I’ve been fumbling and stumbling with my writing over the last few weeks and months. I couldn’t seem to find my way – I knew what I wanted to write, the idea was fully formed and I was excited about it but the flow wasn’t there. I didn’t have writer’s block as such because I knew exactly what I wanted to write but I couldn’t seem to sit my derrière down and write productively. It was as if I was obstructing myself – as if fear had me in its tight little grip and was strangling the fluency of flow. I puzzled over it anxiously.
I continued with my blog without problems, social media was easy but when it came down to doing my book I stuttered. Was I anxious about failure – after all I’d been telling everyone for a couple of years that I was working on my book, what if it was awful? The consultant in me believes whole-heartedly that failure is just a step on the road to success but did deep down I hold a fear of failure? Maybe but again I believe in facing fears and if my book was awful I knew those close would tell me, way before it got to publication – especially my Mother and Grandmother (diplomacy is not their forte – they’re famously blunt). I kept watching the Self-Publishing Podcast and lusting over their seemingly impossible daily word counts – motivated to get writing but then dithering hopelessly when I sat down to do so. Honestly folks it drove me stark, raving mad.
So in true consultancy style I analysed myself and my work flow with the following results:
- Focus – I could focus on the relatively quick blog articles and social media activities but not writing for hours at a time.
- Perfectionism – I stumbled every time I wrote something less, than I considered, perfect and wanted to polish that turd into a glowing diamond.
- Health – Prolonged periods of time at the computer was causing my hands, wrists and neck to ache and make me feel uncomfortable.
- Distractions – I’m a bit of a dizzy, day-dreamer so any distraction took my mind away from the subject in hand and could lead into long, winding detours.
- Lack of Urgency – I had no deadlines, no client screaming for the work and I’m definitely a last-minute Minnie. I work most creatively against a tight time-frame. Without one I amble. I either sprint or crawl there isn’t anything in between.
- Habit – Working at home, for myself, meant I no longer had daily working habits (getting up for work, planning, working hours etc). Without that structure my innate laziness could kick in – so even though I thought I was working for hours actually I was probably only working 3-4 hours a day).
- Empty Page Syndrome – This was a biggy! Facing a big empty white page seemed to block all the creative thoughts that had been whizzing around my head just before opening that dreaded blank page. I think of it as the creativity vacuum.
- Too many options – I kept reading about different writing tools and methods and was switching constantly so I didn’t have a stable work environment.
Well that explained my problems – but how was I going to fix them? A plan was called for me-thinks! It just so happens that I was pondering how to address these issues when I saw a couple of episodes of the Self-Publishing Podcast in which Johnny B Truant was scolding his co-hosts for not having an ergonomic desk set-up and then sharing how he’d improved his writing speeds. The penny dropped.
Steps to improve your productivity:
Ergonomic Work Station
To write at your best without your body niggling about its discomforts, you need to ensure you’ve got a workplace that is tailored to your body’s needs rather than try to force your body to operate in an uncomfortable environment.
1. Your chair should provide lumbar support to enable you to maintain a healthy posture.
2. Your feet should be flat on the floor with your knees at 90 degree angle.
3. When you are typing your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle.
4. Use an ergonomic keyboard – this alone has made a major difference to me. I use the Perixx Ergonomic split keyboard* which has been great and I happily recommend (in fact I now have three so I can have one everywhere I work). It does take a while to get used to the split keyboard but after the second day I was typing just as fast as before and with absolutely no pain.
5. Lift your screens up so that they are at your eye level. I did this by lowering my chair to the correct level and simply placing my laptop and additional screen on appropriate height boxes. It didn’t cost a penny and did the job perfectly – no more neck ache.
6. Taking scheduled breaks. No matter how perfect our desk set-up is, there is no getting away from the fact that screens are not great to look at constantly. I now schedule a regular tea break for 5-10 minutes every hour. I get up leave my computer and go and look out the window to give my eyes a stretch. Again just that little bit of mental and physical separation helps to bring me back to my work fresh and buzzing to go.
It’s easy to become a slob when you work from home – getting up late, working in your pyjamas and littering your desk with discarded snacks and mess. Or is that just me? I travel between the UK, Cairo and Dubai (where my husband is working) and I am so much better behaved when I am in Dubai (because I’m accountable to him for having a tidy home) but when I’m on my own, bad habits become the norm. So I decided to create some new habits – good ones that support me rather than sabotage me.
1. Get up everyday to go to work. I get up exactly as if I have to be in the office at nine. So up, shower, dress to impress, breakfast and out the door – or in my case into my office.
