Creating a Seriously Productive Writing Routine
Let’s be honest – writing isn’t easy, especially if you’re brave enough to tackle something as monumental as a book. If writing were a simple task, there wouldn’t be an abundance of abandoned manuscripts sitting unfinished in desk drawers and on computer hard drives across the world. That’s why building a productive writing routine is essential to achieving your writing goals, whether they involve completing an entire book, writing regular blog posts, or something else entirely. Perhaps you just want to write for fun, which we totally understand. Whatever your reason for putting pen to paper – or fingers to keys – we’re here to help. To assist you on your writing odyssey, we’ve assembled our best tips so you can smash your writing goals like a pro.
Here, we’ll cover:
- Scheduling dedicated writing time
- How consistency builds habits
- Creating a physical space that facilitates your best writing
- Setting specific, realistic writing goals (and celebrating them)
- Starting with a structure
- The reality that the first draft is never perfect, and why getting your words down is essential
- Spreading the word and asking for help.
Do the Time – Dedication Is Key
How many times have you told yourself you’ll get onto writing that book or piece soon only to find that you don’t have the time? If that is you, don’t feel bad. Most of us meet this barrier at some point in our writing journey, often right at the start. But here’s the thing: a lack of time is rarely the issue. Often, the problem is simply a failure to consciously dedicate time to writing. That’s right – the solution really could be that simple.
If you block out time in your calendar for writing, you’re committed to the task, and no-one and nothing can, or really should, interrupt you, break your focus, or lead you astray. Think of it as a super important appointment you can’t miss. Also, willingness to commit time and energy to a task because it’s important to you is an excellent motivator.
We offer the same advice to our authors, but we also provide an alternative or, often, complementary solution to the problem of an overloaded schedule. Because our authors are busy people – aren’t we all? – we offer several writers’ retreats throughout the year so they can disconnect from their hectic lives, settle into an environment that promotes creativity, and get some serious writing done. If you’re struggling to dedicate regular time to writing, you may want to consider a similar approach and grant yourself several retreats throughout the year. Think of them as working holidays, with a big reward at the end – words on the page!
Overall, exercising dedication is a great way to nurture your skills and build diligence, which creates more opportunities for personal growth. When you dedicate yourself to a task, you generate both internal and external validation, and you get a nice little confidence boost too. Doesn’t it sound amazing?
Also, actively adding writing time into your calendar, instead of falling into the age-old trap of “I’ll start it next Monday,” makes it a non-negotiable in your schedule and gives you the structure needed to actually sit down and write. It can also help improve your time-management skills, which most of us would consider a welcome bonus.
As part of dedicating time to write, don’t let distractions get in the way. Don’t check emails or social media or get caught up in other commitments. When it’s time to write, it’s time to write. Period.
Productivity Is a Superpower
Scheduling time to write is a great first step; however, you need to ensure that your time spent in front of the computer, notebook, or, if it’s more your style, typewriter is as productive as possible.
Productivity techniques, such as the Pomodoro Method or Kanban, can help you make sure your writing time is active and valuable. Productivity is essential to long-term success because it boosts self-confidence and is, of course, what truly gets the writing done.
There’s so much information out there about different productivity methods and techniques, so find what works for you and go for it. Your preference will depend on your personality, skills, environment, and what you’re using the technique for. As a writer, anything you can do to boost productivity is absolutely worth doing.
Consistency Is the Gateway to Good Habits
Consistently sitting down to write builds a good habit and strong foundation for long-term success. It also generates momentum, discipline, accountability, and self-confidence – a real smorgasbord of positive outcomes. Sustained effort not only provides the benefits mentioned, but it also helps you achieve your goals, both short- and long-term.
Consistently sitting down to write creates a habit and routine around writing and how you write, and habits are hard to break. There’s a reason why many people say, “Consistency is key,” and the fact that consistency leads to habit is part of this reason. Habits create long-term performance, which is essential to achieving goals. It takes around 66 days to make a behaviour automatic,1 and around 45 percent of our behaviours every day are automatic.2 Do you want to be a writer who consistently puts words on the page? Then make writing a habit.
Your Physical Space Affects Your Mental Space
Establishing a physical writing space that you love to work in is important, so get creative and surround yourself with things that inspire you. Creating a workspace that fosters creativity, innovation, productivity, and wellbeing, as well as stimulating focus, will help you do your best writing. A dedicated space also helps you to mentally get into the writing ‘zone’ and once you’re in the zone, there’s no stopping you.
Think about what an inspiring and comfortable workspace means for you – what sights, sounds, and smells help you work? If you feel inspired by nature, sit near a window so you can look outside for inspiration when you feel stuck, or add plants to your space. If a particular scent helps you get in the zone, use a candle or diffuser with this scent in your workspace. If you like to work to music, make sure the music you play helps you be productive, rather than distracting you. Music with lyrics can be distracting to some people, especially when writing. However, music without lyrics, such as classical, jazz, or house, can foster creativity without distraction. Finally, keeping your space clean and organised helps you feel internally organised and, importantly, ready to write.
