Throughout the Challenge, it is important to monitor what’s working and what’s not. Those insights will bring you closer and closer to confident and effective writing.
Our last blog post was on scheduling. Once we have the writing time, we need to make good use of it. In the spirit of experimentation and optimizing our precious minutes, here are a number of strategies for your consideration, which have been gleaned from the writing productivity literature, presentations from writing experts and personal experience.
Name a Task. For me, getting out of the gate involves naming a specific something that will get done during my writing session. What amount of time do I have? What is an achievable writing task for that time? Writing can feel like a big project. If I just open a draft and start working, who knows what I may (or may not) achieve. Most importantly, who knows whether I’ll feel good about the work when I’m done. Naming a task allows me to feel productive and to celebrate being one step closer when it’s achieved.
Set a Timer. I like http://e.ggtimer.com/. A ticking clock has two benefits. First, it creates some urgency. I don’t have all day; I have 30 (or however many) minutes. A timer makes me go and reminds me that I need to keep going. Second, it makes me stop. Sometimes I need to stop for a break. Sometimes I just need to stop because there’s something else waiting in the wings. Regardless, a timer helps me to be more aware of my efficiency and effectiveness.
Unplug. Email is a huge distractor, as is social media. When I avoid checking email prior to (and during!) a writing session, I feel more productive. There are fewer “to dos” and worries on my mind, sapping my focus and energy. I can give more to the task at hand.
Close with a Note-to-Self. This is one of the most productive strategies I’ve learned. Manuscripts can take months to write. When I set them aside, despite best intentions, I can lose track of what’s left undone and what’s next. Then, when I return, I spend time re-orienting myself and attempting to remember. It can even be tough to stop because I’m not at a good breaking point. However, if I end with a note to myself, right in the manuscript, I can zip to that note and get started when I begin my next session. I document things like points I still want to make, items that need double-checking and referencing that needs to be added.
Communicate with Co-Authors. When I’ve finished a substantive session, I like to communicate progress with my co-authors. This way, they know I haven’t been sitting on my duff. Generally, I start this email during the writing process, bullet pointing the highlights, e.g. “This draft includes…” These messages are also a great time to ask questions, e.g. “Does anyone know where X is…” and to request assistance, e.g. “Mark, would you be able to help by adding…”
There are many more ways to optimize our writing time. If you’re got any tips, please share them on Twitter at #RxWritingChallenge! We’d love to hear from you!