This week, I started writing Your Turn to Suffer, my next horror novel for Flame Tree Press. (Next for me, that is. There’s another in the queue still to come out for the rest of you!) This will be my forty-sixth published novel. I’ve also published ten novellas and 171 short stories. And I’ve written articles and blog posts (like this one), but I’m too lazy to count those right now. All of this doesn’t seem like a lot to me. I’ve been writing steadily since I was eighteen, and I’m fifty-five now. You write long enough, all that work starts to add up, you know? (This is all traditionally published work. I’ve never self-published anything. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as they used to say on Seinfeld. I just haven’t done it yet. Maybe someday.)
Still, I do more than write. I’ve taught college composition and creative writing courses for thirty years (ten years part-time, twenty years full-time), and I’ve raised two daughters who are now adults. When people learn how much I’ve written and published while still maintaining a full-time job and a family life, they ask me how I do it, as if I have some sort of secret that, if they could just learn it, they’d be just as productive as I am. I don’t have a secret, though. I’ve always been a creative person. I have more ideas in a day than I’d ever be able to bring to fruition in a single lifetime. Plus, I love writing. I mean love it. Even with all the ups and downs, the successes and the setbacks, there’s nothing else I’d rather do. I love teaching as well, but if I had to choose the two, I’d take writing, no contest. (Although I’d be sad that I couldn’t teach again.)
Every year the faculty at my college have a couple training days before Fall semester starts. This year – because I’ve written and published so much while still teaching full-time – I was asked to present a session on productivity for writers and scholars on campus during one of our training days. I said, “Sure!” (because evidently I’m not busy enough), and I put together a PowerPoint presentation I called “Do More Stuff!” The people who attended the session seemed to like it, and afterward, someone suggest I could take the presentation on the road to conferences, etc. I may very well do that, but I thought it might make a good blog post. Rather than turn the presentation into an article with paragraphs, I thought I’d keep it primarily in list form. Why? Partially because I think it’s more effective that way, but also because by not taking the time to rewrite something that’s fine as it is, I can put my energy into writing something new. (See me practicing what I preach?) So here are the strange and forbidden secrets of how to be more productive.
First off, productivity . . .
· Doesn’t just happen.
· It’s a choice.
· It isn’t easy when you have other responsibilities demanding your attention. You still need to choose it.
· It isn’t easy when you have pleasant distractions tempting you to have fun instead of working. You still need to choose it.
· Sometimes it’s a trade-off. You may need to give up some things in order to be more productive.
· Sometimes it’s a negotiation – with yourself, with family and friends, with your day job – to find ways to be productive.
· Sometimes it’s a desperate need – and if you don’t tend to this need, your mental and emotional health will suffer. Being creative and productive can quite literally save your life. (It has mine, and on more than one occasion).
Basic Ingredients of Productivity
Desire. You have to want to be productive.
· A rested, healthy energized body and mind.
· Permission from yourself.
· Selfishness (or if you prefer, self-focus or self-discipline).
· Do what you need to do in order to obtain the above “ingredients.”
Productivity requires commitment and boundaries
· Make a commitment to being productive.
· Make sure others know about, understand, and respect your commitment to being productive.
· Organize your life so that you make productivity not only a possibility but a certainty.
· If necessary, be flexible and creative in how you manage this organization.
· Keep a closed office door at work. Put a Do Not Disturb Sign on the door of your home office.
· Learn the power of NO. You can’t do everything, and if you overcommit to other things, you won’t be able to get to the work you truly want and need to do.
· Stay away from email, social media, the Internet, videogames, etc., during work time. Turn your devices off, throw them out of the window, sell them on Ebay. . .
Goal-Setting is Key
· Set short-term goals: How much to you want to accomplish during today’s work session?
· Set long-term goals: How much do want to accomplish in a day, a week, a month, a year?
· You can make these goals general: I want one hour of uninterrupted work time a day for a week.
· You can make these goals specific: By the end of the month, I want to produce a polished, ready-to-submit short story (or whatever).
· Setting goals makes it easier to explain to others what you’re doing. Instead of saying, “I’m trying to write,” say, “Today I'm working on a sidebar for the gardening article I finished last week."
· Don’t let it get you down if you don’t make a goal. Goal-setting is supposed to be a motivating force, not another reason to beat yourself up for failing. Set a new goal and work toward that one. Continued forward movement is what’s important.
Declutter Your Life
· Examine how you spend your time.
· Do you really need to do everything you do?
· Cut back on some activities and time-wasters: Who needs TV? A clean house? Clean clothes? Sleep? Food?
· Sometimes you’ll have to pick and choose.
· Sometimes you’ll have to make sacrifices.
· It’s okay if other work is a priority sometimes. Sometimes it has to be.
· You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) spend every moment working, but should seek ways to spend your time wisely.
Paths to Productivity
· Work first thing in the morning before the day starts making demands on you.
· Go to bed an hour earlier and wake up an hour earlier to carve out some time to work.
· Work before going to bed. You may lack some energy, but the day’s other work is done, everyone else is asleep, and you can finally do what you’ve been looking forward to all day. Your mind most likely has been preparing you mentally for your before-bed work session. It’s your reward for making it through the day! Because of this, you might produce more, and produce it faster and easier.
· Work during breaks. Even small increments of work time add up.
· Make an appointment to work, perhaps the same time every day or on the weekends.
· Make a work date, an appointment with someone else who also wants to be more productive. You’ll work next to each other, support each other, and keep each other accountable.
· Set a quota for how much work you want to produce – a day, a week, a month, etc. Always strive to make your quota, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss it. Try to hit the next deadline.
· Get away from home. Work at a coffee shop (I do this), a restaurant, a bar, a park, a monastery, wherever.
· Take a weekend getaway for just you and your work.
· Being creative is nothing but a series of decisions (or choices, if you prefer), one after the other after the other.
· Decision Fatigue: After someone makes a number of decisions over time – say during the course of a workday – the quality of those decisions deteriorates.
· The more decision-fatigued you become, the harder it is to keep making decisions.
· If possible, make creative-work decisions before you need to make day-job decisions.
· Do creative-work in smaller chunks of time and take breaks.
· Plan before you begin creative work so you can make the best use of your time.
Try any or all of these techniques and discover which ones work best for you. And if after a while, you find your productivity decreasing, try some different techniques. Sometimes we have to be just as creative about how we get our work done as we do when making the work itself.
DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION
My Alien novel for Titan Books, Alien: Prototype, will be out in October 26th – just in time for Halloween! But why wait? It’s available for preorder now.
They Kill, my latest horror novel for Flame Tree Press, was released in July, and it’s been garnering some fantastic reviews! Here’s a taste:
“They Kill is horror in all its dark, squishy, over-the-top glory.” – Bookshine
“They Kill is a cornucopia of original horror ideas and visceral graphic images and it hardly gives the reader any time to breathe, before the story comes together in an unexpected climax.” – Devoted to Thrills
“Waggoner displays a talent for surreal body horror that reminded me of the work of film director David Cronenberg. He also fills every page with an energy that is infectious. It’s like he’s made a great amusement park ride and you’re on it with him.” – SciFi and Scary
“This is gory, unsettling and definitely strange and I loved every minute. It’s what a horror story should be and has reignited my love for the genre. Brilliant.” – The Bookwormery
“They Kill plunges readers deep into the heart of pulse pounding supernatural horror with a story that could only come from the mind of Tim Waggoner.” – This is Horror
Audio: Available soon.