* Feel free to share a photo of your writing space with us. We’re always looking for inspiration and to support authors by discussing and sharing our and authors’ writing spaces.
Set Solid Goals, and Celebrate Your Wins
Sometimes, when we sit down to write, the finish line can feel like it’s an untraversable distance away. It’s like we’ve signed up for a mission to Mars, and we don’t even know if it’s possible to get there. That’s why setting smaller goals throughout your writing journey helps quell much of the overwhelm, makes your ultimate goal seem much more achievable, and stokes your confidence along the way.
For instance, setting a word count or page count goal for each writing session means you have a specific and measurable goal to achieve every time you write. When you consistently meet these smaller targets, almost every writing session feels like a big win – and who doesn’t love a good winning streak?
Once you get started, you can build on your goals for each session. For example, if you decide you want to write 500 words in your first session (even if those words are dot points for your overall plan), as you hone your skills and get into your writing groove, you may consider aiming for 750 words, then 1000, and build on it gradually until you find a number that works for you. But hey, don’t think you need to smash out 5,000+ words per day and totally burn yourself out. Even the super prolific Stephen King only has a target of around 2,000 words per day, and he’s a pro, not to mention he also has a lot more time to write than most of us do. So, whatever target suits your style, and lifestyle, is the right target for you.
When setting your goal for each session, ensuring it is achievable is essential to success. Setting unrealistic goals will only discourage you and negatively affect self-confidence, so, if you want to feel encouraged and fulfilled, setting achievable goals is critical.
You’ll be happy to know that celebration is also an important part of the writing process. Celebrating every win, regardless of how big or small it is, rewards us and produces dopamine, which reinforces our achievement and how it makes us feel, encouraging us to achieve further goals. It also increases confidence and motivation, in turn, increasing productivity and happiness. At Dean Publishing, we celebrate our authors and their wins in numerous ways, including with our yearly author party at Dean Manor. We’re always looking for reasons to celebrate – but why not? Don’t hesitate to celebrate a win because a little – or even a lot of – celebration makes success that much sweeter.
We All Need a Little Structure
Whether you consider it a blueprint for building your writing project, a road map to guide you to your destination, or you’ve got a more original metaphor in mind, your structure – or outline – gives you direction. In your first writing session, figure out what you want to write about, your genre and the conventions that come with it, and how you want to structure your piece. Structure makes your writing clear, both for you and your readers, and lets you fill in the gaps effectively. Creating a structure helps you think through and organise your thoughts, points, arguments, and themes. It also helps you picture the piece as a whole before you dive into the details. In addition, a structure provides a strong foundation for being creative with the writing itself. When the journey is mapped, travelling from point to point is a lot easier and often more enjoyable.
Creating a framework for your project also helps you set achievable goals and milestones for your writing. Having a strong structure makes it easier to break down the writing task. You don’t have to write chronologically; instead, you can write the parts that feel right to you in the moment and come back to those you’re unsure about in the next session or when you’re in a better headspace to tackle the harder tasks. When you’re feeling good about tackling the parts you find more challenging, go for it! In the end, it will be incredibly rewarding to look at both the finished product and the work you did to get there.
First Drafts Always Suck
To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, the first draft of anything sucks. The most important part of writing is getting your words on the page. There’s no need to make it perfect – that’s what editing is for.
If writing your thoughts down isn’t your strong point, getting ideas out by speaking them – for example, using dictation software – enables you to get your ideas down before organising and editing them into a written piece that shines on the page.
We see so many authors who struggle with imposter syndrome or lack self-confidence because they put pressure on themselves to write a perfect book or piece on their first try. However, no one’s first draft is ever perfect – or, often, very good at all. Even professional
writers with decades of experience produce sucky, unpublishable, sometimes utterly unreadable first drafts. If your first draft sucks, don’t stress. It’s meant to suck. Writing is a skill to be built upon, and, like any other learned skill, it takes practice and effort. On top of that, most published work undergoes extensive editing. You’ve probably heard the saying that you can’t polish a turd. Well, it’s not true. Every good piece of published writing is just a turd that someone took the time and care to polish.
So, be patient with and kind to yourself. Hypercritical thinking and imposter syndrome are the adversaries of productive, fulfilling writing. Just focus on getting your words on the page – there will be time for polishing later.
Don’t Be Shy about Your Writing
Don’t feel like you need to be closeted about your writing. In fact, telling people what you’re working on will both spread the word and hold you accountable. If you’re looking to publish your work, letting people know you’re writing helps build an audience for when you do decide to publish.
Talking to others about your writing also means you have a support network – you have people to ask for advice and help, and many of them will become your first readers. When you embark on a writing odyssey, especially if your goals are lofty – and why shouldn’t they be? – ongoing support makes the journey a whole lot smoother.
1 Phillippa Lally, Cornelia H. M. van Jaarsveld and Henry W. W. Potts et al. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur J Soc Psychol. Vol. 40(6):998-1009. DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.674 2 Neal, David & Wood, Wendy & Quinn, Jeffrey. (2006). Habits—A Repeat Performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science - CURR DIRECTIONS PSYCHOL SCI. 15. 198-202. 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00435.x.