The Radical Change that Made Me a Super-Productive Writer

Young happy woman writing in the park I used to have the most amazing morning writing sessions.

Before blogging and social media happened, that is. Now, as a West coast person, you wake up to an already-full email inbox and a blizzard of blog comments and social shares that cry out for response.

It’s hard to catch any writing time before afternoon. But morning was always a really good, creative time for me…

It was a dilemma.

How I busted loose

One day earlier this week, I had had enough. I had a ton of writing I needed to get done!

Blog posts. Presentation scripts for upcoming classes. This stuff needed to get written so I could take time off and enjoy the upcoming holiday weekend.

But there were a million distractions. Emails with questions about Freelance Writers Den membership. People who wanted to Skype, to meet up. Chats to have on Twitter.

Meanwhile, it was a gorgeous, sunny, mild August day.

I knew being stuck at home working was going to make me feel like a trapped animal. And that I wasn’t even going to get a lot of writing done, as so often happens now. There were too many Internet distractions calling me.

It was about 10 a.m., plump in the middle of a weekday morning.

All of a sudden, I did something crazy.

I put on my walking sandals, picked up a pen and a reporter’s notebook, jotted down a few notes about what I needed to write, and left the house.

I walked to the park, which takes about 20 minutes or so.

Then I plopped down on a bench and started to write.

A day’s writing done in a flash

For the next two hours, I strolled the park, thinking about my topic and enjoying being — yes — outside! It was intoxicating to be out in the sunshine and away from the computer at such an unusual day and hour for me.

As inspiration hit, I’d stop at a bench or shady tree and write.

When inspiration began to wane in that spot, I’d walk a bit farther and stop again.

The result of this writing-ramble was nothing less than a revelation.

Suddenly, all my other seemingly important “to-dos” vanished from my brain. Just gone. I realized none of them were as important as getting the writing done.

Almost instantly, I began to write my assignments. Words and ideas flowed easily.

My goal had been to write one of my presentations per day, but in two hours flat I had written both of them.

This was working so well that I only reluctantly went home because I was getting hungry. Writing without interruption — those quick breaks to check email or my website or social media — was such a pleasure.

It was quick work to type up my handwritten drafts.

And all the other Internet tasks got done later. My absence didn’t seem to create any crisis.

Breaking from routine really snapped me out of my time-wasting and got such terrific results, I’m hoping to do it again soon, and keep doing it as long as the sunny weather lasts.

How do you tune out distractions when you need to write? Leave a comment and let us know.

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60 comments on “The Radical Change that Made Me a Super-Productive Writer
  1. Pinar Tarhan says:

    I do it, too. Especially in the summer. It gets too hot in the house, and with my constant (&fast) internet connection, it is hard to get anything done. So I might go to the park nearby, walk to the beach or rotate between my favorite coffee shops and get a lot of work done.
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted…Challenges of Writing Your Novel (After Your First Draft) & Resources to Help You Survive and ThriveMy Profile

  2. Tiffany says:

    This sounds like a wonderful idea. I check Facebook and my Tweetdeck compulsively lately, though Time Doctor is helping me to curb that habit. I wish I could unplug and go outside to work, but I usually do research as I’m writing. I guess nothing is stopping me from sitting on the porch at least. Recently I installed Leechblock on Firefox so I’m not tempted to check FB and Twitter. I need to install it on Chrome too. πŸ™‚

  3. Josh Brancek says:

    Carol, these are some pretty awesome tips!!! One thing I like to do when I want to focus is I get my headphones, put them on and listen to classical music like Bethoven or Mozart. Work wonders!!!

    Kind regards, Josh
    Josh Brancek recently posted…The Tao of Badass REVIEW: Does The Attraction System Really Work?My Profile

  4. Very timely post, Carol! My scenario was a bit different, but I told my hubby one night that I had to get out of the house or I would not get anything written. It seems, as you described, sitting down at the computer entails “working.” I didn’t want to work, I wanted to write. And write I did–at the library.

