Nancy: Week 4 of the Plan: Tools and Resources for Productivity

My very own 'written? kitten!' muse.

My very own ‘written? kitten!’ muse.

Jilly’s Sunday post about productivity (or the lack thereof) and her ambitious writing plan for the rest of the year dovetails nicely with this final post about setting up a writing plan. I’ve written about setting up a big picture plan, breaking it down into bite-sized pieces, and applying the math to meet daily, weekly, and yearly word counts. That’s all fine and good until you sit down each day to work your plan and meet your word count…and get stuck. Or distracted (Look, shiny things! Email! Squirrels!) Or just plain overwhelmed by the ginormous to-do list to whip that WIP into shape.

So today, I’m going to tell you the secret to never facing that dilemma again! I’m going to hand you the key to unlocking your bottomless productivity and unending creativity! I’m going to…stop lying to you now, because there is no deep secret, no special key, no magic bullet. Writing a book is hard work; revising it is harder still. Revising it umpteen million (yes, that’s a number) times to fix the disaster that your once-beloved WIP has become sometimes feels damn near impossible. That’s the medicine. The cold, hard truth of it.

Now let’s talk about some sugar to make the medicine go down. We here at 8LW have talked before about the importance of a writing community to buoy you during the dark, Bourbon-soaked* hours, the ones that try writers’ souls. While some writers are simply not ‘joiners’, for those who are, a supportive group of writers can be a lifeline when the work just seems too hard. But there are other day-to-day tricks and tools you can use to regain your focus and increase your productivity.

Sage Advice

One of the great things about writers is that we write things down. And sometimes we like to share those things with the world. That can be a boon to a writer looking for advice from someone who has faced down the same productivity and creativity demons. A few of my favorites include:

Chuck Wendig’s advice on maximizing word count and writing every day. Also, all of Chuck Wendig’s advice to writers. Just go to his blog, click follow, and as Chuck would say, please to enjoy.

Rachel Aaron’s (well-known) post outlining how she went from writing 2k words to writing 10k words per day. Yes, most of us would be overjoyed with 2k words per day! But we don’t have to shoot for 10k. Maybe 2k is our target, or 1k, or 500. Regardless, Aaron’s advice can be used to get from here, your current productivity level, to there, the brass ring that is your word-count goal.

Marie Force’s blog post describing how she wrote two books at one time. Her approach was lovely in its simplicity: set a daily word count for the first project, meet it and then STOP. No matter how well the writing is going on that WIP, just stop. And turn your creativity to the other creative project (with a break in between to ‘clear the palate’ if necessary). For her, it kept the writing on each project fresher, and kept her a little hungrier to get back to each story the next day because she knew she’d only have so many words available to play in each fantasy world.

I have to admit, Force’s approach gave me great hope, because Nicky O (from my Copenhagen mystery series) has been pushing his way to the front of my brain way too much lately for me to think I can put him off for another year and a half (as the plan currently stands) to finish other projects first.

Productivity Apps and Websites

Rescue Time. When you’re ready to get real about how and where you are spending your computer time, look no further than this handy tool. You can get weekly and quarterly reports about what you’re really doing when you’re ‘producing’ on your computer. (Warning: This does have a bit of a ‘big brother’ aspect, for those who are sensitive to those types of intrusions on personal/virtual space).

Write or Die. For those who prefer a combination of punishment/reward for motivation, this site gives you either a reward or a consequence based on whether you’ve achieved your self-set word goal within a defined time period. (There is a cost for this one, but you can do a free trial.)

Written? Kitten! For a kinder, gentler approach to prodding you into productivity, this site works on a rewards-only basis. As the title suggests, you show them you’ve written, and they’ll show you a kitten! Because sometimes it’s the little things that keep us fighting for just 100 more words.

A good old-fashioned timer (manual or digital). I’ve talked to writers who have used this technique extensively to keep the separate responsibilities and distractions of the writing life separate. By setting up writing days in discrete blocks of time – as measured by a timer – for new word count, revision, marketing/blogging/business, and some (limited) web surfing, even very distracted writers can become more focused and productive.

Crafty Things

Most writers I know go in and out of craft-seeking phases. We are an inquisitive sort, and we do like to analyze and think and absorb. But then we like to take a break from the academic aspects of craft and actually try to apply it. The thing I love about the two craft books I’m recommending is they combine theory and explanation to teach craft, then provide instructive and interactive ‘assignments’ and writing prompts to make the theoretical practical, so you can apply it to your current WIP.

Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. I have to admit, the Cron craft book that I’ve been devouring lately has been SG‘s predecessor, Wired for Story, which focuses on how to use science-supported evidence of how our brains work to write stories that give our story brains what they crave. The great thing about Story Genius is that it takes this analysis a step further and adds practical exercises and how-to-apply-this-to-your-own-writing scenarios.

Donald Maass’s Writing the 21st Century Novel. This book shares craft insights combined with examples from modern, successful (read: bestselling) novels. Then it goes one step further, providing writing questions, prompts, and challenges to apply to your own work. When I delve into this craft book, I skip right to whatever crafty topic is dogging me at that particular moment, and can usually find inspiration in the exercises and prompts that can unstick a scene or even an entire story.

Writing Plan Resources

As I wrap up this series on setting up and sticking to a writing plan, I leave you with some links with planning-focused tools you can use if you choose to take my double-dog dare to set your goals and achieve your writerly dreams over the course of the next year.

Mindy Klasky’s The Rational Writer: Nuts and Bolts. Mindy does an amazing job of walking authors through writing-focused strategic and tactical plans. The book comes with spreadsheets – yay! – with embedded formulas to help you with the kind of productivity math we discussed a few weeks ago. For those who want more hands-on instruction, keep an eye on Mindy’s website for opportunities to take one of her online planning courses.

Jami Gold’s Business Plan for Writers Worksheet. You can read the whole blog post for a recap of what a business plan is and how it can apply to writing, and also download the free worksheet toward the bottom of the post that can be used as a starting point for developing your own author business plan.

So, how’s your productivity going these days? Do you have any productivity tips or links to share?


*OK, maybe that’s just me. But September is National Bourbon Heritage Month for those with a similar proclivity.

6 thoughts on “Nancy: Week 4 of the Plan: Tools and Resources for Productivity

  1. Excellent resources, Nancy! Thanks!

    My productivity for today was remarkably good, considering. It was only about 300 words of backstory and exploration, but some weeks, that is not bad. This is one of those weeks, I think. We’ve got rain, we’ve got flooding, I’ve got a whole lot of classes with the deficiencies of the English system staring me in the face this week (that often takes my Girls away from writing and into problem-solving).

    I read on the Psychology Today website last week a good article that talked about writing blocks. I write to find out what’s really going on, and if I’ve written myself into a boring cul de sac, I don’t have any need to go on. What I need to do is add value. That’s what helped today. Long-term planning is great, but it takes short-term work to get toward those goals. Getting the insight a few weeks ago from your post that I only need to do 500 words on the weekdays and 2500 on the two weekends was also a good motivator. LOL, 60 percent there.

    • Hey, 60% is a good start! I am not very far down the path of my ‘450k words in the next year’ plan, but have managed to identify major problems with a completed mss and might even have a way to fix it, so progress.

      I did get sidetracked by an unexpected project that was way down on my to-do list but moved to the top this weekend – cleaning out and reorganizing my closet. A rack broke (due to the previous owners’ failed attempts at DIY, like installing the closet system). To fix it correctly and shore up the other racks in the process, my husband and I moved everything out of the closet, and while he reinforced and reinstalled and fixed stuff, I sorted and cleaned and tried on every piece of clothing to determine whether it earned its keep (like parts of a story :-)). I am usually an extreme Virgo (love neatness, order, and organization), but my closet had somehow become a bit of a disaster. Now that I’ve bagged up extraneous clothes, recycled the pile of magazines and old day job paperwork that had accumulated, and re-ordered things to the nth degree of efficiency, I am in Virgo heaven and feeling motivated to fix and clean ALL THE THINGS – including wayward manuscripts.

      My husband, meanwhile, feels like no good deed goes unpunished because I’ve realized I now have plenty of room in my closet for more shoes :-D!!

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  3. Thanks for all these resources. I have the 2K to 10K book but I haven’t read it. I need to take a page out of Jilly’s book and start going through the craft resources that I have on my bookshelf.

    • I’ve read the 2k to 10k blog posts and those of some writers who have followed her method. It’s basically what I already do – lots of pre-planning before writing anything for the day – but in a more disciplined way.

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