Posts

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Writing on Days When You Feel Drained

If you feel drained of ideas and motivation, that could be a sign that you need to take a writing break and let yourself entirely off the hook. Spend the day reading a book, catching up on TV, or actually, you know, interacting with people. I find that having conversations with other writers and creators is often the best way to find inspiration again.

But let’s assume for a moment that you can’t take a break and you have to write no matter what (ahem, like when you’re in the middle of NaNoWriMo). What do you do on those days when you have to force yourself to write?

Maintaining a Streak

If you’re writing to maintain a streak and it doesn’t matter what you write, so long as you write, it may be a day to shelve the current work in progress and try something new.

Shift over to your ideas notebook, grab a random prompt from the internet (there are a jillion, so if you don’t have a favorite site bookmarked, Google “creative writing prompts” or “writing prompt generator”), or ask your friends if there’s a story they’d like to be told. I’ve written some fun one-offs about my original characters inspired by things my friends prompted me or scenes they wish they’d read.

If you’re still struggling to get any words on the page, or are generally finding yourself uninspired, it’s time for some free writing. This free writing could eventually evolve into a blog post or story, but it might just be an activity to get you writing again.

Start with a question about what’s bugging you. This could be anything from, “Why am I so tired today?” to “How am I so uninspired?” Once you have that question nailed down, twist it into a question you can analyze and/or give advice about. “Why am I so tired today?” might become “How can you write when you’re tired?” or “What’s the greatest obstacle between a writer and a nap?” or “Why is sleep so important to the creative process?” Once you have a question, and one that is built on a topic that’s currently bugging you, you have something to write about. And turning it into a question that you can either analyze or give advice about lets you turn free writing about your problems into a positive exercise. Too often free writing about problems can turn into negative thoughts and self-immolation, but turning it into a question to be answered lets you think about the same topic in a completely different way and hopefully can inspire you to help yourself!

Writing to a Deadline

If you’re writing for a deadline and you must work on a specific piece, the real problem is that you have to find inspiration in a specific work, so jumping to other pieces isn’t always an option.

But it’s still where I would start.

When feeling totally uninspired on one story, I start by writing on something else. If you have another project in progress, spending some time on that might reinvigorate your motivation for the deadline project. If no other project is available, you can take any of the suggestions above and apply them here—prompts, free writing with a question, etc.

No matter what you’re writing, set a timer to limit how much time you spend working on other activities or projects. I recommend 10–15 minutes for warm-up writing before trying to get back to the project you’re supposed to be working on.

Or, instead of writing something different, you can use prompts that allow you to work with the same characters or the same world, essentially approaching your deadline project from the side instead of head-on. Try posing what-if situations for your characters, alternate scenes/endings, or writing something from the perspective of someone else in your world.

You can use a similar strategy as the suggested free writing activity by answering a question related to the thing you’re stuck on—”How can my character get out of this situation?” or “Who should my character partner with for this mission?” or “How does the world’s society/laws limit my character?” Using the free writing format as an opportunity to organize your thoughts can help you work through the problem in a different way than just thinking about it. (This is why so often solutions might come when we’re talking to someone else, rather than when we’re just thinking to ourselves. Different ways of communication allow us to organize our thoughts differently, so if you don’t have a friend on hand, have a conversation with a blank page!)

If you absolutely must be working on your deadline-driven project and don’t have time for warm-up activities, try reading the last 1-2 pages you’ve written and allow yourself to revise and edit them. One of the best ways for me to get back into a story is by working to flesh out the last thing I wrote. If the last thing I wrote is literally what stumped me—and I had difficulty figuring out where the story goes next—I rewrite from where the story started to derail. Sometimes I might keep all the action and description, but change the dialogue. Sometimes I might move the setting. Sometimes I might scrap the entire idea, or even shift who is in the scene and take the whole thing in a completely different direction! It may not feel like you’re getting anywhere (especially if you end up trashing that version and starting again), but what you’re doing is eliminating the ideas that aren’t working and helping find the idea that does work.

