It can be difficult to find the time, energy or creativity to get those precious words down on paper after a long day at work. All of us can find reasons to procrastinate. This has been borne out by recent studies that show humans tend to greatly underestimated the time it takes to finish any project and find working on projects much more exciting than completing them. If you’re writing a book however, you need to finish or you’re missing the main purpose of writing in the first place — to find your readers.
As I was sitting in a coffee shop recently, tapping away on my laptop, it occurred to me that I am as guilty of these stalling tactics as anyone. Knowing this about myself, I have devised a few habits to get around my natural tendency to procrastinate. These have helped me maintain my productivity even though I work a normal 40 hour per week day job. Looking back, it has made a difference.
Since I published my first book six years ago, His Life Abiding (2013), I have written two more full length novels, The Men in the Trees (2014) and My Summer (with Robots) (2018). Additionally, I have written and illustrated the first two volumes of my graphic novel serious, Dark & Fevered Dreams, in 2016 and 2017 respectively, and created an immersive website for the same. Although I sometimes kick myself for not doing more, I think every writer has to keep things in perspective. If I look back on what I produced in the six years before that, which was essentially nothing, then I’ve made great strides.
So here are a few habits I’ve adopted since becoming a professional author. If you have some of your own, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
NARRATE WHEN YOU CAN'T TYPE: Using smart technology effectively might not help you become a better writer, but I can help you get your thoughts down more quickly and efficiently. Because I often drive long distances for my day job, I will use that “downtime“ to capture my ideas or work on a book chapter. Since anything I narrate will be refined in rewrites, I don’t worry if what I’m saying is uninspired. All I want is to get words down on paper... or in an audio file as the case may be. Later, listening back to my narration, I will use talk-to-text technology to get it into a usable written format. Talk-to-text means I can do it a few minutes what might’ve taken me an hour to type manually.
SET BOTH LONG AND SHORT TERM GOALS: The longest long term goals I set is only six months. Again, this timeframe is based on sociological studies that show if a person doesn’t accomplish a task within six months, they probably never will. My six month goals tend to be higher level achievements such as “finish the first draft of my new book“ or “increase my social media following by 10%.“ Short term goals tend to be daily or weekly. I keep these flexible because if you’re a creative person your productivity is dependent upon your mood. I’ve given myself permission not to write on my up-and-coming books every day if I don’t feel like it, but to do something every day. These alternatives may be scheduling social media posts, writing a blog such as this one, or corresponding with my readers.
DO TWO THINGS EVERY DAY: From your list of short term goals, choose two that you will accomplish every day. Any two are fine — you can mix and match as desired — but make sure you do at least two.
MAKE YOUR GOALS ATTAINABLE: Human beings respond better to positive reinforcement and you'll actually create a positive feedback loop for yourself if you have goals that you're completing regularly.
WORK ON MULTIPLE PROJECTS: I don’t always feel like working on the same property project every day so I will bounce back-and-forth between several. Currently, I am finishing up work on Volume 3 of Dark & Fevered Dreams and just started writing the sequel to My Summer (with Robots). If I don't feel like writing, I may pick up my iPad and iPencil and work on illustrations for Dark & Fevered Dreams instead.
TEND TO WHAT YOU PLANTED: The publishing industry rule of thumb is that a book tends to sell best in the first six weeks after its release. Still, your previous novels may have a lot of life left in them and there are things you can do to remind your readers of their existence. For example, publicize them alongside your new releases; arrange free giveaways of your older titles; change the cover art periodically; or start an online discussion about some aspect of the novel to draw in new readers. In my experience, the release of a new novel has always helped sales of the old ones.
STAY FOCUSSED ON YOUR MESSAGING: If you are a small or independent author, you will not have the massive marketing tools of the corporate publishing world behind you. Instead, you will have to work that out for yourself and may need to resort to some guerrilla tactics. This isn't a bad thing, because it forces you to directly interact with your readers, booksellers and potential publishers as a result. Social media, book related websites like Goodreads, and online chat rooms can you do a great job of helping spread the word. However, nothing will help if your messaging and brand is not clear and focused. Take a look at these resources on how to brand yourself and then come up with a clear message and look so readers can find you in a very crowd field.
GUARD YOUR WRITING TIME JEALOUSLY: It's not selfish, it’s necessary. You have to think of writing, even if it’s not your livelihood, in the same way as a normal job. Set hours, quotas and standards for your work times and then require those around you to respect them.
ASK YOURSELF: WHY AM I DOING THIS? A friend recently asked how much I earn writing books. My answer was simple: "not much." Honestly, authors at my level are lucky if writing turns into a lucrative hobby but hopefully you’re not doing it for the cash alone. If your goal is to become rich, there are a lot quicker and easier ways to do it. And the rise of independent publishing has made the competition to find readers even worse. But why are you writing anyways? Is it because you want to be famous or because you have something to say? Analyzing your motives and measuring your success in ways other than dollars may help you feel better about what you're doing.