    I went to our local library for only 2 hours, and wrote like mad. I also first wrote in a notebook, outlining exactly what I was going to write about in my new upcoming novel. I find that writing in longhand does something to stimulate my writing juices. Anyway, in no time flat I had written out 1,000 words! Very exciting.

    Thanks for freely sharing your inspiration πŸ˜‰
    Penelope Silvers recently posted…11 Simple Tips to Increase Writing – Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper!My Profile

  5. Rohi Shetty says:

    Great idea, Carol. I’ll try it today.

    Btw, I love your headlines.
    Rohi Shetty recently posted…The Best Thing You Can Do With Your LipsMy Profile

  6. This was a perfect post for me! So true, that sometimes a change of location can make all the difference. If I’m really serious about getting my writing done, I will take my laptop outside and work with a breeze on me. I can’t unplug from the web because I have to upload and download info as I work, but I can shut down every single other page, including my email account. Then, when I am done, I feel so good about what I got done and I have enjoyed the outside weather as well. My mom’s dogs have kind of turned my back yard into their playground, but there is always the front of the house and I don’t mind sitting with the garage door open. The decision to buckle down and get things done is even better when you are outdoors!
    Valerie Strawmier recently posted…Book Review: The Hero’s LotMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I just feel less like it’s a sacrifice that I’m sitting and working if I’m outdoors. And getting some exercise into it and getting to be out in the sunshine made it feel like it wasn’t work at all.

  7. Melissa Weir says:

    Carol, I loved this post. I can feel your excitement for the potential of your new method!

    I must have 20 half-empty notebooks, a drawerful of vendor pens, and a gorgeous two-mile downhill walk to the river. You’ve inspired me!

    Bonus that I get a decent workout from the uphill walk home.

    Thanks for this post, and the hundreds of other tips you graciously share with us noobs!

  8. Hi Carol,

    First off, it’s amazing that you’re so attentive to your followers. We look forward to posts just like this.

    Second, I had a neighbor who was a recovery guy…after he went to prison twice. He said he learned what you’re saying in this post: If you want to change your game, sometimes you have to change playgrounds.

    What’s better than a writing ramble? Maybe a driving ramble where you take notes while you’re eyes are on the road. Better to have someone else take notes while you drive, but it still keeps the ball rolling.

    Feel like a nice walk right now. Carol Tice, Freelance Fitness.
    David Gillaspie recently posted…NW Boomer Shows How To Cast Bronze Like A ProMy Profile

  9. Terri says:

    Carol, I have to agree with this. I learned that keeping it simple with a notebook and a pen really is the key to productivity. The funny part is I learned this last year when Hurricane Sandy hit NJ. We had no choice but to go outside and work the old fashioned way. I was amazed at how much I got done with no one answering emails, no tweets to tend to, and sites to update. Plus, I got to enjoy the calm after the storm outside.
    Terri recently posted…Fearless Quest Week 5: Visiting the PastMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I hear ya…my island is sort of notorious for its blackouts, and it’s always amazing how much writing you can do when the Internet is turned off.

  10. I’m also trying to get out of time-wasting through emails, etc. Sometimes I write longhand and just leave my computer off until late afternoon or evening.

    My son just got an AlphaSmart Neo keyboard for school. He’s borrowed one of the elementary school’s until now, but we just purchased one for his middle school years.

    I’ve heard that many writers have used this tool, and I may occasionally borrow it. You can type and type, but it’s almost as light as a tablet (lighter than most laptops) and there are no internet distractions. You can easily take it to a park, a cafe, the library. At the end of the day, you upload to your computer, where you can manage formatting and do edits. If I really get into it, I may buy my own Neo.
    Rebecca Klempner recently posted…Considering my last year of literary pursuitMy Profile

