What’s the secret to writing productivity? That’s the question Kelton Reid, host of The Writer Files podcast, asks guests each week. He spoke to Bec Evans, co-founder of Prolifiko about writing productivity, creativity and neuroscience. Here’s 7 things she told him. Listen to part one and part two of the podcast or read the full transcript.
Secret 1: Stop comparing yourself to others
The research says that the most productive way to write is to write daily: have a daily habit, do it at the same time, the same place, usually in the morning before you’re tired or the rest of the day gets in the way. But the kind of lives that we lead now, that’s almost impossible.
You read an article or a blog talking about how to build a daily habit and these are the things that YOU MUST DO – most times it makes people feel bad that they’re falling short.
It’s important that writers feel good about their writing, because that’s what keeps them writing.
Secret 2: Embrace binge writing
Dr. Robert Boice studied writing productivity. He compared daily regular schedules – people who write every single day – with people who binge write. And he found that on all measures of success, the daily habit wins.
The only measure that the binge writers scored more highly on was depression, because it was seen as people rushing to meet deadlines in a panic.
We need to kind of take ownership of binge writing, and say with pride that, “Actually, I’m really busy, but I am preparing myself to have a scheduled binge on my writing.” I think you can be productive, but you need to plan it. So it’s not that panicky last-minute deadline-driven form of hypergraphia.
Secret 3: Small is good
The thing about neuroscience, is not freaking out your amygdala with these big scary goals. B.J. Fogg at the Stanford behaviour lab has fascinating research around tiny habits, and that you just start with the smallest simplest thing and then you build up from there.
That’s how habits work. Start with the first word, with the first sentence, and build up over time.
“That’s how habits work. Start with the first word, with the first sentence, and build up over time.”
Secret 4: Schedule time to write
This applies to all writers, however frequently you write, that when you sit down to write – you write. Scheduling seems to be core to this.
It could be that you are able to write every single day and you’ve got that in your schedule, or that across the week you identify three or four spots at different times of the day within your calendar, or you do that more classic binge writing where it might not be for two weeks but then you know you’ve got time to write.
But for all writers they need to start writing. There’s no waiting around for the muse. You get going straight away.
“There’s no waiting around for the muse. You get going straight away.”
Secret 5: Planning gets you unstuck
Planning has the advantage of a road map. If you get stuck at one point, you just move to the next bit.
With nonfiction writers, where they have to do book proposals, or screenwriters who do outlines, they can jump around, they don’t write in sequence. They think, “I’m going to go to this scene,” or, “I’m going to go to this chapter.”
Having a plan means that whenever you sit down at your desk, you can pick out [what to write]. I’ve got novelist friends who use index cards and they would literally rummage through and pick one out at random, and that’s the scene they write. Because it’s planned they know how to do it.
Secret 6: Grit and persistence will breakthrough
I believe in deliberate practice – the only way to become a better writer is to keep writing. I believe in being prolific, because you don’t actually know which of your ideas, or your stories, will turn out well. You have to keep writing, and building that up over time will make you better. You can’t necessarily put a timeframe onto it, but it’s about grit and persistence.
When I was at the writing centre, famous writers would tutor and give talks every week. When you’re watching established writers talk, day after day, you can see patterns. What differentiated them wasn’t necessarily their talent or their ideas, it was their persistence.
“What differentiated them wasn’t necessarily their talent or their ideas, it was their persistence.”
Everybody loved hearing that story of: how did you start writing, how did you fit it in? Time and time again, writers would talk about having full-time jobs, getting up early, getting the kids off to school. People squeezed writing into the nooks and crannies, and it was their persistence in doing that that gave them the edge and gave them their breakthrough.
Secret 7: Build your personal system
I recommend that writers use whatever tools and accountability structures they can to help them. It’s about building a system that works for you
That starts by understanding your motivations. Understand why you write, what you want to get from it, and then how you’re going to approach that in practical, manageable ways, and fit it into your busy life.
“You don’t necessarily want a habit, you want a system.”
You don’t necessarily want a habit, you want a system. You want to draw on all the support you can to make it happen. Whether you’re a professional writer, like an academic, or if you’ve got books commissioned to get off to publishers, or hobbyists who are starting out and have burning desires to get their words on the page and their ideas into the world.
Associating writing with times and places, sometimes it can be headphones, music, or particular tricks that people use to trigger that action. We should all seek them out, and hold onto the ones that work for us.
How Prolifiko helps writers start writing and keep going
Prolifiko focuses on helping writers coach themselves and understand their own psychology, because we’re all super busy and people often feel they can’t find the time to write.
It helps them break down that big scary writing goal into small practical steps, schedule the time, and build a system of accountability with nudges, and helps them see their progress.
It keeps them feeling positive about their writing, and that keeps them motivated and keeps them going. That’s the crux of what habits are all about.
You can read the full transcript of the interview, listen to part one of the podcast or part two. Drop by WriterFiles.fm for all episodes or follow @KeltonReidon on Twitter. Quotes from the podcast transcript are published with permission of Rainmaker Digital, LLC.