 

No matter what’s going on with you creatively, there are ways to dig deep on those days when you’re feeling drained. And the more often you practice digging deep, the easier it can get. I still sometimes hit days when I’m totally worn out and need a break, and on those days I write my minimum word count using one of the strategies above and call it a day. But because I’ve put in so much effort, it’s easy for me to use one of those strategies and see success. So even if it’s hard now, know that putting in the hard work will help train you as a writer and eventually you’ll be able to sail past those inspiration-less days with no trouble.

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1,000

Tomorrow is my 1,000th consecutive day of writing!

On one hand it is a holy-cannoli moment. Ten years ago, I never would have dreamed of having this kind of regularity in my writing life. Even before I was depressed, I wrote in fits and spurts and when I felt like it, sneaking in a writing life in between work hours, chores, family functions, and everything else. I could commit during NaNoWriMo, or when I had a deadline, but I was wholly unconcerned about when I would write next or what I was building toward. My writing life was an amorphous thing and even though I had goals (get published!) I had no plan. I was basically an underpants gnome where my plan was:

Phase 1: Write

Phase 2: ????

Phase 3: PUBLISH!

I had this idea that I’d like to write every day, but I didn’t understand what it would do for me and I didn’t have the follow-through to make it happen. When I realized I had written every day the first week of 2016, it was a surprise. I haphazardly decided to keep going, but that cavalier decision hardened into resolve and I slowly figured out how to juggle writing and all my other responsibilities. I learned that I had to prioritize writing to make my writing life happen. I learned that I had to tell friends and family things like, “this has been fun, but I have to go write,” even though I felt silly and trivial doing so the first few times. I learned that writing was as important as my job (because I wanted it to be my job), so I had to value it.

All of those little lessons and small goals helped me to get to the other hand of how I feel about this landmark.

On this other hand, this non-holy-cannoli-moment hand, writing 1,000 days seems inevitable. It’s still an achievement, don’t get me wrong, but I see no reason why I won’t write for 1,000 more days. Daily writing is such a part of my life now that I no longer question how I will shuffle my day to include writing. And that’s the real power that comes from building a writing habit. I have confidence that I will write today and from that confidence stems other confidence:

That this won’t be my last great idea.

That I can figure out how to write this scene.

That I can find the right word.

That I can do this.

While I’m proud of having written 1,000 days in a row, I’m most proud of cultivating confidence in my writing life and developing the kind of consistency that makes me certain that, if I want to, I’ll be celebrating 2,000 days of writing in 2021.

 

If you’d like to know more about building a daily writing habit, I’ve written previously on why you should write every day and writing while sick. I’ve also written about apps that can make it easier to build a writing habit. If you’re thinking about or trying to build a writing habit, I’d love to hear how it’s going for you.

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(Not) Writing With Depression

Today I’m a daily writer. Even on sick days or very busy days I make sure to write at least 150 words. This is my third year of this schedule and it’s still working for me. There are days when it’s tough, and days when I write my 150 words and then erase them. There are days when I write in 10-minute bursts throughout the day or have to force myself to sit down and spend time writing something. But every day I write is a day when I don’t forget how to write.

That wasn’t the case for me in 2012.

In September of 2012 I started treatment for situational depression. Over the previous year I had lost the ability to feel emotions, to care for myself, and to pay attention to conversations, but the loss that hurt the most was related to writing.

I tried many times during 2012 and 2013 to sit down and write. Every time was an exercise in self-hate and improving my ability to berate myself. I went from writing 150,000 words in 2011 to 60,000 words in 2012 to 15,000 words in 2013. It was a clear—trackable—symptom of my depression, and one of the most frustrating ones.

Before I was depressed, writing was easy and I took it for granted. I would listen to a song, read an article, have a silly conversation with a friend, and—BAM—there I went, fingers flying across the keyboard, 2,000 words plopped out in an hour or so. There were days when I would write 5,000 or 6,000 words. Words were easy and plentiful. I didn’t understand how someone could be completely blocked. Writer’s block was an easy obstacle for me to overcome. If one idea was giving me trouble, I’d jump to another. Being unable to write? When I wanted to? Not me.

