23 Productivity Tricks and Tips for Writers


Productivity is just as important for creatives as it is for business moguls. But as creatives, we don’t have to follow the same old productivity advice. Instead, why not employ our creativity toward designing a writerly life we can actually live with?

Here are 23 such ways that got my mind churning:

1. Define and defend my first priority.

The advice to prioritize ‘first things first’ is ubiquitous but vital! Which things really are firsts for me as a writer?

Those firsts can change. Those firsts can depend on a strategy to sell versus writing what we love, or vice versa. However, we can cling to our lesser writing tasks out of fear of failing at what we most want (or need) to write.

To fight this, I do my drafting and creating first thing in the morning when my mind is fresh—not social media, not email, not editing, not strategy sessions—just pure content creation. Inverting this leads me to stagnation.

2. Keep both a to-do list and a not-to-do list.

I have taken this literally and every Friday morning I look back on the week and trim the fat. Now I have a running not-to-do list of all my distractions. It’s really empowering!

I like this process so much that I also have a not-to-buy list, a not-to-worry-about list, and a not-to-eat list.

I don’t dwell on these, in fact, I tuck these lists back away in a drawer so I can focus on the more assertive can-do, can-buy, can-ponder, and can-eat lists. But the not-to-do list is a helpful defining exercise.

3. Embrace technology tools.

This is a massive topic, so much so that I’m creating a separate site TheProductiveAuthor.com and a book series How to Write Like It’s…2015 all about technology for writers. These go live in the next couple weeks and I’m really excited. But here, suffice it to say, most writers I’ve met don’t leverage technology tools as much as they could. Desktop and mobile solutions, writing templates, apps, specialty writing software, dictation tools, research tools, social media tools…

4. Change Up Your Muses

Esther Williams Underwater

Yesterday’s muses can grow stale without us realizing it. I’m trying to stay open to new muses, from the oddest to the most everyday sources.

Recently, I rediscovered inspiration in the lost art form of aquamusicals!

You may like: Esther Williams and 5 Other Muses That Make Me Want to Write

5. Stop waiting. You don’t find inspiration, it finds you!

As much as I value muses, I get even more inspiration while actually writing. In my experience, inspiration is a by-product of being in motion rather than something which incites motion.

6. Consider a routine.

A writing routine must be sincere, meaning, just right for you.

Mine is still in progress but includes doing my most important writing first and going on a long walk every day like clockwork. When I create structural points in my day that I refuse to miss, I create a skeleton for all my fantabulous creative mumbo-jumbo to hang on.

7. Consider a writing space.

I say this hypocritically because my writing space is not a specified place, but many writers enjoy having a set, lovely work space.

As for me, I write while walking, while resting in whatever random place I’ve walked to, or lying down on my chaise. I go over how I do this in my upcoming book: How to Dictate Your Novel Like It’s…2015, on The Productive Author site.

8. Consider a writing uniform.

In the name of ritual, what might you don to signal you are officially on writing duty?

A couple years ago, I tried getting dressed like a business woman to write. That did not work for me. But I do have an ugly yet warm hoody I started calling my SuperHoody. It imbues my brain with special writing powers. It’s all about finding what weird thing is right for you.

9. Consider a soundtrack! 

Album Cover of So Beautiful or So What

You have one for when you run. You have one for before dates or job interviews. You have one for cleaning the house. Why don’t you have one for writing?!

You may like: My Top Ten Songs to Write To

10. Be unreasonable or reasonable.

I say this because for me, over-the-top goals create energy. I have no real expectation of achieving them, yet they get me further than when I set a reasonable goal.

For other people that’s a recipe for discontent and feelings of failure. Play with these different approaches to goal-setting.

My vote is for ridiculousness and low expectations. Way more fun!

You may like: The Power of Ridiculous Goals

11. Embrace sacrifice.

To get anything done, I have found leverage through purposeful sacrifice.

This is an arithmetic of the universe that is supposed to be uncomfortable. But I have learned for myself that sacrifice gets me more than I give up. Not that we should overdo it. Moderation!

You may like: But Have You Been Willing to Get Crazy? 20 Ways to Sacrifice More to Be a Writer

12. Turn your environs into a machine.

Sometimes I’ve felt like my surroundings are running the show.

Recently, I stopped and realized that the only time in my life I’ve been totally organized was when I was a missionary for the LDS church, living out of one suitcase. Takeaway? I can’t manage very much stuff. Or rather, I don’t place much value on managing stuff! But being a slob inhibits productivity. I’ve learned to calculate how much stuff I can manage in the time I am willing to do so.

The more I try to make my apartment, car, and day-to-day goings-on a machine that works for me rather than me serving it, the better. That means getting rid of anything I haven’t used in six months.

