Advice for Writers

  • My best productivity tips for writers

    My best productivity tips for writers
    My best productivity tips for writers

    I wrote most of this blog post in August 2021 and forgot to post it. Now here it is and it’s just as relevant!

    In the age of social media, constant rolling news, and a shorter attention span, it can be hard to focus on the task in hand. This is especially true if you’re working alone. Whether you’re a self-employed business owner or a writer, you need to develop good concentration skills.

    That fear of missing out when you switch off social media keeps you checking back on the slightest pretext. Because that is what social media companies want. They want you addicted.

    As for rolling 24-hour news, that also generates a fear of missing out on what’s happening. The news agenda is driven by ratings as much as anything. The problem with news is that it’s often distressing and something you can do absolutely nothing about.

    But it gets into your head and even when you’ve switched off the news, it’s still replaying on a loop. Making it hard to focus.

    If you’re someone who enjoys interacting online and following news, it can be hard to switch off. But if you want to do your best writing or other work, you absolutely must conquer any distractions.

    Checking in on Twitter every five minutes isn’t going to help you write a great novel. It will prevent you from becoming immersed in your characters’ world, which could lead to a surface-level story. Not something that will hook readers.

    I’ve tried a few different options when it comes to increasing productivity and decreasing distractions:

    • Temporary deletion of a Twitter account – you have up to 30 days to switch it back on
    • Avoiding social media earlier in the day to focus on more important tasks
    • Social media blockers – for hours, days, or longer
    • White noise apps – including rain sounds, cafe sounds
    • Plugging myself into headphones to cut off the outside world
    • Using a Pomodoro timer to pace tasks and blocks of time
    • Making a list of things to do and working my way through them
    • Task batching – setting aside a block of time to work on the same kinds of tasks
    • Task batching can be used to schedule social media posts before logging out for the day
    • I’ve also been impressed with apps like UnDistracted and Insight by Freedom
    • There’s also reading other writers’ work – I call it fuelling the tank because after enough reading, the motivation can be topped up to the point where you absolutely must get to your desk and work on your own story
    • You can also use music to get you into the mood – by finding tracks that fit the theme or scenes of your book. Like your very own soundtrack album. Used enough, these can quickly get you into the right frame of mind

    There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that taking an extended break from social media frees up more mental space. You can even block it for most of the day and only allow yourself a short break to engage with people you know there. Then hit the block again!

    I mostly use Rainy Mood as a white noise app – I turn it up high to block out background sounds, include talk, and plug in my headphones. As an editor, I find this just helps me concentrate more. It’s just me, the manuscript, and the rain!

    A Pomodoro timer allows for targeted break times. Then you can grab a drink, go to the loo, stretch, or just chill out for a few minutes before the next block of work.

    Having a list of things to do at the beginning of the day is also incredibly useful. It allows me to use my time more strategically, ticking things off as I go along. I tried this a lot more in the last week or so, and finally tackled tasks I’d been putting off for ages.

    Task batching is not something I’ve used so much as yet. If you don’t know what it is, it means putting the same tasks together into a batch rather than jumping around between very different tasks. So, if you have an editing business, you might put aside an admin day rather than try to fit in bits of admin around your editing hours.

    Because jumping from one task to another one that is quite different can be less efficient. You’re pretty much all over the place instead of focusing on the same kind of thing.

    While all of that helps with focus and avoiding distractions, you still have the problem of getting down to do some writing. Procrastination can be a terrible thing. Writers often sabotage themselves.

    However, it can also take some time to build up your writing muscles. I personally found keeping a daily word count very useful while working on some writing of my own.

    I originally wrote a draft of this post in August 2021. It’s now July 2022. I forgot to finish the post and found it while searching for another unpublished post.

    Since I’ve written about social media, distractions, and apps that help a few times on this blog, it’s clearly something that concerns me! But when I was doing research recently on social media companies hiring attention engineers, I discovered just how disturbing these apps really are.

