hen your to-do list overflows with ideas and projects in-progress, it’s sometimes hard to get started, and you waste time trying to figure out what to do next. You might ask yourself: “How will I ever find time to work on all of these projects?” when what you should be asking is: “What can I do right now to advance one of my projects?”
We all have the same number of hours in a day. The key is to manage your time wisely. By incorporating the following two productivity hacks into your writing regimen, you’ll be able to finish more of your projects.
Hack #1: Always Have a “Next Step” for Each Project
Whether you write poetry, nonfiction, or fiction, you should never get to a point where a project stalls simply because you haven’t thought about what to do next. If you’re staring at a long list of projects, it helps to see the next step for each, so that you can match your time limitations to your task.
For example, let’s say you only have twenty minutes before you have to pick up your child from school. If you have a next step written down for each project, you can simply scan your to-do list for a task that can be accomplished in this time.
Needless to say, editing/revising should always be a step for writers of all genres.
Next Step examples for short story writers:
- Do you have completed stories waiting to be sent to editors for consideration? Pick out three journals that would be a good fit for each story.
- Write a cover letter template, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you want to submit your story somewhere.
- After you’ve submitted your story to three journals, pick out another three as backups.
- Other next steps might include grouping your stories thematically to monitor when you have enough to begin ordering as a collection or researching contests.
Next Step examples for poets:
- Research literary journals to send poems to. Pick three, and then pick three more as backups.
- Write a cover letter template to save time when submitting poems.
- If you’re thinking about putting together a collection of your poems, you might list “work on order” as a next step for arranging the poems in your collection.
- Other next steps might include researching contests, sending poems to journals, or getting feedback from your writing group.
Next Step examples for writers of nonfiction essays or articles:
- Assemble a list of article or essay ideas to pitch, and then research markets for each.
- Write a pitch letter template for article or essay ideas to make the pitching process easier.
- Other next steps might include reviewing outstanding pitches and following up with editors who haven’t responded, or writing articles once they are accepted.
- “Brainstorm ideas” is a great step to include for when your idea list is running low.
Next Step examples for those writing a novel:
- Create an outline for your book. Perhaps the first outline marks major events or chapters that are necessary for the story.
- If you’ve finished the first draft of your novel, set “review & revise” as a next step.
- Other next steps might include researching agents or publishers, writing a pitch letter, or sending pitches.
Next Steps from Deborah Ager:
Deborah Ager, founder of Radiant Media Labs, offers these next steps based on her experiences helping business owners write books to promote their businesses:
- A first step should be to gain clarity. Ask yourself: What is the intent of your book project? Why do you want to write a book as opposed to create a course or write a speech?
- Another step is to align your book with your mission. Take time to write down your top three values and your mission. When times are tough, you’ll be more likely to persevere if your book aligns with your personal mission and values.
- Include mapping your materials as a step. Perhaps you have a lot of material about your topic in the form of articles, blog posts, speeches, etc. List these out and start separating your material into topical areas. You can even create a mind map. This process generates additional ideas, helps inform your book’s structure, and can help you see your materials all in one place, so you can fill any holes. One client realized she really had two books by going through this process.
Hack #2: Moving Forward One Power Hour at a Time
Some days, it’s just impossible to face the blank page or even the blank line below where you left off last time. Using Gretchen Rubin’s “Power Hour” concept, you can assign yourself one hour to focus on something from your to-do list. Even if you can’t bear the thought of writing new text, you can still be productive and make progress on your projects.
Here are some ideas for Power Hours based on the examples of next steps listed in the previous hack.
- Research markets for work you’ve already written. In one hour, you can probably research and select several potential markets.
- Submit your work. You could probably submit pieces to at least one or two markets within one hour. Those hours add up, and so will your submissions/pitches over the course of a month.
- Brainstorm potential blog post/short story/poem/article/essay ideas. Make a huge ideas list.
- Take a look at your ideas list and select one item to work on for the hour.
- Pull out a piece you’ve already written and re-read it. Is there any text that needs to be revised or updated?
- Create an outline for a project. A good outline makes it easier for you to hit the ground running during your next Power Hour.
- Conduct research for one of your current projects. Take notes and bookmark useful Internet sources.
- Write a pitch letter for one of your new or just-about-to-be-finished projects. If you don’t like to write things on spec, craft a pitch letter for one of the ideas on your ideas list.
Using these hacks, you’ll no longer find yourself complaining that you have no time to accomplish anything from your to-do list. With a little bit of structure and planning, you can dramatically increase your productivity as a writer by using the time you do have more efficiently.
Bernadette Geyer, founder of Geyer Editorial Services, is a writer, editor, and translator in Berlin, Germany. She also leads online workshops for writers, freelancers, and small business owners. She is the author of a collection of poetry, The Scabbard of Her Throat, and editor of My Cruel Invention: A Contemporary Poetry Anthology. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including 2015 Poet’s Market, AFAR Magazine, Oxford American, and The Writer. Geyer’s author website is https://www.bernadettegeyer.com. Geyer Editorial Services is online at https://geyereditorial.com.
Bernadette is also an instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. Check out her upcoming courses on the Classroom Page.
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