While I was depressed, even if I decided to come to the writing watering hole, I could not get my horse to drink. The times I tried to write, I would sit and stare at a blank page. I might ask a friend for a prompt, mull it over, struggle over 200 words, and then delete all of them. Between January 2013 and October 2013 I wrote on a total of 9 days. In November and December, after I’d decided to apply to an MFA program and was starting to feel better, I kicked into “high-gear” and wrote 10 days out of those two months. I wrote 19 days total in 2013 and now in 2018 I’m currently on a run of having written 942 consecutive days. That’s—obviously—a huge change.

Writing was not something that automatically came back after I started feeling better. I struggled in 2014, even after I started UCF’s MFA program. (Let me tell you, starting a writing intensive program while you’re still recovering from depression? Not recommended.) This time when I forced myself to write, I had a different attitude about it. I shut down the negative thinking and pushed forward, continuing to plunk down words. It wasn’t the best writing—oh boy, adverbs ahoy and the longest dialogue tags you ever did see—but it was writing. And it got easier the more I pushed myself to practice and the more I forced myself to keep what I wrote.

Part of the reason I applied for the MFA program was because I knew it would provide structure that would force me to write. With grades as a motivator, I knew I could propel myself to get past the hump and write something because I couldn’t turn in a blank page. I feared all my writing might be crap. I feared the depression might have stripped away whatever talent I may have started with. I feared I was forever changed. But I knew that an MFA program was going to force me to confront those things and either figure out how to write again or discover I was done.

In the Spring semester, the start of 2015, I felt something come alive again. I revisited some crazy prompts I’d seen in the last year. I wrote about sentient robots in an alternate history World War II and about a house that possesses a girl. I wrote short assignments that explored my divorce and reconnected with characters created pre-depression. I started working on my novel in earnest. By the end of 2015, I had written 83,000 words and I was invested in my stories again.

Do I still love what I wrote then? Not really. But it gave me a foundation for stories and, most importantly, for my confidence. In 2016 when I realized I had written every day the first week of the year, it was an easy decision to continue writing every day until the end of the month, and then the next month, and the next. I made daily writing part of my routine, and that routine has helped me get through grief-related depression and anxiety. Since 2016 I’ve written over a half million words. I’ve come a long way.

In my experience, there was no writing with depression, not really. There was writing while fighting to not be depressed. There was writing for recovery, writing to unload negative feelings and trying to find something positive. There was struggling to write and hating myself and trying not to hate myself. There were moments when I was me again and when I could find joy and when it felt like I might be out of the woods. There was writing after depression.

Writing after depression hasn’t been all happily ever after. There are still days when writing is a struggle, when depression rears its ugly head, when life doles out extra helpings of anxiety and grief. On those days I set a timer for 10 minutes and I peck out 100 words. Then I set another timer and peck out 100 more. I check in with myself and ask, “Are you done? Do you have anything else in you?” Most days I do. Most days I can hit 500 words, but some days I can’t and I have learned to say, “That’s okay. This is enough.”

2018 Goal Progress #2

It’s been a few months, so I thought it was time to check in on my Writing Goals for 2018. If you haven’t checked in with your own goals for the year, I recommend doing so soon. Mid-year is a great time to see how you’re doing and to make adjustments so you can still finish the year with success.

 

Day Count: 365 days

169/365

On track!

 

Total Word Count: 185,000 words

83,215/185,000

I’m currently at forty-five percent of my goal. With the planned 50K for National Novel Writing Month in November, I’m right on schedule.

Since my last goal progress post in February, my focus has shifted from drafting blog posts to drafting fiction, which is another benefit of reducing my blog schedule.

 

Daily Word Count: 150+ words

169/365

Writing at least 150 words every day hasn’t been difficult, but writing at least 400 words a day (my next tier in this goal) has been more of a challenge. I’ve missed 13 days, usually on days when I haven’t felt well, but it goes to show that I’ll push myself for minimums while letting stretch goals fester.