  11. Marie says:

    A change of venue has an intoxicating effect that usually leads to creative juices taking all new pathways! As much as I’ve made my office a comfortable place to be, getting out of it opens the floodgates of thought that lead to better production, so I totally agree with the walk to the park idea.
    Another little trick I’ve instituted is simply getting up and walking away at least once every hour and letting my mind meander wherever it will. I let the dog out – or in. I check the mailbox. I smell my myrtle. (I’m just not into thorns, so no roses for me!) I might even call my hubby just to say hello for a moment before plunging back into the morass of work to be completed.
    Change, even for a moment, is GOOD!
    Marie recently posted…Totally Digital Real Estate Transactions?My Profile

  12. This is great advice! Getting outside is very useful. But it’s winter in my neck of the woods at the moment.

    Still, the notebook and pen can work even when you’re stuck indoors. I often shut my laptop down completely – this makes it easier to resist because it takes so darn long to boot up and I have very little in the way of patience when it comes to technology.

    Then I grab a notebook and pen – or my iPad works for me too as I seem to be able to resist emails and social media better on the iPad than on the laptop – and I leave my desk. I move about the house in much the same way you did on your outing; writing sometimes on the sofa, sometimes in the reclining armchair, sometimes leaning back on the mountain of pillows on my bed, wherever my Muse seems to prefer at the time.

    I usually prefer quiet when I work, but sometimes when other things are nagging at me – like all those emails and tasks you mentioned – I find some background noise useful. But it’s not always music; I’m a bit of a documentary lover, and there is a documentary in particular…I don’t know the name of the narrator, but I find his voice remarkably soothing and calming…I’ll put that on a loop in the background and it helps to shove all other thoughts away.

    So there are a couple of tricks for the winter. Some people can go to cafes and things to write – indoors, but still out of the house and away from the computer.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m saving these for when winter hits Seattle, Violet!

      It’s true — I could build a nice fire, shut off the computer and sit with a pad. And I plan to!

  13. Anita says:

    Good for you.
    This is one of the great things about freelancing, isn’t it? We can work where we want.
    Anita recently posted…savoring summer and thinking about kindergartenMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I know — I really don’t take advantage of that enough. Until just 8 months ago, I didn’t even have a laptop!

      Now that I do, I’m really trying to enjoy the flexibility of freelancing more. Of course, I could have done this strategy even before the laptop! Sorry I didn’t try this sooner.

  14. Heather says:

    My dog gets me up pretty early so I can get to work after we go for a walk. I would love to write outside, but it’s not the best choice in my area, especially if the dog can’t be with me. (She lies at my feet when I’m inside, but she gets distracted by all the smells outside). I just have to remember not to check e-mail first thing in the morning unless I really need to for some reason.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I wish I could avoid morning email, but it’s really hard, since 9 am my time is already noon eastern. I’ve worked hard on slashing my email volume, and now I try to get through it in 30-60 minutes and move on…but it is NOT easy.

      I do find I get most of my email by about 9 am my time for the day, so after that one round I really don’t need to check again until around the end of the day.

  15. I wish I could do that here in India…it is the monsoon season here so I am stuck indoors. I loved your idea…it is so refreshing to get away from this constant clamor of social media and phone calls.

    I put my phone on silent and put on my favorite music every time I want to concentrate on my work. I shut of email, Facebook and other websites that distract me.

    I also sometimes use simple pen and paper to jot down my work…
    Vinita Kherdekar recently posted…The SplitMy Profile

  16. Carol, your discovery is a wonderful way to be both productive and happy in the writing!

    Getting away from the computer is something I feel is necessary as a writer, and breaks outside always help my productivity. Buried on the computer with work, email, and social media takes its toll on the enjoyment of the work. I started my freelance writing career out of love of the work, and I find that taking time outdoors heals the spirit and rekindles the passion.

    My version of your tip, when weather in New York permits, is to take my cup of coffee out onto the porch, bring along a clipboard with yellow legal pad attached, a pen, and my work.
    If I’m working on an article, the brainstorming blossoms, making the first draft flow. If I’m doing book reviews, I either relax absorbed in a book, or draft the review.

