Ever wonder what it takes to be a productive writer? It’s not always as glamorous of a gig as you might think.
Even the most productive writers have days of self-loathing.
Sometimes it can take hours to write a single paragraph.
And when it’s really bad, some get on with a writing assignment by first rolling around on the floor crying, says Rachel Toor, a creative writing professor and author of six books.
It’s all part of the package of being a productive writer. Learn to manage your time. Roll with the ups and downs. And you’ll be just fine.
Rachel was a recent guest on the Freelance Writers Den podcast where she talked about:
- Her love affair with deadlines
- How to balance writing with a day job
- Why chasing perfection isn’t always a good thing
- And other things, like pajamas, dog poop, and libations
Want to learn how to be a productive writer? Check out this Q&A with Rachel Toor.
Q: What prompted you to write an article about the habits of productive writers?
(See Rachel’s article in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The Habits of Highly Productive Writers.”)
A: I had a conversation with a friend who’s an extremely succesful author. He told me, “I’ve spent seven hours on one paragraph. I’m never going to write anything again. I’m a failure.” Like the good friend I am, I said, “You know what? Stop having so many feelings. Just do the work.”
That got me thinking about what it means to do the work. The people who get it done, how do they do it? I started brainstorming, not just about my own habits, but also what other people do.
Q: How do you avoid getting writer’s block?
A: Some people are waiting for the muse to come and sit on their shoulder, and that’s never happened for me. I have a very ritualized routine. I’m at the same coffee shop every morning at eight. The baristas know me. It’s about committing to the time and the place, showing up and getting the work done.
Writing is not only a job but it’s a bleep hard job. Anybody who’s tried to make a living as a writer knows it’s about as glamorous as sitting in your pajamas with unwashed hair in front of the computer, sobbing because you can’t get the work done. That’s the way my life looks a lot of the time.
For most writers, getting the butt in the chair is the biggest challenge. The longer you sit there, the more likely you are to actually come up with something. When I’m working, I don’t get up until I have either a thousand words or a complete first draft. I don’t leave until I’ve done what I needed to do. It’s a job.
Q: How do you overcome fear and build confidence as a writer?
A: If there’s a secret, I would love to find it. I don’t know of many things as terrifying as writing. You have to be really tough, not just to write, but to withstand the publishing process. You have to be committed, and you have to protect your time. For a lot of writers, especially women and mothers, it’s hard to carve out that time and feel okay about it. You have to believe what you’re doing matters.
Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect. Done is better than perfect. Getting it done is better than not getting it done.
The flip side of believing in yourself is having just the right amount of self-loathing, so if you don’t get work done you feel like dog poop. If I’m not working, I don’t like myself. Even if I don’t want to write, I tell myself, “I’m going to get this done, and it’ll make me feel better.”
Q: What’s your secret to juggling multiple projects?
A: Every project has different phases. Writing is just one phase. I reserve mornings for writing and afternoons for other tasks like pitching and research. Again, it’s treating it like a job.
If I don’t have deadlines, I create them. I make a clear list—for example, I’ll tell myself I need to get five article ideas out in the next five weeks.
I like having multiple projects because when I get stuck, I go to a different one. By the time I come back to the first project, something has broken loose. That doesn’t work for everyone—some people need to commit to one project until it’s finished. But I like having different chunks of time to devote to different things.
Q: How can you be successful if you can only devote a few hours a week to writing?
A: In my article, I talked about Joyce Carol Oates, who’s a very prolific writer. Somebody posted about how they saw her in an airport, and instead of reading a book like most of us do, she was furiously writing. So again, you have to be committed enough to make sacrifices and carve out whatever time it takes.
Giving yourself real deadlines helps. It’s also extremely useful to have a support group. Find other people to keep you accountable.
Q: Are there any “shortcuts, magic bullets, special exercises, or incantations” to being a productive writer?
A: Wouldn’t it be great? Just pour libations to the gods and all of a sudden your novel is finished.
I love hearing other writers talk about where they work, when they work, and what their tricks are. And I also know that whatever they do, it’s probably not going to work for me.
There’s no substitute for getting your butt in the chair.
How to be a productive writer
Rachel’s perspective on productivity as a writer should give you some ideas on what you can do to improve, get more work done, and be more successful. Bottom line: It takes practice and self-discipline to be a productive writer. Do the work, and you’ll be able to move up and earn more.
Are you a productive writer? Let’s discuss on Facebook.
Maria Veres is a freelance copy and content writer based in Oklahoma City. Visit her at mariaveres.com.