It also means taking an opportunity cost interpretation of: What does standing in this line returning crap I bought and don’t need cost me in terms of writing? 

Taking several carloads of needless stuff to your local donation center like I did this past weekend may be the best writing exercise you do this week!

13. Exercise to fuel writing.

When it comes to exercise, I like the two-a-day approach. Mid-morning and early evening are great times for an endorphin-infusion. Thinking of exercise as regenerative rather than taxing has been a game-changer for me.

14. Eat well to fuel writing. 

No Sugar

I’m a foodie and eating healthfully has been a long road for me–in fact, I still have miles to go on this one but thinking of food as fuel rather than entertainment has been another game-changer!

You may like: 5 New Insights on Vanquishing Sugar to Boost Productivity

15. Guzzle water to fuel writing. 

Many experts recommend dividing your weight by two to estimate how many ounces of water your body needs a day.

Basically, most of us need to get guzzling.

16. Try to Never Sit Longer Than 30 Minutes.

Even if I just get up and do a load of dishes, throw in a load of laundry, do a series of planks, or stand on my hands, I do my best to live by this. Chairs and couches are apparently silent killers!

I think doing intervals like this is why I’m able to focus on writing for 10-12 hours a day (but less, because again, I’m constantly taking short breaks). And I get valuable ideas in those down-times. Bonus!

17. Keep a writing journal.

A little navel-gazing can be absolutely revelatory.

When I first did this, I committed to just a paragraph a day. This is the only writing I do by hand, in an actual journal, and I just vent, vent, vent without self-editing or imagining that when I am J.K. Rowling someone will want to read it. No. It’s all spew. This continues to teach me tons about my own incongruities, negative thought processes of fear or self-sabotage, and more, which leads me to…

18. Jettison all mental and emotional deadweight.

Ramsey 2

Whether negativity is coming from myself or others, I am the one who says whether these emotional and intellectual vampires stay or go.

You may also like: Sabotage! 7 Ways to Deal with Writing Saboteurs and MMA Fighter, Writer, and Performer Ramsey Dewey on Creative Worry

19. Say ‘no’ more in general!

I’ll admit that sometimes I’ve been too abrupt about saying no to opportunities and it’s because it’s very hard for me to say no. The result is that I can be cartoonishly emphatic in order to make myself draw boundaries.

But even if I need more finesse when I say no, my life has become so much better by giving myself this permission.

20. Reduce meetings to their smallest possible form.

To the previous point, and this will sound odd in a listicle about productivity tips, I do try to do less talking about writing and more actual writing, whether that’s working with editors, co-writers, writing groups, beta readers, or my own psyche.

One of my favorite productivity books is Death By Meeting by Patrick Lencioni, which advocates things such as having standing meetings, so that in 10 minutes everyone is too tired to keep rambling without focus. Wanting to sit down can make you highly focused.

death by meeting

21. Write differently.

I dictate much of my writing these days. It takes practice but is absolutely worth it because I can be less sedentary. Just changing my mode of writing throughout the day can also help me get out of a slump.

Again, my book on dictation comes out next week (just in time for NaNoWritMo!) so check for it here or at TheProductiveAuthor.com.

22. Read differently.

I also listen to my reading more than actually reading these days. Audiobooks. Text to speech utilites. Umano, an app where professional actors read you the news or articles from popular sites—awesome!

23. Consider being more unreachable.

I get multiple complaints a week that I’m difficult to get a hold of even though I return messages within the day, just not immediately. I usually only check social media, email, and phone a few times a day, including text messages at times. Part of me feels bad for not being more in sync with where culture has gone, but I also don’t know that being insta-vailable at all times is all that healthy. And I definitely know it’s not all that productive for a writer. Admittedly, I’m not a mom yet. 🙂

What did I miss? Feel free to comment!

Sabotage! 7 Ways to Deal with Writing Saboteurs

I don’t have any saboteurs of my writing at the moment–and it occurred to me, that’s just the time to write this post! Because I have had writing saboteurs in the past and human nature being what it is, I’m sure to have them in the future.

I love this definition of sabotage by Merriam Webster:

Sabotage:  The act of destroying or damaging something deliberately so that it does not work correctly.

To fight sabotage, consider these 7 strategies. The last several deal with people you can neither change nor easily walk away from, because that’s when sabotage really gets tricky.

1. Check the Person in the Mirror

That intelligent person you see in the mirror every day could easily be your most subtle writing saboteur.

One solution: When I first started writing, I wrote a kind of journal of what it was like to write. That revealed to me how often my mind churned out sabotage. 