    When I return to my office, the writing flies onto the computer, ready for editing and revision.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, Angie. I was actually hunting around for a legal pad to do this and couldn’t find one, and then remembered my stack of reporter’s notebooks. They’re much skinnier, and I used them for interview notes for years. I think they prod creativity because the lines are very short and you fill up pages fast…makes you feel like you’re cranking it out!

  17. Yes, the break in routine is often the stimulus your brain needs. I love the outside and will often try to write on my deck or porch. Recently, I had to be in a waiting room for a good length of time and found I was quite productive there as well. New environment, free of the distractions of home – it makes a world of difference. It’s as if you open doors to new possibilities (or you can finally SEE those possibilities) simply because you changed things up. Change your perspective by changing the scenery every once in awhile is great advice for anyone!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Now that I finally have a laptop, I do write a lot on my deck in the summer, too…but with all the usual computer distractions. I love the environment and getting to write outside, but getting away from the computer AND being outside was terrific.

  18. Patricia says:

    So refreshing to read about this response to a challenge!
    Nature is an inspiration for me, even in the cold weather.
    Working offline, taking a break from the instancy of social media, helps me to focus.
    Patricia recently posted…SUMMER! TAKE TIME TO ENJOY!My Profile

  19. Elke Feuer says:

    Sounds like a great choice for you, Carol! I used to keep a journal in my handbag for new ideas especially when I was out and about. Sounds like I need to get it for existing projects. πŸ™‚

    I listen to music when I write and rarely write in my office. I usually write at my favorite coffee shop, restaurant or in my bedroom.
    Elke Feuer recently posted…In the Hammock β€” Nonnie JulesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I do have a bitty lined journal in my purse too, Elke. I usually use it to keep a diary of all the great things my kids do, which they read later to see mommy catching them being good (I can recommend this highly, moms!)…but the back of it often gets notes jotted down.

  20. Erica says:

    Genius. One of the reasons I was so productive as an art student in college is that my wirebound sketchbook and limestone carving tools didn’t come with WiFi.

    Nowadays, I’m so attuned to composing on the keyboard, I almost can’t compose squat on a notepad anymore. So I also ask myself, “What will get me in the most trouble if it doesn’t get done?” Then I close every window except for what I’m working on that very moment.
    Erica recently posted…What do you feed your Cowardly Lion?My Profile

  21. Lisa Baker says:

    You are a genius. I used to do this a lot because I didn’t have any childcare so I was writing at the playground while my kids played! But now that I have the option to sit at my computer, I do. Because I think it’s faster. And it’s not (as evidenced by the fact that right this minute I’m commenting on this post instead of working on my article…). I may have to do this too!
    Lisa Baker recently posted…One Simple Yet Brilliant Parenting Hack That Makes You Look Like SupermomMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Exactly. I’m with you — we ‘think’ the computer is making us faster…maybe it would if I disconnected it from the Internet.

      But often as I write articles I want to look up resource links and stuff and check facts online, so it’s always hard for me to use something like Mac Freedom that would shut off the ‘net. Unless of course, I just leave the computer behind. Then presto! Nothing to do but write.

  22. Suzanne says:

    Wow, that’s so incredible. I felt right there with you, in the light, surrounded by trees…Thanks for sharing. You know, when I had my first newspaper job, I used to start writing longhand when stuck on a lead. It always busted any blocks. This blog reminded me of that. I’ve been really struggling with time and the wasting of it lately, and I think it’s because I associate the computer with mindless websurfing. What a great reminder to just get outside and take it back to basics. Thanks!
    Suzanne recently posted…Work when you work, play when you playMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, Suzanne. I’ve always been a pretty low-tech person, and unplugging feels great.

      My joke is my next blog will be called The Last Adopter, because I hate it when new tech products and versions come out…just tell me when you figure out whether it’ll be Blu-Ray or DVDs or what.

      • Karen J says:

        “… hate it when new tech products and versions come out…”
        I’m right there with you on that, Carol!

