WHAT AN 8-ARMED, 2-BRAINED CYBORG (AND OTHER ROBOTS) CAN TEACH WRITERS ABOUT PRODUCTIVITY
I'm a mom of two preschoolers, so often when I get up the courage to tell people that I also write speculative fiction short stories and novels, the reaction I get is usually something along these lines:
"Wow, when do you find time for that?"
"I have come to the conclusion that Wendy is a cyborg. She only needs a half hour to recharge and has eight arms and two brains."*Maybe you've had that reaction as well. Oh. Maybe not? Most writers don't have the luxury of being able to sit around and write for 8+ hours a day. We're moms and dads, teachers and students, part- and full- and over-time workers. So how do we make the best use of the little time we do have? Well, some of us are 8-armed cyborgs with two brains, and that helps. For everyone else, here are a few tips and tricks to boost your productivity.
1. SET CLEAR DIRECTIVES The past few Novembers, I've taken part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which forces me to set a steep goal: one month, one first draft of a novel. It helps also that NaNoWriMo breaks this goal down into bite-sized daily word counts so I can track my progress. For the other eleven months of the year, I set my own goals, whether it's finishing a revision or writing some short stories or giving my critique partners feedback on their novels, or a combination. Clear, accomplishable goals can really help with making the best use of your time.
Or you might end up like this guy
2. FIND AND SECURE YOUR WRITING TIME You've probably heard it said that people find time for the things that are important to them, and it's true. When I first decided I wanted to seriously pursue writing, I knew I had little "free time" to work with and that writing was going to eat up any time I'd previously spent keeping up on all of my reality TV shows. For me, writing won out over The Bachelor and ANTM and yes, even Project Runway and Cupcake Wars. If I could afford it, I'd totally hire a maid and personal chef to take care of my housework so I could spend that time writing. Maybe someday. But for now, my most effective chunks of writing time come mostly in the evenings, after the kids are in bed.
Writing is more fun than watching TV anyway
4. DON'T LIMIT YOURSELF TO ONE FORMAT It also can help to have your work in multiple formats. I use my laptop for most of my writing and editing, but I'll often answer emails on my phone or read and make notes on my work on my Nook. I recently discovered that editing on a printed copy of my manuscript works well for road trips (no outlet or batteries needed!). Use dropbox or some other online file storage to ensure that you can access your work from wherever you are, so that the next time you end up with a delayed flight or a long line at the DMV you won't be stuck twiddling your thumbs. Plus, it's always good to have backup copies of your work anyway, in case the unthinkable happens and your computer crashes.
I wouldn't wish this on any writer
5. DON'T MULTITASK Though it may seem like a contradiction to #3, it's not. As discussed above, some things can be multitasked, but when the time comes to do those things that need your full attention (writing first drafts, doing major revisions, etc), GIVE THEM your full attention. For me, that means waiting until the kids are in bed and then turning off the WiFi so I'm not tempted to go check twitter (@wendynikel) or get distracted by emails or Facebook or BuzzFeed or the Absolute Write Water Cooler. This time is precious — use it wisely! Try this: The next time you get an uninterrupted writing time, turn off the WiFi. Seriously. Do it. You'll have plenty of time for social media after completing your goals.
... after I finish this revision
6. GET ORGANIZED I have what may be an unhealthy obsession with spreadsheets. But they help keep my life orderly and they're especially helpful when querying or submitting short stories. My short story spreadsheet outlines markets with their word counts, genres, pay rates, and submission info, so that when I write something new, it's easy for me to pull up my spreadsheet, see where I already have stories out and where my current work would fit best. Other great writing tools to check out:
- The Submission Grinder (online database of short story markets)
- Query Tracker (online database of literary agents)
- Scrivener (downloadable word processing program for writers - $)
Just sending out another story...
7. RECHARGE YOUR BATTERIES Everyone needs some downtime, including writers and 8-armed cyborgs. If writing is stressing you out, try recharge your creative batteries by spending time reading, taking a walk, observing nature, talking with others, or, you know, dancing or something.
8. ACCEPT THAT YOU'RE NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO DO EVERYTHING Even 8-armed cyborgs sometimes wish they had 14 arms instead of just seven. Sometimes you're not going to be able to reach your goals. Real life may interfere and throw you off track. The important thing is to not let it discourage you. The best thing to do is pick yourself up and try again tomorrow!