Productivity Principles for Part-Time Writers

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Most of my clients are part-time writers. They’ve got demanding fulltime jobs. They’ve got important relationships. If that’s you, here are six tips I’ve developed from working with successful part-time writers.

What works for most people will probably work for you.

Try that first. The most productive time for most people starts about an hour after you wake up and lasts for between 2 and a half to 3 hours. Most people work best in 50-minute blocks, followed by breaks of around 20 minutes. That’s been true for most of my clients, but some of them had to work up to it. Most people do their best work when they work on a standard schedule and write in the same place every time.

You’re unique, so you need to find what works best for you.

Think about the things I suggested above. Some of those were what will work for you, and others won’t. The world is divided into larks and night owls. Night owls stay up late and do their best work. Some writers work in shorter blocks than 50 minutes. Many use the Pomodoro technique. They work for about 20 minutes and then take a break, timing their work.

Circumstances may conspire to make it impossible for you to do to work the way I suggest. A police officer friend of mine wrote his articles in his patrol car on the dead spots in his graveyard shift. Moms with infant children must conform to the infant’s schedule. Many of my clients schedule around their day job. They write on airplanes or they set aside a couple of hours on Saturday morning to write. Some add an extra day to a business trip and hole up in a hotel room to write. Find what works for you.

Experiment to find what works best.

Here are a few things you can try. Great writers and thinkers tend to be walkers. Walking in nature is best. You may get lots of good ideas. Just be sure to capture them.

Try making your writing time only for writing. Do your research and other things at other times. Plan your next writing session as the last act of your current writing session. That way, when you come back to write, you can start writing and not worry about what to do.

Keep records.

Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman said, “You must not fool yourself and you are the easiest to fool.” He was right. We give ourselves credit for work we didn’t complete. We remember that we spent more time working than we did.

Keeping records is more than counting things. Keep a record of the number of words you produce. That’s good. Keep a record of how much time you’ve spent on your writing in a day. That’s good, too.

But don’t succumb to the tyranny of the numbers. Keep records of your qualitative assessment of your writing sessions and your progress on the book.

Save your brainpower for writing

When your brain is fresh you can write well. When your brain is tired you can’t. Making choices and other decisions uses up brain energy. You can save precious brain energy by automating many mental tasks.

Habits are the ultimate brain automation. Develop habits that make routine choices automatic. Develop routines for the beginning and end of every writing session. Use checklists to make sure you get every little thing done. Use reminders and alarms to signal you to do something.

Take what life gives you and control what you can

It takes time to write a book and you already have a packed calendar. So, where will you find the time? I don’t know your situation, so I can’t tell you. But after writing books for almost half a century and helping others write books, I can tell you two places that are a bad choice.

Don’t steal time from sleep. That will just make everything harder. You need sleep for the mental balance to handle the challenges of part-time writing. You need sleep so you’re fresh enough to do good work. And you need sleep, so you don’t become the crabby curmudgeon no one wants to be around. If anything, get more good sleep.

Don’t put important relationships at risk. Relationships make the good life good. It’s easy to fool yourself, though, because the people who love you will forgive you, for a while, at least. Take longer to write your book if you must but tend to those important relationships.

Bottom Line

The challenge of writing a book part-time is to find your unique way to create a book you can be proud of without going crazy or ruining important relationships.

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