the cover for my next WIP while it’s still being written and start showing that on my website, social media etc. That makes it feel a much more real goal than just typing the title and I start to believe in it a lot more. Setting a specific date also helps. Thus for my new collection of flash fiction, “Quick Change”, I commissioned the cover design back in about January, and started the build up a little later in the year towards it being launched on National Flash Fiction Day (June 21st – the shortest night!) I have a launch event booked for my next book, the expanded, paperback edition of “Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes”, a memoir, which is to be the day before World Diabetes Day. Today I’m going to commission the cover for my Christmas flash fiction collection, “Stocking Fillers”. That’ll help me surge ahead on my festive book during hot and sunny July!

    • Judy Nickles July 22, 2014 at 6:08 am #

      I like the idea of ‘going public’ with your WIP. I have done that ‘after a fashion’ but could do a better job. Thanks for mentioning it, Debbie.

      • Molly Greene July 22, 2014 at 7:27 am #

        Pre-announcing can build interest for the book before it comes out!!

    • Molly Greene July 22, 2014 at 7:24 am #

      Thanks, Debbie, for the great ideas. I do the same thing, now, sort of pre-announce my next book by posting the cover art in my sidebar. And that’s actually another productivity-enhancing “tip” you gave us – to have cover art, blurbs, and everything else ready to go way before the final proof of the WIP is done. That way, no waiting. THANK YOU!! And best to you on your upcoming releases.

  8. Kathryn Goldman July 22, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    Hey, Molly,

    Great post as usual. But this time I only read as far as tip #1, then I stopped reading, eliminated distractions and started writing what I planned to write this morning which is my most productive time.

    Just kidding, I read the whole post.


    • Molly Greene July 22, 2014 at 7:26 am #

      Made me laugh! I read blog posts in the afternoon, Kathryn, unless I’m browsing somewhere I shouldn’t be and let myself get distracted – haha!

  9. L. Darby Gibbs (Elldee) July 22, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

    Hi Molly,
    I really need to follow #2. I use yWriter 5, very user friendly for planning and writing. Many of your tips I follow, though keeping distractions to a minimum I am awful with. What I could accomplish if I could get out of hearing distance of a TV! Great list.

    • Molly Greene July 23, 2014 at 9:00 am #

      Thanks, Elldee. For me the big distraction is WiFi and the Internet. I cancelled the cable last year so there’s never anything worth watching on TV!

  10. Belinda Pollard July 22, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    Thanks Molly. This one’s a ripper. (In case you are wondering what a ripper is, here’s the definition: “informal, chiefly Austral., a thing that is particularly good”. 😉 )

    Life has crowded in around my current WIP (or WIPs plural, to be more precise) and they have stalled. I need to obey Nike and Just Do It. There will never be a time when I am not too busy/distracted/stressed to write my books. Your incredible productivity this year is both an inspiration and a rebuke to me. You go girl!

    • Molly Greene July 23, 2014 at 8:58 am #

      Than you so much, Belinda! I know how busy you are and how hard it is for everyone who is working full-time to carve out extra minutes to move the WIP forward. For me, it’s a matter of establishing a routine. I write for myself first in the morning, then everything else comes next. Easier said than done, though!

  11. Linda Martin July 22, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    Thank you for this advice. I especially like numbers 11 & 13: “don’t stop between books” and “learn to say no”, respectively. I did #11 – stopped between books and it’s not so easy getting back in the swing. As an illustrator also, it was critical for me to learn to say “no”. Drawing and painting takes time, and doing it pro bono takes too much time away from paying projects.

    • Molly Greene July 23, 2014 at 8:56 am #

      Thanks, Linda. i stopped for a year after my first book – what a mistake! – and for three months after the second. I learned my lesson.

  12. Bryce Evans July 23, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    Thanks Molly for this blog post. I’m still learning the ropes and it helps learning ways to help you in your field. I will definitely try these out. I will let you know how it goes. Again, thanks.
    Bryce Evans

    • Molly Greene July 23, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

      Thanks so much, Bryce! We were all newbies once, and sometimes I feel as if I still am. Always learning, happy to share!

  13. Aya Walksfar July 24, 2014 at 1:36 am #

    Great article…AGAIN! One thing that I use, which may not be for everyone, is photographs. I use them in two ways:
    1. To remind me what certain things I am not familiar with look like in reality. Or to recall a certain kind of atmosphere, be it environmental like the clouds or a mood.
    2. To flesh out my characters. In my first murder mystery, my protagonist is re-assigned from a small town to a big city. I used photos to get a feel for her home town. (P.S. if you have a pinterest page, you can also make a board for certain characters that gives the reader a behind the scenes glimpse of that character’s life. It’s fun stuff.)
    Doing photos also keeps me moving forward on developing my character’s back story even on those days when I may not be able to get in a full writing day.

    • Molly Greene July 24, 2014 at 7:50 am #

      Aya, what a great idea! It’s like a vision board – and what a super idea to use photographs AND to use Pinterest to let readers get familiar with characters, locations, settings. THANK YOU so much for sharing!

  14. Michelle Mueller July 25, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    Great advice! As one of those people who likes to make excuses, it’s nice to see all these tips. They remind me to get to work!

    I love that you stressed having multiple projects. I’ve heard some people say that you should avoid this, but I think our creativity needs to be able to spread in whichever direction it wants. I’m much more inclined, I’ve found, to stay on task when I can take a break to work on a different project once in a while. Or if I’m having trouble with my current WIP, then often I find the answers I’m looking for when I turn my attention to something else for a while.

    Thanks for posting!

    • Molly Greene July 25, 2014 at 8:18 am #

      Thanks, Michelle! I only work on one main mss at a time while I’m writing, but I always have plot ideas, covers, titles I’m trying to develop for future books. And yes, like you I do need a break once in a while, so turn to other creative task for a little re-generation. Thanks so much!

  15. Jeri July 25, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    What I’ve most learned from the trials and tribulations of drafting my first book is that I am much more a plotter than a pantser. My work will be terribly bloated when I just dive in and start writing. I’ll also be utilizing a coach early on to help with story concepts from now on. It’s funny how I can edit other’s work like there’s no tomorrow, but still have yet to find my writing stride. Working on shorter pieces has helped. One of the best takeaways from the recent PNWA conference was that sentence craft tends to develop much earlier than story craft. Sigh. I still haven’t fully settled on what genre is my best fit. Thanks for another great post!

    • Molly Greene July 25, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

      Hey Jeri! I’ve always considered myself a panster but I pantsed my way through my latest WIP and I was REALLY bummed about how much I had to go back and change as the plot developed. So I have decided NEVER AGAIN! Pantsing is a real anti-productivity method. I’ve found that some of my stories develop in my head quickly, and others need to be encouraged. A lot. And I also found that by my 3rd book my sentence craft was much better, my characters more clear to me, and getting them around the page (mechanics) was a lot more fun and less awkward. Best to you, girl!

  16. Don Harold September 1, 2014 at 11:39 pm #

    Encouraging words Molly! #10 is very applicable if writer’s block sinks in. I guess a little pause and going outside for an inspiration does the trick.

    • Molly Greene September 2, 2014 at 7:22 am #

      Thanks, Don! Yes, I brainstorm a LOT – 9/10 of it gets thrown out, but if I can even come up with one little gem, it inspires me enough to keep on going!