 

Write 1K+ Words: 40 days

6/40

I’ve made some recent progress on this goal, so even though that’s a low number, I’m feeling good about it. I need about 15 days before November to hit this goal, and with a recent shift in my schedule, I think I’ll be able to get it.

 

Draft a Novel

First drafts are always the most difficult step for me in writing a novel. I like revising so much that I usually start revising before I’ve written the ending. I’m still having some difficulty with forward progression, but I’ve got most of the scenes drafted through chapter 5, with a scattering of scenes in 11 other chapters. At the end of the summer I’m going to reassess my plans for when I think I’ll complete the first draft.

 

Revise/Write a Short Story

I put the short story I was working on in February on hold and have a nearly completed first draft of a different story! I’m excited about this, mostly because it’s a first draft under 2,500 words, which is unheard of for me. I’ll continue working on this story over the summer.

 

Read: 35 Books

23/35

Despite expecting my reading rate to drop off during the year, it’s actually stayed at a brisk pace. The 40-book stretch goal has superseded my original goal, and I may—for the first time since I was about ten years old and tearing my way through Baby-Sitters Club—be looking at reading 50 books in a year. This is an unexpected and very welcome adjustment to make to my goals! I think I have to credit audiobooks for keeping me on such a fast pace.

 

My goal progress overall is looking good. How are your 2018 goals progressing?

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Writing Sick Days

With my goal to be an every day writer, I can’t really take a sick day. But I also can’t expect a normal writing day while I have a sore throat, runny nose, and major exhaustion. When I’m sick, here’s how I make the adjustments to take care of myself and still be productive:

 

Put aside non-writing activities.

To make sure I have the energy to write, I take a sick day from all non-writing activities. That means I step away from the blog, editing, responding to emails, and anything else that is part of my “work” stack. Doing this lets me focus my time on self-care and on writing, which will not only help keep my writing streak, but hopefully let me get better faster.

 

Rest up, then write.

The moment I’m out of bed and feeling up to sitting at the computer, I go for it! That might be my only writing session for the day, but if I’m prepared for it, 10 minutes will be all that I need.

 

Lower the bar.

Normally my daily writing includes working on my current projects, but on a sick day I’ll let myself chase a stray thought or write something I might not complete.

My daily goal includes writing 400 words per day, but this is where my minimum goal of 150 words per day kicks in. When I’m not feeling well, I’m perfectly fine to stop writing after hitting 150 words. That’s the whole reason I have a minimum goal, so that when I’m really, really not feeling up to it, I have a low bar to clear while still making the effort to write every day.

 

Pick at it.

Sometimes I can’t do the 10-minute stretch, or the 10 minutes weren’t very productive, so instead of working in my usual method, I pick at writing. That may mean writing a few sentences on several different things, or writing one or two sentences at a time on something in progress. I keep the pace slow for my medicine-logged brain and go where my attention seems to prosper.

 

It’s tough to stay productive when I’m not feeling well, but usually my stubbornness is enough to get me to the page and keep me writing. Even though I might crawl back into bed and collapse into a pillow for a long nap, getting something written makes me feel better—at least emotionally.

What do you do to help yourself keep motivated when you’re not feeling well? Do you plan sick days into your schedule, do you let yourself off the hook, or do you push yourself to keep working?

2018 Goal Progress

Since I wrote last week about making adjustments to yearly goals, I wanted to check in on my progress and take stock of how some of these challenges are going (and see if I can convince myself to focus more explicitly on a few of them). So here is my current progress on my Writing Goals for 2018.


Day Count: 365 days

57/365

No days missed and I’m on track for writing 365 days in 2018.

 

Total Word Count: 185,000 words

27,203/185,000

I’m currently at 27,203 words, which is fifteen percent of my goal. Technically I’m a hair behind the daily average to reach this goal, but since I’m already planning a 50K month for November, it’s perfectly fine to be a little behind pace the rest of the year.

