You’ve got an online writing assignment, but you’re feeling stuck.
So you procrastinate. You make excuses. You roll around on the floor. And you keep listening to that voice inside your head that fills you with doubt and fear.
That’s exactly what Kristina Adams’ online writing career looked like for years when she first started out. Full-on writer’s block, lots of mistakes, lots of wasted time.
And then one of those life-changing epiphanies happened that changed everything. It made her rethink her approach and take a hard look at her productivity habits. The result: she went from writing next to nothing, to publishing her first book.
If you’re wondering how to get more online writing done, move up and earn more, you’ve got a choice to make.
Spend your days wasting time, doing nothing. Or do everything in your power to achieve your online writing and freelance goals. What’s it going to be?
If you want to speed things up and be a more productive writer, here are some things you can do:
Meet freelance writer Kristina Adams
When she’s not working on her next fiction title, she’s writing and editing for clients, or helping freelancers develop better online writing and productivity habits.
Adams was a recent guest on the Freelance Writers Den podcast.
Q: What did your writing career look like when you first got started?
Adams: I wasn’t writing at all. I was suffering really bad with writer’s block. I finally realized I had to do something about it. When I finally did, I went from writing nothing to 14,000 words a day. I had a lot of writing friends ask me about how I did it. And that’s kind of how Productivity for Writers came about.
Q: What’s the best thing you can do as a writer to boost productivity?
Adams: Pay attention to the way you work. Figure out what needs to be done. And then come up with a system that works for you. It’s not enough to just set a deadline for an assignment if you have 50 million other things to do. Get specific. If you think a first draft will take you a few weeks, give yourself the time. Then break it down into research, writing, editing, proofreading, etc. Just giving yourself a general deadline isn’t enough.
Q: What’s wrong with leaving a writing assignment until the last minute?
Adams: Some people work well that way. You know, procrastinate, then wake up at three o’clock in the morning and scramble to get the assignment done. Working under pressure can make you work better, but not when it’s the kind of pressure that suffocates you. A little bit of stress is a good thing. But a lot of stress always ends badly. So you have to find that line for yourself, and plan ahead.
Q: What’s the main productivity challenge you see between part-time and full-time freelancers?
Adams: When you freelance on the side, it’s a lot easier to be productive. You only have a limited amount of time to write. So you get home, you write and do XYZ. And then you go to bed and repeat. When you’re a full-time writer and work at home, it’s easy to think you’ve got all this time in the world. When actually, if you’re self employed you have to be a lot more self disciplined as a writer.
Q: What do you suggest to structure a writing day to improve productivity?
Adams: Start with a to do list. I know it sounds a little old fashioned. Write it down on a piece of paper, use Trello or something similar. Break it down your writing assignments as much as you possible can. Don’t just say, “I’ve got this piece to write.” Go through every stage of the process, research, writing, editing, etc. It sounds really tedious and really silly.
But when you check off just one small task, it makes your brain get a little release of the happy hormone. And you start to associate happiness with getting all these things done. Over time you associate that with writing, especially if you reward yourself every time you tick something off. Eat your favorite chocolate bar. Watch 30 minutes of your favorite TV show. Over time you’re going to associate writing with that good feeling, and you’re going to get more and more done.
Q: How do you plan out a writing assignment?
Adams: I’m not a fan of planning everything out to the letter when I’m writing. It can kill creativity and interfere with your flow. But I think having a rough outline, so you know where you’re going is a good idea. It’s like you know the path you’re going to take, but you don’t necessarily know the scenery you’re going to see along the way. The way I do this, is bullet point things to death to develop an outline, come up with heading and subheads, and make notes for research I need.
Q: What do you think about multi-tasking?
Adams: I am vehemently against multi-tasking. I used to do it a lot. These days I don’t do it…I can’t do it. People talk about multi-tasking like it’s a badge of honor. But studies show that when you do something like watching TV and writing at the same time, your brain is split between these two different things. So it’s constantly flitting between the two. It can’t focus properly on either task. So you can’t give your all to either. And it actually takes you longer to do what you’re trying to do.
Q: Why do so many writers struggle with procrastination?
Adams: Generally, procrastination tends to come from a place a fear. So you need to work out what you’re afraid of. Sometimes the things we want the most are the things we’re most afraid of. A lot of people are just as afraid of achieving their dreams as not achieving them. So they just kind of get stuck. And that’s when people don’t write at all. Or they write something not as good as they could, because they’re so scared of giving their all and really pushing themselves.
If you’re a serial procrastinator, you really need to look inward and think about what it is you are afraid of. Therapy is a good way to do that. Talking to other writers is a good way to do that. And taking some time for some serious self-reflection is a good way to do that.
Q: Edit as you go, or write a complete draft first?
Adams: A lot of writers edit as they write. It’s a really bad idea. It’s a productivity killer, because you’re judging your writing before you can view it objectively. You see your writing like your baby, and you can’t take that emotion out of the equation.
What I suggest is writing your draft completely. Literally word vomit on to the page. Then take a break and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes once. Do something else like step outside, have something to eat, go for a walk, or work on a different project. Then you can engage a different part of your brain to edit.
People often think writing and editing are the same, but they not. They’re very different skills. You you have to learn when to go into writing mode and when to go into editing mode. Your inner critic is the editor, and is often very, very harsh. So once you learn to separate the two, you become a better writer and better editor.
Q: Can software help writers be more productive?
Adams: I think it really depends. I’m a big advocate for Scrivener. I would have never finished anything without it, and and that’s no hyperbole. I don’t write chronologically. Writing for me is more of a jigsaw than a linear process. Using software that allows me to move blocks of content around easily makes a big difference. But you can do with EverNote, Google Docs, or something else. Develop a system that works for you. Software can help you, but it can also be a really big time waster. It really depends on how you work.
Q: How do you set daily writing goals?
Adams: You can either set a daily writing goals by the amount of time you write or the word count. I personally write by word count. But it’s really about finding out what fits with how you work.
If you want to set a writing goal based on time, try this. Set a 15-minute timer, and write. You don’t do anything else. No research, no planning, nothing. That 15 minutes is purely writing time. When the timer stops, even if you’re mid-sentence, stop. This kind of free-writing technique really trains your brain to think, “This is writing time, OK let’s go.” And it teaches you that discipline.
If you do it by word count, set a daily goal for yourself that’s a bit outside your comfort zone, but not completely ridiculous. Some days you’ll be able to make your goal really easily. Some days it’s going to be hard. And you need to be able to force yourself to hit your goal.
Q: What will help writers improve productivity the most?
Adams: Really work on finding out what’s holding you back. It might not be what you think. Very often, it’s the people around us. For example, toxic people can be unsupportive about your freelance writing goals. They make little comments that ebb away at your confidence for weeks, months or even years. And eventually you doubt your ability to do anything. But if you know that, you can deal with it, or whatever it is that’s holding you back. Keep an open mind. Keep pushing yourself. And you’ll be happier and more productive than ever.
Develop productivity habits for online writing success
If you want to be a more productive writer, take a closer look at what you’re doing right. And pay attention to things you’re doing that aren’t getting you closer to your goal. It’s not a waste of time. It’s how you get unstuck. Then develop an action plan and establish habits to move up, earn more, and make a living writing. You can do this!
What are your productivity tips for writers? Leave a comment below.
Evan Jensen is the blog editor for Make a Living Writing. When he’s not on a writing deadline, or catching up on emails, he’s training to run another 100-mile ultramarathon.