It’s always good to start the year with a plan to write better and more efficiently. One of the keys is organization, both of your time and of your book or screenplay project. If you properly schedule time to write, and plan the actual scenes or chapters you will be working on, you will increase your productivity by half.
Here’s my six-step strategy to improve your writing productivity with ease:
Step 1: Keep A Journal
Keep a journal of how you spend your time, noting when you write and when you write best. If you’re not sure, take a moment as you sit down to work to notice how you feel. I prefer to write as soon after I wake up in the morning as possible. If I miss that window, it’s hard for me to get to work later in the day. On days when I have to get up early or have a deadline, I’ll write for a minute or two in a journal, just to keep the juices flowing. Even five minutes can make the difference for me.
Here are two other strategies that you might find helpful: Try getting up earlier and writing before you begin your workday. When he was still just a lawyer, John Grisham would get to his office and write for an hour before work. That may not seem like a lot of time, but with the proper prep work, you can get a lot done. Or you could do what Patricia Highsmith did. After coming home from a hard day at her job, she’d take a short nap and a shower, and then begin writing as if she had just gotten up in the morning.
Step 2: Writing Schedule
Once you know when you write best, set up writing appointments for yourself and—this is the important part—keep them. If you treat your writing time with the same seriousness that you treat other obligations, you will succeed. Even short bursts can help keep you enthused and focused. And let’s face facts,15 minutes twice a day is a lot better than nothing. And I bet you could squeeze in even more mini-sessions if you put your mind to it.
Here are two ways to stay on track: First, keep a calendar that you update weekly, and then check off the writing appointments you actually kept. You’ll be amazed how satisfying it is to X out those boxes on the calendar. Second, find a friend or colleague with whom you can check in with on a weekly basis. Arrange to speak with them briefly and tell them your writing plans for the following week. Hopefully you can return the favor. Writing can be very lonely, and we all need support.
Step 3: Outline Your Project
Prepare a detailed outline of your current project and establish a page-count quota. This is an effective use of your time because it helps to know exactly what scenes or chapters you need to work on in each writing session. Outlines are especially useful when working on multiple projects as it they help you manage and keep track of your progress. When writing a screenplay, scenes tend to run between one and six pages, so it’s easy to calculate a reasonable daily or weekly quota and add it to the schedule. For example, in my New York University class, students are able to write between 10 and 15 pages after two classes of intense preparation. In my private work with non-fiction and fiction writers, we aim for a chapter a week.
Step 4: Location, Location, Location
Decide where you’re going to write. Will it be at work after hours or before? At home at your desk, in a library, or in a coffee shop? Only you know the most conducive environment for your writing.
Step 5: Stretch Your Mental Muscles
Establish a pre-writing warm-up to prime the pump of your creativity. For example, I often ask my students to write for five minutes about where they were before arriving at class. While the value may be fleeting, this exercise helps you flex your writing muscles and release any petty annoyances that you are carrying.
Step 6: Meditate & Visualize
Add some form of positive affirmation and/or meditation to the mix. I personally enjoy the techniques offered in The One Command, by Asara Lovejoy, and Ask and It Is Given, by Abraham Hicks. There are also affirmation and meditation websites that can be fun and informative, suchHeadspace.com.
To recap: in order to be more successful in your writing, create a structured writing schedule, for your work time and for the specific requirements of your project. Set a page quota and use affirmations and/or meditation to clear your mind and speed your progress.
Here’s to your successful writing!