        Me to the developers: “I was very happy with your product, the way it was. I’d figured out work-arounds for the things that really bugged me, and learned *exactly* how to use anything else I wanted… now you’ve changed it, because *you* were bored, and I have to start at the bottom of the learning curve again – Dammit!!”

        I call myself a Semi-Luddite – sounds like you are too… πŸ˜‰
        Karen J recently posted…β€œMake Good Art!” – Neil GaimanMy Profile

  23. Willi Morris says:

    Way to go Carol!! You deserve the me time! I don’t have a plan for that now that we are out in the middle of nowhere. But I try to get up and get things done while everyone (including the dog) is still asleep. Makes a world of difference.
    Willi Morris recently posted…How to Begin Your Freelance Life: My Story – Part 1My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, I love early morning work time, too. Sometimes I get up at 6 and do a couple hours before I hit the bus to the coworking joint, or in the school time before kids have to get up and to buses.

      Allows us to be like the White Queen and get three impossible things done before breakfast…sometimes I feel like I get more done before breakfast than a lot of people do all day. πŸ˜‰ And when I say “a lot of other people,” I mean everyone else in my family.

  24. Anthony says:

    What a timely post! I’ve been doing that lately and am, in fact, on my way outside and away from my computer *right now*! It definitely cuts down on the urge to interrupt writing with the thousand other things that seem important (like email, social media, and the like).

    I agree with Bonita, the library is one of my favorite writing spots. When I need a break I can read the paper or look for a book to check out. It’s quiet and if I do need to do research or use a computer I’m all set!

  25. Gayle Glass says:

    Great post. I have only been blogging for a few months, and my friends are supporting the blog right now, but hopefully it will spread! However, when I started the blog, I did a FB page, twitter account, and a new e-mail, just for the blog. I already had LinkedIn but that was all. I found out how that all could snowball, in a hurry! The first month I was frantic trying to keep up with all of it and realized that it actually cut down on productivity. Scheduling it all works much better.
    Now I check the social sites twice a day. A regular morning session, before I go to my day job, and then another between 7 and 8 in the evening. I free write on my lunch break at my ‘day job’, then write from 8 to 11 ( or later), and on weekends. Some week-day nights I don’t write if I have other things I HAVE to do. Weekends are my principal writing time, and I do additional social site sessions at mid day.
    Now and then I break out in a moment of spontaneity, but I try to keep it controlled.
    Gayle Glass recently posted…Keeping it RealMy Profile

  26. Bonita says:

    The library is one of my favorite places to write. I love the fact that it’s quiet, but I’m not alone and I’m surrounded by books. I also go to Panera and coffee shops. When I’m doing something technical I prefer to be home alone in my office, but when I’m writing I prefer to be among other people who are also working. It stimulates my thinking and makes me feel less like a lone writer and more like part of a group of productive working people.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Bonita, as it happens I spend much of the summer writing at a co-working place! It allows me to focus while my kids can hang out and play, have friends over, and my hubby stays home. I find it’s a great environment for productivity as well.

      But nothing got the results of this walk-and-write session. I’m all over getting more of this…

  27. Anne says:

    I love this reminder about doing something different. Lately I’ve been doing much more Internet and social media stuff than writing. I can’t seem to break the spell. It’s good to know that breaking the routine (of sitting somewhere else or going some place else) can make you more productive.
    Anne recently posted…The First LineMy Profile

  28. Rob says:

    Yep! I’m lucky because I can go to a cafΓ© at a beautiful beach and get breakfast and a cappuccino for under $5. WiFi is free, but my 3G stick works just as well. Even with swimming breaks and walks, I get more done in a day at the beach than I do at home. I recently rediscovered the joy of writing in longhand, too. Sometimes I take a pen and notebook and deliberately leave my phone and laptop at home. Being a slave to the computer sucks. It saps your energy and creativity and takes the joy out of the benefits of instant global communication. WE ALL NEED TO TAKE A BREAK ONCE IN AWHILE.
    Rob recently posted…Writing in LonghandMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s definitely a different experience typing than writing longhand. I found switching really ignited my creativity!