    When I temporarily deleted my Twitter account recently, I suddenly found I had a lot more time on my hands.

    People often despair that they struggle to find time to write.

    But the truth is that often you need to claw that time back from social media and the 24-hour news cycle. The time is there, but you can’t see it. You’re on a hamster wheel of endless scrolling or checking your notifications.

    An app like Insight by Freedom will tell you exactly how much time you’ve spent on various sites. It’s worth considering how much of that time could have been spent on writing or other things.

    Otherwise, if you’re a fiction or memoir writer who is looking for feedback on your manuscript, you can check out my services page or contact me directly to discuss your project. You will find me at: karen@indiecateditorial.com

    More related posts from the blog:

  • #NaNoWriMo Burnout

    #NaNoWriMo Burnout

    Are you currently engaged in National Novel Writing Month? Have you been furiously writing away and watching your word count build as the days go on? With the middle of the month approaching, maybe you’re already suffering from #NaNoWriMo Burnout?

    Maybe you’ve even fallen behind or dropped out. Due to that one or two days when you couldn’t get any writing done… You felt like you’d failed and you dropped out.

    Or maybe you picked up your thread again, but those missing days still bug the hell out of you.

    Don’t heap unnecessary pressure on yourself

    The truth is, with everything else that’s going on – Covid, lockdowns, restrictions, job worries – you don’t need the added stress of writing obligations.

    Or a feeling that you’ve somehow failed.

    #NaNoWriMo is great for getting people engaged in an activity for a fixed period of time, where you can also talk to other participants.

    But if you find it’s all getting too much, it’s perfectly okay to drop out.

    Your health is more important than a word count

    First of all, your health and wellbeing come first. Secondly, your writing won’t necessarily benefit from you feeling stressed out and under some kind of obligation to produce.

    If you feel that NaNoWriMo is the boot up the backside you need to get you motivated, there are others ways to get the same results. And they don’t involve the same short-term pressures.

    If you can find a writing group – including an online writing group – that would certainly help motivate you.

    You could also try and find some accountability partners. It can be one or two and then check in with them periodically. Set reasonable goals for the next check-in.

    Never set unreasonable goals. You’re just setting yourself up to fail and feel bad about it.

    And that can keep you trapped in a negative downward cycle of ‘what’s the point’ and ‘I can’t do this’.

    One technique I found helpful in the past

    One thing I’ve found helpful in the past is writing down a word count for each day. Even if it was just 30 words. Tiny word counts were fine because there were other days when the count would be in the thousands.

    Momentum was the key.

    I could count up the words at the end of each month, each quarter, each half-year, and each year.

    Over the years, the overall word count went up dramatically.

    At first, there was novelty and enthusiasm. Then there was the sense of obligation and the grind of having to do it. This is why even allowing small word counts can help. After a while, I had to write and if I didn’t there was a feeling of dissatisfaction. I didn’t associate it with a sense of failure or duty either. It had more to do with the feeling that writing was such a part of my daily life that I missed it and didn’t feel right when it wasn’t there.

    Nevertheless, we’re all allowed breaks.

    If you feel that a month of writing isn’t for you, it’s fine to take a step back. Never mind what other people are doing. Writing is not a competition – though it might feel like it is sometimes when you’re on social media.

    Still intent on finishing #NaNoWriMo?

    If you’re feeling a bit burned out, but you still want to continue, remember to take breaks. Go for a walk. Listen to music.

    If you need help concentrating, you can use a social media blocker like Cold Turkey.

    You can also use a Pomodoro timer to pace yourself.

    Whatever you write this month is just a jumping-off point, not the end goal. You can rework it later. Or even run off with a side character and live happily ever after in a new plot/novel!

    More posts from the blog

    You need author photos but you’re camera shy

    Social media blockers

    Is dialogue ruining your scenes?

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro technique

  • Should you dust off that old novel?