I’ve spent most of my writing time drafting blog posts, but my fiction word counts are starting to rise as I get back to work on my second novel.

 

Daily Word Count: 150+ words

57/365

No misses so far on writing at least 150 words every day. I’m actually doing fairly well on the next tier, which is 400 words every day. I’ve only missed 4 days so far! The slow and steady method of small regular word counts continues to be the most successful way for me to keep a writing habit and stay in practice when starting bigger projects.

 

Write 1K+ Words: 40 days

1/40

As I said in my goal setting, I expect to get most of my 1K-word days during NaNoWriMo, but with only one under my belt I feel a little behind. That should change soon, though, because I’m going to be getting back to drafting a novel, and even with a slow and steady pace, I know some scenes will hook me in and I’ll look up 1,500 words later.

 

Draft a Novel

I’ve made some progress toward this goal, picking up what’s already written and beginning the process of sorting out what to keep, what’s missing, and what needs to be reimagined. I’m a little behind the schedule I originally planned, so I’m readjusting my expectations to finish this pass by mid-March and then begin drafting again.

 

Revise/Write a Short Story

Similar to the novel draft, I’ve done a little bit of work on a short story. While I wanted to write it in order, the end was one of the first scenes that came to me, so I finally decided to draft a version of it so maybe I can concentrate on the rest of the story.

 

Read: 35 Books

8/35

I worked through four books in each month and I’m currently deep into one other book and starting three more. That progress tells me I might have underestimated this goal, but I will concede that two of those eight books were graphic novels (therefore, short) and two of the books I started in December 2017, so I expect this finishing speed to drop off throughout the year. Even so, I think by mid-year I’ll be looking ahead to my stretch goal of reading 40 books.

 

It’s nice to be able to report that I’m on target or ahead for most of my goals. How are your 2018 goals progressing?

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Writing Goals for 2018

It’s easy to not write. I used to write when I felt like it, or when I had a burning project or a deadline, but not with any consistency. Even when I started making word count goals for the year, I still subscribed to writing when I “could.” I’m much more aggressive about my writing these days, and part of that comes from making more specific writing goals and nudging those goals each year to encourage myself toward the kind of writing life I want to have. For me that writing life is summed up in two statements:

  • Be a daily writer.
  • Have more days writing 1K+ words.

As such, these are my writing goals for 2018.

 

Day Count: 365 days
I’ve written every day for the last two years, so this is about continuing my streak. At first writing every day was difficult, but now it’s part of the routine and (almost) no problem.

Total Word Count: 185,000 words
Last year my goal was 200,000 words and I exceeded that goal by 34,000 words. I’m keeping my 2018 goal under my past achievements because experience has shown me that keeping ahead of my goal and exceeding it is more motivating than trying to catch up. I’m also anticipating some shifting workloads later in the year, so I’d like to keep the goal realistic and achievable.
Stretch Goal: 225,000 words

Daily Word Count: 150+ words
150 words per day won’t get me to 185K, but with events like NaNoWriMo and knowing that occasionally I’ll get sucked into a project, 150 words as a minimum is a good goal for the rough/long/exhausting/under-the-weather days. In 2017 I wrote at least 100 words every day, so adding 50 words to the minimum will only help me reach the 185K faster!

Write 1K+ Words: 40 days
This wasn’t an official goal last year, but I did keep track of how many days I wrote 1,000 or more words. In 2017 I wrote 1K+ words on 37 days, so in a year when I’m going to be more mindful of that goal, I feel like 40 days is a good starting goal. I fully expect the majority of the 1K+ days to come from NaNoWriMo, but that still leaves me with some days I need to clear during other months of the year.
Stretch Goal: 55 days

Draft a Novel
I’ve worked the last two NaNoWriMos on the same novel, so I need to keep up the momentum to finish that first draft. (And then, start revisions!)