“I think that sometimes love gets in the way of itself – you know, love interrupts itself. We want things so much that we sabotage them.” – Jack White

“Self-sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen.” – Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby

2. Check that Person in the Mirror Again!

I’ve found it important to also be aware of how I behave as a saboteur. For example, I think most of us struggle with gossip. This creates a lot of problems for myself and those I am ‘trying to understand’ (we’re usually not, we’re usually judging) and a ton of lousy energy.

“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.” – Marie Curie

When trying to cleanse my own psyche of those trying to sabotage me, it makes no sense to be sabotaging others’ lives in any way. Putting other writers down makes you a worse writer every time, not a better one.

One solution: Gossip to a piece of paper, or your word processor, then burn it or delete it. Don’t hang onto it once it’s out. Or ‘gossip’ to your higher power to iron your feelings out, but don’t gossip to other people.

3. Become Better at Discerning When Sabotage is at Work and When It’s Not

Writing is important to me, but it’s not the most important thing to me and probably isn’t to you, either. If someone is pointing out my own priorities of family, for example, they are probably not sabotaging me.

Also, while most discussion or criticism of your work should not be labeled sabotage, be savvy enough to know that sometimes communication really is motivated by petty insecurity.

eCard 1

Examples I and other writers have experienced include:

  • Authors of one sub-genre type putting down another entire sub-genre type (‘hard sci fi’ putting down ‘soft sci fi’, etc.)
  • Traditionally-published authors putting down all self-published authors, or vice versa
  • Reviewers, commenters, or even agents who want to be writers but aren’t yet so they lash out
  • Writing panelists who attack each other’s comments in front of an audience instead of cordially disagreeing
  • Writing industry politics in general

One Solution: Don’t internalize this stuff or even hate people for spewing it, because it’s very human.

Taylor Swift has it right, you must shake it off, though that song brings me to an important point. Expressing opinions or taste does not automatically make anyone a saboteur or a hater. For example, I cringe during the part where she starts talking in that song. It just doesn’t work for me. Is that gossip? Hate? Sabotage? Nope, that’s preference. That’s giving an honest review.

If I share in gossip or write some nasty review that tries to undermine someone’s good name, confidence, or sense of purpose as an artist–particularly to make myself feel or look better–that’s sabotage.

4. Lovingly Help Others Identify Sabotage When It’s Happening

Most of us aren’t jerks at our foundation. Most of us sabotage others out of non-awareness of our own fears: fear we won’t keep up; fear of losing comforts; fear of losing love; fear that we’ll never have what they have even though we feel we’ve worked harder for it; etc.

“Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.” – Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

One solution: Ask a question rather than out-and-out accusing someone of sabotaging you. I had the most success asking it this way: “Does me being a writer lead you to feel something that I’m not aware of, and if so, what is it so we can work it out?”

5. Re-wire Internal Responses to Sabotage

The jerk on the bus who scowls and tells you writing is a waste of time you can easily get away from. Your significant other, parent, friend, writing teacher, or others, not so much.

“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

One solution: When people sabotage me, I can recondition my response to rejection. While it’s important to not smother the feelings of hurt and betrayal rejection necessarily brings with it, on a functional level, make sure writing operations do not shut down as you’re dealing with that! This way, someone else’s funk doesn’t rob me of my dreams.

6. Define Your ‘Walk-Away Points’

When I go in for a job interview, I should know how low a salary I’ll accept. What’s my walk-away point? Even with my most treasured relationship, there is a potential point I would jettison it all if things got terrible enough.

One Solution: I’m not advocating being reactionary or throwing relationships away. I’m advocating defining your boundaries. Clearly define for yourself the point at which ongoing toxic messages do or do not constitute a walk-away point, either from the person or from writing. That’s important to know about yourself.

 “You need boundaries…even in our material creations, boundaries mark the most beautiful of places, between the ocean and the shore, between the mountains and the plains, where the canyon meets the river.”
– Wm. Paul Young

7. Determine a Go-To ‘Walk-Away’ Procedure

If my walk-away point is reached, I’m going to be emotionally-spent so it’s always good to determine beforehand what I want to do, while I have all my mental and emotional faculties, and so I don’t overreact.  Am I going to put up with it while being better at not absorbing their toxic messages? Am I going to just stop contacting this person altogether until things change? Am I going to suggest counseling or mediation, knowing there’s probably a deeper problem behind the sabotage? It’s a personal question.

One solution: I haven’t had to do any of those things I just mentioned yet, thank goodness. Most people, when made aware of it, stop sabotaging. But when I realized one of my saboteurs would not relent, I made my writing a subject we would no longer discuss. I’ve had to use that a time or two since then as well, temporarily, so this has become my ‘walk-away’ procedure. I ask both of us to walk-away from the topic, not each other.

So far, it’s helped!

Any ways you’ve used to manage intentional or unintentional saboteurs to your writing? Please share!