    Should you dust off that old novel? Is it really too late to revisit that old unpublished manuscript?
    Should you dust off that old novel?

    I’m currently analyzing a novel that received very fast agent attention some years ago.

    Later it piqued the interest of literary scouts. There was international interest. But in spite of the initial promise, the novel failed to get an English-language deal. And because of this, the international publishers didn’t take it either.

    The main issue was that it needed a developmental editor.

    A common piece of advice is to ditch a rejected novel and get on with the next one. This is not bad advice in the short term. But it could be a mistake to ditch it forever.

    How to decide if your book is worth saving

    Here are some things to consider:

    • Did the novel show a lot of promise?
    • Have you had positive feedback since on its potential?
    • Do you now have the skillset to address any problems and fix them?
    • Do you want to rewrite the book? (If you don’t, then that’s the end of the matter.)
    • Market trends might also factor into whether it’s time to rework that book
    • Taking a few years out before re-examining the book is also instructive – it’s hard to read your own novel with fresh eyes at the best of times
    • Is this book similar to other books you have written or intend to write? (If it is, that would be a plus.)

    It’s understandable that some books are not worth revisiting.

    But when a huge amount of effort has been invested, as well as research, and the problems can be identified, it seems a shame to close the door on a rewrite.

    After all, revisiting the book is like meeting up with old friends… visiting old haunts. But you also get to meet new people and new places as the new draft takes hold.

    Identify the problems and the solutions

    In the case of this novel, the central issues lie in a problematic triad of structure/location/viewpoint. It’s a classic example of how changing one thing – viewpoint – could actually change the structure of the entire book.

    If the main character is telling the story, the reader can only know what they know and hear things when they hear them.

    This can have a very negative impact on story structure, pushing a lot of twists and revelations towards the latter part of the book.

    And this in turn creates structure and pacing problems.

    This is what happened with the book I’m currently looking at.

    Multiple third-person POVs would make a huge difference, freeing up the narrative. The plot structure would be more balanced. And information, revelations, and so on, more evenly spread through the book.

    If a book has a strong central voice, it might be difficult to let go of it and try something new. But if you really want to give your book a second chance, it will be necessary to change some things.

    This writer intends to rework their book.

    But for other writers in the same boat, the question is, do you want to rescue your novel or not? If you’d rather keep it as it is, and you’re okay with it not being published, then you can leave it. But if you want to publish it, it’s best to look at what can be improved.

    The advantage of returning to an old manuscript

    Here’s the beauty of working on an old manuscript:

    • You know the characters already
    • You know their backstories already
    • You know the locations already
    • You know the plot and subplots already

    So, you don’t have to start from scratch. You already have this information in your head.

    You just need to have the objectivity to know what’s best to keep and what to throw out. Hopefully, your writing skills will have improved enough that you can pull off a good rewrite.

    Never use the old manuscript as a roadmap

    But here’s something to avoid – dusting off your manuscript and using it as the basis of the rewrite.

    What you should really do is read it over and make notes on what works and what doesn’t work. There are things you previously thought were important – maybe you’d happily ditch those things now.

    What is worth keeping? What do you wish you’d done differently?

    Write up a rough plan. Then put the old draft aside and start again.

    Give yourself the freedom to start from scratch. Where you find your enthusiasm flagging, you might have stumbled on something that doesn’t work so well anymore.

    Where your enthusiasm picks up – that’s something worth keeping, or maybe just something new and exciting!

    The thing about tackling an old manuscript is you’ve already done the research and planning. You don’t need to plot the whole thing out again unless you have serious plot holes.

    Maybe the plot is great but it’s let down by the choice of viewpoint or the order of the scenes. Or there’s something off with the structure.

    Or maybe you started your novel in the wrong place and this set off a chain reaction right through the novel. And now you can see how to fix it.

    Not everyone wants to write a lot of novels. Some people would rather write fewer books and spend more time on them.

