5 Strange Truths Authors Know About Productivity

folder-1401429-mWe authors are a unique bunch. We tend to view the world differently than other people, and to put our own spin on things. Such as the definition of “productivity.”

Here are 5 strange truths we authors know about being productive.

  1. STARING AT A BLANK SCREEN FOR HALF AN HOUR, DEEPLY CONSIDERING WHERE WE NEED TO TAKE THAT NEXT SCENE, COUNTS AS PRODUCTIVITY. It might not count as “writing,” per se…. But it can definitely be productive. Especially for those of us who don’t like to outline and need some time to gather our thoughts before we write, because we don’t have a prepared guide to go by.
  2. REWORDING ONE SENTENCE FIVE TIMES OVER THE COURSE OF SIX OR SEVEN MINUTES IS PRODUCTIVE. Provided the sentence ends up better than it started…. more precisely worded. Or less “wordy.” Word choice can make all the difference in the world: especially when it comes to making dialogue come alive.
  3. DELETING HALF A PARAGRAPH AS UNNECESSARY AFTER FRUITLESSLY TRYING TO REWORD A SENTENCE IN THAT PARAGRAPH FIVE TIMES OVER THE COURSE OF TEN MINUTES IS PRODUCTIVE. Maybe not as productive as cutting the fluff to begin with, but hey…. Sometimes we need to tinker around with a sentence or two for a bit before we realize, “the reason I can’t make this work is because the info is confusing when placed right here, or boring, or redundant. Not because I had worded it poorly.”
  4. SOMETIMES IT’S JUST AS IMPORTANT TO FEEL PRODUCTIVE AS TO BE PRODUCTIVE. Mindset is everything, after all. This is why we do things like make retroactive to do lists, and cross completed items off…. Or put simple household tasks like “do laundry” or “run dishwasher” on to do lists. Yeah…. I really hope I’m not the only one who does that!
  5. READING YOUR OLD WORK IS A GREAT WAY TO BOOST CONFIDENCE, AND BOOST PRODUCTIVITY AS A RESULT. You just might be able to see how much your writing has improved, and be positive and upbeat about the experience of reliving the “bad old days.” Either that, or you’ll get a great, healthy dose of embarrassment to keep writer’s ego in check and remind you of what bad habits you tend to fall into (so you can make sure to avoid them.)

So, what are some strange truths about productivity you’ve discovered as a writer? Anything that surprised you? Any tendencies that others might not define as “productive” but that put you in a frame of mind, or prepare you in some other way, to get down to writing and to make the most of the time you have your pen in hand (or your hands on the keyboard)?

I used to get in the habit of believing that pre-writing, or organizing my approach to my novel, was “wasted time.” Time I should have spent writing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Pre-writing is productive time, and essential time, no matter how you pre-write or what organizational methods work for you. Sure, in the end, it’s all about word count and what you have on the page. But those words can’t come from nowhere and no place.

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League.” She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

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46 responses to “5 Strange Truths Authors Know About Productivity

  1. I wrote 100 pages of my first novel . . . then realized it was all garbage and saved it deep into a folder that I’ll never look at again (couldn’t bring myself to delete it).
    Some may think that was a waste of time–and initially I did as well–until I realized all of that was free and pre-writing. Churning out all those pages helped me create my characters, establish settings, shift the entire flow of my plot, etc.
    I teach freshmen composition and I tell them about this experience to help them realize there is no wasted effort in writing. If you learned something–even how NOT to do something–it was time well spent.

  2. There are lots of things I do that are a complete waste of time (video games, filing taxes, things like that), until suddenly some plot point snaps into place that I never would have thought of otherwise. Sometimes, you don’t know you’re being productive until you’re finished.

  3. Totally agree. I still get accused of “slacking off” when I’m staring at a wall or daydreaming. But it’s work! If you don’t think it, you can’t write it!

    Oh, and I do find that my thinking improves if I hold a pen – it doesn’t matter whether I use it or not, just having it in hand helps.

    Nothing written is wasted, no matter how bad it is. I spent years “trying” and fearing that I was wasting my life, but it turned out that all that while I was actually deep into training. I am where I am today because of all those years of “poor writing” (I have two fat sci-fi books published, a third one on the way).

    I can DO it now, and I have learned that it ALL counts.

    Finally, yes, we are weird. But it helps. :)

    • Oh my gosh, I am like you. I am a kinesthetic learner, so I need something in my hand when I’m processing something mentally. YES. I doodle. All the time. I used to doodle in class. My notes from class are filled with drawings and designs in the margins. And I was a straight A student…. I needed that outlet as I was in the process of learning. It’s HOW I learn, if that makes sense.

  4. Tidying the house, going for a walk, cleaning the bathroom; all of these are productive to your writing* as they free your mind to mull over problematic scenes and come up with answers you weren’t expecting.

    *Of course, they can also be destructive forms of procrastination. There have been times while struggling to write that cleaning a bathroom has never been more attractive.

  5. Completamente deacuerdo contigo. Garabatear com lo decimos en español o escribir algo con vocación de permanencia y luego ver que es trabajo perdido, en si mismo no es trabajo perdido, sino un aspecto más del trabajo de escritor.
    Podemos contemplarlo comolos bocetos que los artistas plásticos realizan una y otra vez hasta el resultado definitivo.
    Gracias por tu Blog Victoria

    • Es bueno saber que no soy la única que he experimentado esto! Gracias por la palabra nueva…. garabatear…. El inglés necesita una palabra así!