Revise/Write a Short Story
I have three short stories in varying stages of completion, and I’d like to move at least one to the next stage by the end of the year. I think the one I most want to work on is the new draft, partly because I want to figure out if it’s actually a short story or a novel. (My shorts have a tendency to become longs.)

Read: 35 Books
Reading is part of writing! In 2017 my goal was to read 30 books, and with the introduction of audiobooks to my life I ended up reading 38 books. I’m kicking my goal up to 35 books, because even though I’m expecting to continue sucking down audiobooks like they’re water, I’m planning to take more editing jobs in 2018.
Stretch Goal: 40 books

 

When it’s all spelled out like that it can seem like a lot, but given how many of these goals are already in-progress in some way, I feel confident that I can achieve all of them.

What writing goals do you have for 2018? Do you have any with metrics, like my word count goals, or more general ones, like my goal to finish a draft of a novel?

NaNoWriMo 2017 Wrap-Up

Words Written: 50,926

Chapters Written: ?????

Write-Ins Attended: 9

Date Finished: Nov 29

Days Written: 30

Hours Written: ~28

 

Ultimately this NaNoWriMo was a success for me. 50,926 words marks the most words I have written during a NaNo (and therefore the most words I have ever written in a month), and this is the first year I’ve ever finished early. Hurray for new landmarks and successes!

The first draft of my new novel is still unfinished and what I have is sort of a mess, but I feel pretty good about the mess. I learned a lot about the story during the month, accidentally created a few new characters and a new subplot, and figured out how to condense some of the story beats. I like some of what I’ve written (even though I have plenty of first draft clichés and placeholders), and I’m feeling better about this whole idea than I did at the beginning of the month (or even in the middle of the month).

I built myself back up to banging out a thousand words (or more) in a half hour, slapped away writer’s block, and kept myself going even when I really wanted to push the story aside. As cool as it is to have finished a day early or to have written the most I’ve ever written, it’s these in-the-trench successes that really have me smiling. The mechanical aspect of writing, the unstoppable Terminator aspect of NaNo, is part of what I love the most about participating in NaNo. Even though I write every day, I don’t write 1,000 words every day. NaNoWriMo is a challenge to push myself beyond my normal routines and write that 1,667 words a day (or 2,000 words when I fell behind). It’s a yearly reminder that I still have room to grow and that I can achieve the seemingly impossible.

I still have a lot of work ahead of me on this novel, but, thanks to NaNoWriMo, I’m feeling better about that work and I’ve got a decent start.

Productivity Apps

I’m on a constant mission to find tricks to improve my productivity. The number of productivity apps out there is staggering, and after a long time of searching and testing, I found three apps that helped me move from writing every now and then to writing every day, and even helped me finish and revise my first novel.

Rescue Time

Rescue Time downloads to your computer and tracks how you spend your computer time, including logging which websites you visit and how much time you spend on them (for one browser, for all others it just tells which application you were using).

It takes all of this information and aggregates a productivity score, as well as the number of hours you spent doing different categorized activities.

Below is a snapshot from this last month. I hovered over “Design & Composition” so you can see my top activities under Design & Composition were Scrivener, NaNoWriMo.org and Google Documents.

You can use Rescue Time with its default settings, or customize websites and activities for what you would call “productive” or “distracting.” You can also add or edit categories to fit your tasks. For example, while I was in the MFA Program, I added an “MFA” distinction under “Reference & Learning,” so I could get productive credit for things like working on online classes.

Use: After you get it set up, it tracks your productivity passively. You may need to tweak it as you use it, but even the default settings are pretty good for starting to get a grip on your life. Use it to find out where you’ve been spending your time so you can make better choices about how you spend your time.

Ease: I’ll be honest, it took me awhile to really get the hang of Rescue Time to tweak it to my “productive” tasks and then understand the data. The passive tracking makes it easy to collect data, and then I could analyze it at my own pace.

Benefit: Rescue Time emails a weekly summary of activity. Seeing “Design & Composition” as my top activity lets me know when I’m putting my writing first. Rescue Time also helped point out what was most distracting for me and helped me take steps to avoid and mitigate those distractions.