    One approach is not better than the other. Writers are all just different. This is not a competition.

    Should you dust off that old novel?

    It really comes down to whether you’d want to spend more time with the characters and that world.

    It also depends on the value of the manuscript. If it received positive attention from industry professionals, that might suggest it’s worth revisiting.

    Of course, you could just go down the indie route and publish it yourself.

    But if you want to have another go submitting it to agents, you could put it aside for a while. Even better if it’s been lying around for a few years. The more objectivity you have, the easier you will find it to spot the strengths and weaknesses.

    If you try to rewrite the manuscript by closely following the previous draft, you’re in danger of making the same mistakes again. Because the old draft exerts a certain gravitational pull – where you end up repeating too many things from before.

    In fact, tinkering could actually be harder than throwing out the previous draft (metaphorically) and starting again. Constantly referring to the old draft takes up too much time.

    Open a new file. Here’s your fresh start.

    You know your main plot and characters already. You are free to make any changes you wish. You are free to change the name of your characters, their appearance, and so many other things.

    You can make things better. Use the skills you’ve learned since the last draft.

    This is your second chance.

    Useful links

    If you want to check out my editing services, I offer developmental editing, manuscript critiques, beta reads, and custom reports. If you don’t see the particular custom critique service you’re after, you can email me at: karen@indiecateditorial.com

  • You need author photos but you’re camera shy!

    Need author photos but you're camera shy? Try this selfie photography course.
    You need author photos but you’re camera shy!

    The only time I ever felt comfortable in front of a camera was when I was too young to care.

    Once I hit adolescence, that awkwardness you see in pre-teens and teenagers was there. I was never happy.

    And this is true of many people.

    So what happens when you have a business or you’re an author and you need a professional headshot? Or even just a high-quality selfie? What do you do?

    If you have a real dislike of having your photo taken by others, you’re unlikely to look relaxed and happy.

    A professional photographer might know how to get you looking your best, but they cost money and you still have that fear of cameras.

    Maybe you don’t even believe a professional could make you look good.

    Low self-esteem and self-consciousness can really block someone from getting a professional shot in the first place.

    Of course, you have the option of taking a selfie.

    But what if you still hate the camera, still look awkward, and it’s still ten thousand deaths to take that photo?

    And even worse, you see great selfies from other authors, but yours somehow come out badly. You might wonder if they’re using filters – and it’s entirely possible.

    Then again, maybe they’ve learned how to use a mobile phone camera to best effect. They could have done it through trial and error. Or they could have followed a photographic influencer on Instagram or YouTube.

    There is a mountain of information out there for people too shy to have others take their photo.

    One interesting influencer on both YouTube and Instagram is Sorelle Amore.

    And the good news is that she has a selfie course called Advanced Selfie University.

    You have to sign up – the cost is fairly low – and you’ll learn about camera settings, lighting, posing (what works and what to avoid), clothing, and much more.

    Each lesson is only a few minutes at most. Then you can go off and try it out.

    There is a community of posters, leaving questions, answers, and comments.

    Among the comments, there are repeating themes of low confidence, fear of the camera, and not liking it when others take their photos. Their past experience has made them camera shy.

    The selfie course teaches them to be more relaxed in front of the camera, to take their time getting to know their best angles, to learn about the right colours to wear to flatter their skin tone, and so on.

    The course creates a safe space for people to experiment and post the results if they want – they don’t have to post anything.

    Seeing others struggle with self-image, unhappiness with their appearance, and self-consciousness in front of cameras shows that many suffer the same issues. You’re not alone.

    But the usefulness of taking great selfies goes beyond working on your confidence and self-esteem.

    It also goes beyond saving money on professional headshots.

    If you’re someone who would benefit from having high-quality selfie photos for marketing, this course will help you build up a good catalogue of images that might otherwise be pricey.

    And you can use these images on your author website, Facebook page, Instagram, Amazon page, Twitter, and more.