      • Muchas Gracias victoria, podría decírtelo en inglés pero es tan bello escuchar la lengua propia al otro lado del Atlántico. Me parece que tu blog es de lo mejor que veo por ahora :-). Espero seguir en contacto. Saludos y gracias por el comentario. Has sido la primera.

        • Siempre estoy buscando maneras de practicar (y mantener) mi habilidad de hablar/escribir español. :-) En el pasado lo usé regularmente, porque estudiaba la literatura española y enseñaba la lengua en mi universidad. pero desde el año pasado, no. Y temo perderlo a veces.

        • Lo hablas muy bien, intentaré en el futuro también hablar en tu bella lengua. Un saludo

  6. Even thinking up a story, jotting down notes, creating a character, or doing anything away from the main manuscript is productive. Though, this doesn’t permit one to count showers and the exercise bike as tax deductions.

  7. You’re definitely going to have those days where you devote hours and feel like you’ve accomplished nothing (maybe even took a couple of steps backward). Fortunately, you also have those days where the words just roll right off your fingers. :-)

  8. What I’ve found productive is taking a break.

    I often- OFTEN- get too wrapped up in my writing, in what word belongs where, if the flow is correct, etc. Especially when working on a first draft, as I am now, I find that stepping away from it for a day or two sometimes helps me work better when I get back. Actually, it always helps me work better.

    • I do the same thing. Lately I think I’ve been taking too many breaks, or rather, one way too extended break. But now I’m trying to get back on the horse and I can see how much my break prepared me to get things done and to see things about my WIP i was missing before. I totally agree…. breaks are AWESOME when you need them.

  9. Great post. I tend to get too involved in editing one sentence over and over again, but in the end, if it makes it much better then that’s progress, right? :D

    • Right! I have the same problem, I’ve found. Especially in later edits, when I feel like I have my story right and everything in its place, and I just need to shape up the outer packaging, if that makes sense.

  10. Whew…glad to hear I’m not the only one who “pads” her To Do list on a less than productive day to feel more of a sense of accomplishment :) Thanks for the reminder to shift my thinking around what I often unfairly classify as a less-than productive writing day. Numbers 1-3 may not feel productive, but they are just a part of the writing process. Enjoyed the post, Victoria

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! You are so right…. all those things might feel like a waste of time and frustrate us, but they are definitely just part of the writing process. That’s the way we need to think of them.

  11. What an excellent list! And I particularly agree with number five. ^_^
    These are the exact reasons why non-writers just don’t get us. Because all that stuff is INCREDIBLY productive… just hard to explain to someone not in ‘the bizz.’

    • It really is hard to explain how staring off into space counts as “work.” As no matter how good an explanation we give, some people just won’t be able to understand or “buy it.” But it really is productive! At least our fellow writers understand :-)

  12. Oh goodness, these are all so true! Especially staring at sentences for ages. Urgh.
    For me, I find that listening to music is productive, since it lets my mind wander and plot. I actually came up with some overarching book ideas last night by doing that (thank you, Blue Oyster Cult!) Furiously scribbling in notebooks is also 100% productive, yes, totally productive.

    • Yes, i LOVE free writing. It’s so good for finding a spark. For some reason I feel really anxious before doing it, so I don’t freewrite enough. It’s like I’m scared of writing bad stuff or something…. but it’s not like my first drafts when I take forever to write a sentence are “good” either!

  13. Oh, let me assure you, you’re not alone with the housework list thing. The think it’s because I’m trying to live in two worlds (at least) at one time.

    Strange truths about productivity.
    June is golden. I can focus. And the pen flies.
    Why?
    I have no idea…

  14. Staring at a blank screen is absolutely useful! So many authors fear that part of writing, but actually it’s where everything begins, so how can it be a bad thing? Rewriting and editing are the second most important parts of writing aside from the writing itself. Pieces are shaped into their ultimate form through rewrites and edits, and while many authors dread these things, they are two of the most productive parts of writing. And cutting the fluff is extraordinarily important, although it is easiest to do when you leave your work alone and don’t look at it for at least a month. Then you can really get into perspective what is necessary and unnecessary. Cut EVERYTHING that’s unnecessary or doesn’t forward the piece.

    Great post!

  15. I totally agree with the pre-writing NOT being a waste of time. I actually think that’s more important that the writing sometimes, because in the end it saves me a boatload of time and stress when it comes time to get the words onto paper.

  16. Reblogged this on Rakes Rogues and Romance and commented:
    Well I have been feeling massively unproductive ever since the new year started. I should stop and reword this. It’s not that I have been unproductive. I submitted my first book to agents and in the midst of having the second one critiqued and rewritten. I finished my Nano book and am preparing that. I’ve started on a few projects that may even take me to write in other genres. have all these projects running through my head.
    So why do I feel as though I am at a standstill? I am trying to understand it myself. But for the past week I’ve written almost nothing. I’ve critiqued for my group but as far as my own work I feel like I’m stuck in molasses.
    And you’ve all probably noticed, this blog hasn’t been updated as much as it usually has. Maybe you are all thankful for that!!) Perhaps it’s the winter doldrums. Perhaps I just have that writer’s block. But right now those voice inside my brain are out to lunch. No duke is whispering in my ear, no earl is making outrageous proposals for his story and no lady or woman is telling me to move my rear and get to writing.
    How about you? Have the winter doldrums got to you?
    What do you do to push through it?

  17. A very encouraging post, Victoria. I was feeling unproductive after cutting 14 pages of my novel. But the scenes I had crafted would not take me in the direction I needed to go. So I cut. After reading your post, I feel more productive. :-)

  18. Pingback: Of Note (Mar 18th, 2014) | Chris Weston

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