      I’m glad there’s nowhere to eat or grab a latte on the way to the park, though, or this could be coming a calorie-consuming break instead of a calorie-burning one pretty quick. πŸ˜‰

  29. The computer definitely rates high on my list of distractions! There’s way too much social ‘noise’ coming from 2,349 different feeds/accounts/lists for me to stay focussed on the humble Word document.

    Going outside is fantastic providing it’s in fairly quiet surroundings; I’m lucky enough to have a hut overlooking the sea at the bottom of the garden (with NO Internet!). The amount I get done is well worth the short time it takes to type up later, or I can always take a netbook with me.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ohhhh…I want a hut…sounds wonderful.

      We do have a hammock in the back garden that’s probably far enough away from the house to lack Internet reception…so you’ve got me thinking of another good place to go!

  30. I do something similar. I actually do most of my first draft writing in my head so I don’t even need a piece of paper. When I sit down, I can then knock out the first draft in like 20-30 minutes cuz it’s all written. So I will go take a back and write the article while soaking in the tub or go for a walk and write in my head.
    Jennifer Gregory recently posted…The One Sentence Every Content Marketing Writer Needs to Write to Land A JobMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I write in my head a lot too, often as I’m going to bed at night, I lay there and words are just cranking.

      But I tend to type for writing because I type so fast.

      Doing this reminded me that I write fast too – I do a sort of self-invented shorthand, and I can get things down plenty fast on a pad, too.

      And mostly, I need to break out of my rut, and enjoy my life more. I loved that this also get a lot of work done.

  31. Amy Gutman says:

    Change your place change your luck — I think that’s how the saying goes. I love this reminder that sometimes what we need is to do just one thing different (there’s a wonderful book by that name by a guy named Bill O’Hanlon.
    Amy Gutman recently posted…Me vs. Fear of Rejection (with a happy ending)My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Amy — great to hear from you!

      It’s true, sometimes just one change can make a big difference. For me this was so shocking — get up and LEAVE the computer? During the middle of the morning prime work time?

      Doing it made me realize how straitjacketed I’ve been in making myself sit down and work in one way all the time…and that that was hitting my productivity.

      If I can get outside AND get the work done, that is ideal. Lots more of this is gonna happen. I am always looking to get more exercise time…and now think I found a way that opens up whole new blocks of time for movement.

  32. Daryl says:

    Awesome Carol – you got work done AND a tan!

    I get work done by opening up windows media player and adding some tracks. My brain has become so accustomed to listening to music while I work that as soon as I start listening to music I automatically switch to “work mode”.
    Daryl recently posted…Freelance Writing Income Reports: The Importance of Being EarnestMy Profile

  33. What a great idea! Being outside also helps your vitamin D intake and enhances your mood, so it probably upped your stamina and productivity even after you went back to your computer. It’s also another perk of freelancing – unless you have an awesome, trusting boss, you can’t do that in a day job.

    My only problem is I would probably also want to stop somewhere to eat en route. πŸ˜‰

    • Carol Tice says:

      Fortunately, there is nowhere to eat between me and the park…just houses. πŸ˜‰

      I spend a lot of time looking outside and going, “Why do I work so much? I want to go out and enjoy my life!” If the weather’s nice, I often end up feeling resentful and stressed. Sometimes a real sunny day can result in ZERO productivity for me because I don’t want to be there.

      This strategy allowed me to be out enjoying the sunshine AND get some work done! I’m going to be thinking more about types of work I could do without the computer, on a stroll. LOVED it!

      • A good friend of mine is starting up a freelance business (though not writing), and he posted on Facebook a picture captioned “A day at the office”. It had a scenic view of the river over the top of his laptop screen. I was thinking, wow, that’s got to be so good for your work ethic. Though going completely offline to work is probably even better. πŸ™‚

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