Paid: There is a paid option to Rescue Time that gives you more bang. It has a built-in block out timer, alerts, offline tracking, and—this is the one I like the best—it can track which document you’re working in, not just that you’re in MS Word.

Productivity Challenge Timer

Sometimes the best way to be productive is to set aside productive time. Productivity Challenge Timer is a phone app that allows you to set a timer and get to work! The timer can be for as few as 10 minutes or as many as 120 minutes (you can also add 5 minutes if you need to keep working).

Finishing work sessions earns ranks and achievements, so there’s a little gamification involved with the Challenge Timer, if that’s your thing. Be warned: if you don’t work you’ll lose ranks (I have lost so many). If losing ranks stresses you out, that’s a feature you can turn off.

In the free version you can set up 4 projects and then track the amount of time you spend doing each thing. I set mine to track Writing, Reading, Editing, and Business.

Use: Being able to decide how long I’ll work each time makes this app extremely useful. It also helped me learn that working for 10 minutes is better than not working at all. (And that several 10-minute sessions start to add up!) Use it to help you focus on the activity you’re working on at the moment. The timer means focus!

Ease: Getting started is easy, just create a project and hit the button to start. The stats took a little time to understand, but they can easily be ignored until you’re ready to tackle them.

Benefit: Productivity Challenge Timer is good for focusing when you want to work and rewarding yourself with a break. It’s easier to focus if you know a break is coming up, or if you know you only have 2 more minutes, etc.

If you like stats, this also can help you determine when your most productive hours are. The app tracks when you work along with how long you work, so you can discover, for example, that you work more often in the evening. For some of you that might be obvious, but you’ll now have the evidence to show your family and friends when they try to encroach on your writing time. 😉

Paid: There is a paid option for Productivity Challenge Timer that gives you an “unlimited” number of Projects (99), access to Continuous Work Mode, and some additional achievements.

Habit Hub

Habit Hub is a habit tracker that works off the same strategy as “Don’t Break the Chain.” Each day you perform the task is another day in your streak. You can set a target for a streak and Habit Hub will track you each day.

Not only do you determine the habits you want to track, you can also decide how often you want to perform the habit. For example, you can set Habit Hub to track you for Monday through Friday or Tuesdays and Thursdays or any other combination of days. You can also choose to perform the habit on a set number of days per week (instead of on specific days).

Best yet, Habit Hub allows you to set reminders. Mine reminds me at 1:30pm every day to write. The app also sends a reminder at the end of the day (9:00pm for me) to remind me to check in for all of my habits. Having these two automated reminders is a surefire way to get my butt in the chair for writing at least once per day.

Use: Use Habit Hub as a reminder to build habits and as motivation to continue the plan you make for yourself.

Ease: Clicking one button to log your completed habit is as easy as it gets (we’ll gloss over logging that you didn’t complete a habit). In addition to logging in that you accomplished your goal, you can decide if you need to skip it for the day. Skipping is a great feature because it allows you to say that you had extenuating circumstances that prevented you from performing the task, but it doesn’t break the chain.

Benefit: In addition to tracking the number of days you have in a streak, Habit Hub creates graphs to show your “Habit Strength” (the percentage of times you’ve completed the habit), your progress, your ratio of completed habits, and it even helps you see on which days of the week you’ve completed the task most often. Being able to see these things can help you determine patterns such as, “I never write on Sundays,” and then you can adjust your expectations to allow for a writing break every Sunday. It’s not always about working harder, it’s about working smarter.

     

Paid: The paid version allows you to track unlimited habits (the free version only tracks 5), and you can add rewards and have more specific tracking (such as a habit you complete x-number of times a day). You can also have additional targets, setting yourself up for streaks of 10 days, 30 days, 60 days, 100 days, so that you can build up to a full 365-day streak! (The free version gives you 3 targets, which you can edit and delete if you need to make additional targets.)

Habit Hub is the only app I’m recommending that is currently Android only. You can find similar habit trackers in the Apple App Store. Search for “habit tracker” or “don’t break the chain.”

