Productivity for Writers

Appearances Are All that Matter

Writing is a creative pursuit. Creative pursuits produce art for art’s sake. This sounds good but doesn’t pay the rent and rarely pays the cable bill. Writing explores the boundaries of the human condition, while simultaneously elucidating, stretching, and redefining those frontiers. Writing allows sentences like the previous one to exist as if they make sense. 

If this was all there was to it, writers could pursue the muse with that feeling of superiority one receives simply from being an artiste.[1] Unfortunately, as so often happens, someone allowed a snake into the garden—no doubt because they were told they needed a critical plot point to drive the action. This snake went about whispering in the ears of the writers who write about writing. He told them authors needed to be more than creative. They needed to be productive.

I must pause here and point out that if my goal was to be productive, I would not have become a writer. I became a writer because the barrier to entry was low—practically non-existent since I could claim the title. Productivity never entered my thoughts. It was also nice being able to go to “work” in sweatpants. Of course, thanks to the pandemic, anyone can work in sweatpants once they admit their job is nonessential. Conveniently, most novelists, poets, and screenwriters fall into the nonessential category.

Returning to productivity, it seems every writer with a blog for other writers—which is most of them—believes the lie that productivity for an author is not only possible, but is a good thing. In their quest to make the world a better place, these bloggers create lists enumerating the essential steps to becoming an assembly-line wordsmith. This is supported by the common knowledge that creativity is enhanced through the application of step-by-step lists.

My response is to offer my own numbered list to teach a more valuable lesson: how a writer can appear to be productive. In terms of actual written output, the results are the same. My version gets you there with less stress and a reduced need for self-medication—though the latter is always available for recreation.

  1. Multitask. Experts who once proclaimed the virtues of multitasking now admit there is no such thing. I disagree. I have several novels and shorter works that I am simultaneously putting off until tomorrow. If I were to procrastinate on these separate projects individually, I’d never have time to re-watch the first ten seasons of The Walking Dead.
  2. Make a schedule. Having a schedule is critical. You point family members to the schedule and say, “This is my sacred writing time. Do not bother me during these hours.” Once you’ve set boundaries, you are free to close the door to your home office, climb into the recliner, and take a nap. You can play video games as long as you wear headphones so no one in the house can hear you battling aliens.
  3. Eat a frog. Mark Twain allegedly said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” He did not actually say that, but if it inspires you to eat a live frog, I can talk you into any of the items on this list. Also, since you are dying to ask, it doesn’t taste like chicken. At least not unless the chicken has been marinated for a week in the decaying remains of a wetland.
  4. Organize your writing space. Make a dedicated space for your writing. Then make a dedicated space where you can get away from the stress of writing. Personally, I prefer recuperative meditation in a recliner. When meditation itself is too stressful, I can always nap.
  5. Track your progress. Just kidding. Why get depressed over your lack of progress? If you insist on keeping track of your word count, never delete anything. Cutting words might make your writing tighter, but it does not help you meet your daily goal. When I find a segment is no longer needed, I add it to the end of the document in a section labeled “Deleted Scenes.” It maintains my wordcount while I anticipate the day I make my novel into a film.
  6. Avoid thinking as you write. Thinking just slows you down. Stream of conscious writing is an easy method to produce volume that retains the appearance of inspiration. It is even fun. It ceases to be fun when you find you’ve typed multiple pages of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
  7. Use ambient sounds to help you focus. I keep the TV running game shows continuously as an aid to my concentration. I was using Jeopardy! until I saw every line of my dialogue came in the form of a question.
  8. Reboot your computer. This does not help your writing, but while you are waiting for the system to come back up, you can use your phone to check social media. If you can’t finish scrolling through your newsfeed with one reboot, hit the reset button until you can. 
  9. Learn a new writing method. Check out the Snowflake Method. I have not used it because I’m pretty sure any book written with snowflakes would not sell in Red states. You might have heard about the 5-Step Method or the 30-Day Method. I haven’t tried them either. I have used a twelve-step program for writers. You start by admitting you have a problem.
  10. Buy new software. Along with trying a new writing method, today is the time to buy Scrivener or Vellum or Ulysses or something else. Anything else. Today is the day to step up from Notepad. Tomorrow is the day you go back to Notepad after failing to learn the new program.
  11. Buy a writing how-to book. You are sure to learn of a fresh writing method and just-released software you can try. Repeat #9 through #11 until it is time for a stress-relief nap.
  12. Research something. i) Open your web browser. ii) Use the search function and enter a word somehow related to your writing. iii) Keep clicking on links until you get to a page with zero hyperlinks. iv) Once you are peering off the edge of the internet, realize you started this research with the wrong word. Go back to step ii.
  13. Embrace Writers’ Block. Thirsty for a margarita? Need a nap? Out of excuses? It might be you just need someone to feel pity for you. Writers’ block is the answer. While the American Psychiatric Association doesn’t recognize it as a named disorder, they should. When your partner asks for the hundredth time, “When will your book be finished?” it is time to roll out this evidence of your tortured artiste’s soul.
  14. Clean Your Desk. Before you write anything, you must first clean your desk. File all the yellow sticky notes, loose folders, and unopened magazines. Unfortunately, as a creative type, your drawers are already overflowing. This is a good time to catch up on the last season of Hoarders. While you’re at it, clean your computer’s desktop. Then fill/empty the dishwasher. After all that work, it’s time for a nap.
  15. Take a class. When you have tried all the books, methods, and software, it is time to take a class. You might not learn anything, but you will put off those pesky creative choices for days or weeks. If you want to delay for years, it might be time to start on that MFA degree.
  16. Join a critique group. There are days when your inner critic isn’t enough to crush your spirit. When that happens, you know it is time to join a critique group. For example, when I shared this piece one of my group said, “It was good.” Experiences such as this help you internalize the meaning of “damn with faint praise.”

Congratulations. You have finished the list. Using these tools, no one will realize you are the least prolific writer of your generation. Continue to carry business cards with “Author” after your name. Confidently place the title in your email signature. Shame all the wage slaves on LinkedIn by not caring if a recruiter sees your profile.

You should have been able to read this list in one sitting. If you didn’t, you now know it doesn’t matter. Either way, take the rest of the day off and relax guilt-free in your recliner. Tomorrow you can use Notepad to compose a clever thank-you and send it to me. When you get around to it.

Top photo credit to Carl Heyerdahl / https://unsplash.com/photos/KE0nC8-58MQ

Lower photo by Gerd Altman / https://pixabay.com/photos/bulletin-board-laptop-computer-3233653/


[1] In case you are not aware of the distinction, an artiste is an artist with an eclectic wardrobe and an attitude.

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