2. Start the working day with a status check. I give myself precisely 30 minutes to check and reply to my social media feeds and address any urgent issues via email. This way I don’t worry about my social media whilst writing as I’ve already cleared the deck.
3. End the day with a plan for tomorrow. If I know exactly what I’m writing the following day it kills the empty page syndrome and sets a tight deadline under which my creativity flourishes.
4. Walk every day. I hate exercise. Loathe it. But I have become addicted to the Self-Publishing Podcast and, as it’s been going for nearly 3 years, I have loads of catching up to do. So I will only allow myself to watch it whilst I’m walking on my, previously unused, treadmill. That way I can do something valuable that I enjoy whilst doing something valuable that I don’t.
1. Planning your word count. I set the word count budget for my book – ie I expect it to be around 100,000 words. I then set a due date for the book. I created a very simple word count calculator that then tells me each day how many words I need to achieve to meet my deadline. You can download it for free – click here to download my Daily Word Count Calculator. I work in Scrivener (more about that later) which has a great daily targets feature. So each day I add how many words I need to do that day and I don’t finish my work until I’ve hit that (or exceeded it). This has been hugely motivating for me and keeps me working even when I feel tired, or have had enough, because I have to hit that target.
2. Pantsing versus outlining. I thought I was a pantser (ie I write the book as I go along with no outlining) and I am to some extent, but having a rough idea of what is going to happen in each chapter minimises the occurrence of empty page syndrome. So now I use Scrivener for all my writing. If you haven’t used it yet go get it from Literature and Latte* (it is the most cost-effective purchase you may ever make). It saves you endless time jumping between different software, none of which do the job as well as Scrivener, – it’s a no brainer if you, like I, have spent years struggling to use Microsoft Word. In Scrivener each chapter (and/or sub section) has index cards that you can use to give a very rough idea of what is going to happen in that section. Filling these out with huge brush strokes at the beginning of the project has helped me massively and each day I go in an add extra details for the following day’s writing ( things that have developed in that day’s writing). It’s working a dream my writing productivity is growing on a daily basis.
3. Setting a timer. I now set the timer on my iPhone for 1 hour and then write until the timer goes off at which point I take a break to relax my eyes and spend 20 minutes doing daily tasks – social media, email etc. Then I set the timer again for another 1 hour. I love to feel that I’m against a deadline – it inspires me, helps spike my creativity and, if I’m really in the flow and know my time is running out, my fingers fly even faster across the keys in a desperate bid to finish my line of thought. If I don’t finish it, I will jot down where I was going to go next before getting my coffee – but I don’t give myself more time. No breaking of the rules – I have an hour and only that hour.
4. Blocking out all distractions. As any little distraction can send me into the deepest detours it’s important to shut down all such obstacles. To do that I borrowed another of Johnny B Truant’s suggestion’s and started listening to music with noise cancelling headphones. That doesn’t mean I’m grooving away to Lady Gaga or some heavy metal music whilst writing about ancient Egypt, no I listen to Studying Music* which is an ambient background music that blocks out all other noises but is so inoffensive that I don’t really notice it – leaving me to work without distraction. My body has become so accustomed to listening to this huge album that it now immediately seems to settle into work and full concentration mode as soon as I put my headphones* on.
Be kind to yourself
It’s so easy to be self-critical, especially when you are working on your own (with no one to tell you how well you’re doing), but resist it. Fight it, run from it, kick it in the shins if it dares to raise it’s critical demonic head because it kills excitement, enthusiasm and creativity. Instead surround yourself with positivity.
1. Celebrate successes. Instead of focussing on what you didn’t achieve it’s far superior to celebrate all the little milestones that you pass on your way to the final goalpost. Make certain you capture all your successes so you can review them when you slide towards negativity or self-criticism and celebrate each one with a jig, or a dance, or a fancy cupcake. It doesn’t matter how, just make certain you give yourself a pat on the back as you take each step towards success.
2. Allow yourself time off. As a writer you need to experience life to be able to write about it realistically – so no matter how much your desk is calling you, make certain that you take time off at weekends and evenings. Go play with the dog or your kids. Go out with friends. Even give yourself writing days outside the home. Experience life and enjoy it without guilt.
3. Nominate a cheerleader. Find someone who will support you in your writing life, someone to celebrate key milestones with and who’ll pick you up when you fall and push you right back onto your writing stool. It could be a friend, your partner, a parent or sibling, or just an on-line writing buddy. It really doesn’t matter as long as they can commit to being there with unconditional support and honesty.
If you take all these steps you will find your writing productivity increase massively – mine is up 100% and I know I can push it even further. I hope these tips helped and I’d love to know how you manage your productivity – so if you have any other ideas or tips please share them in the comments below.
Bye for now…
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