Using These Apps In Conjunction

Here’s how I used these apps to deliver a shot of productivity to my writing life.

Rescue Time helped me identify which websites and tasks were my time suckers. Rescue Time also made me accountable to how I used my time because it was logging everything I was doing (and judging me). That knowledge encouraged me to work more and play less.

Once I added Habit Hub, I had a daily reminder to write. Even if I was too busy to respond to the 1:30pm reminder, the 9:00pm reminder usually got me to the computer. On a few occasions I had been too busy during the day, but would check my phone before bed, and there it was, a reminder that I hadn’t written. At this point your reminder has to marry your stubbornness. Do you let yourself off the hook because you’re tired? Or do you haul yourself to the computer, blink at the glowing screen, and write something?

Personally, I hauled myself to the computer, aimed for 50–100 words and then clicked to say I wrote for the day. Because putting in 50 words is something.

Productivity Challenge Timer was the last app I added. Even with Rescue Time judging me, I still had a habit of drifting off during the middle of a “writing session” to check Tumblr or Twitter, or window shop on Etsy. After all, Rescue Time would keep track of how much I was actually writing, so it didn’t matter if I broke my stride.

Nope! Productivity Challenge Timer was the perfect bum glue. Once I set the timer for 15 minutes of Writing that meant I couldn’t do any activity that wasn’t related to Writing. I found my focus was strongest for 15- or 20-minute work sessions, but I usually needed at least a short break at 20 minutes. The gamification of Productivity Challenge Timer also helped encourage me to plan more writing sessions, and thus write more words.

Obviously you may have different results, and you may find a different combination of productivity tools more useful. The important thing is to find something that works for you. Don’t be afraid of trying a new app and experimenting to find out what works best for you.

One-Size-Fits-All

Have you ever searched for that one piece of writing advice that will magically make writing easier and your stories better? Have you ever thought that you found it, only to discover that it doesn’t work for your best friend? Or has your friend given you a piece of “magic” writing advice that doesn’t work for you? That is the road of writing advice. Writing advice isn’t one-size-fits-all because the creative process is varied and subjective. Heck, writing advice isn’t even one-size-fits-a-single-career. The writer you are today may not be the writer you were yesterday or the writer you’ll be tomorrow, and the process that worked for you then may not work for you now.

Just six years ago I was living a lifestyle that would not support writing every day. I had more responsibilities and a demanding job with a schedule that had less flexibility. Now I’m self-employed, which means I have more control of my schedule, and it’s easier for me to plan time to write every day, even on busy days.

Just six years ago I wrote in binge spurts, up to 4,000 words in a day. But I only wrote 158 days out of 365. This year I’ve only had a handful of days where I passed 1,000 words.

Just six years ago I wrote short stories, rather than novels. Those binge sessions of writing frequently corresponded to writing a first draft of a short story. A first draft of a chapter usually isn’t longer than 2,000 words for me, which means binge sessions are shorter.

It’s clear the writer I was six years ago is not the same writer I am now, which means the writing advice and processes I followed then may not be effective for me any more. Redefining myself as a writer from 2011 to 2017 has taken some work. Some of it is organic, like discovering that I could write daily with a little motivation and consistency. Some of it is decisive, like focusing on novels rather than short stories. And the rest of it has required experimenting because I’ve had to hunt for new processes and advice that works for this new writer that I’ve become.

Which is where all that disparate, subjective, one-size-will-never-fit-all writing advice comes in. Writing advice isn’t and shouldn’t be thought of as a one-size-fits-all magic solution. Writing advice is an opportunity to try something new and see if it works for you (or if it works for you now). Trial and error is the queen among writers—that’s actually what the drafting and revision process is about. So consuming as much writing advice as you can, trying what sounds interesting, and throwing away what doesn’t work is the way writing advice works best. The only writing advice that is truly one-size-fits-all is to try everything, and then in five years, try it again. Writing is about reinvention and no one is reinvented as often as a writer.