The INDIE FILES: Productivity That Fits You

by Marie Andreas

New year, new you, new stories!

And, as always, new ways to increase your productivity. Every January, writers look at ways to increase their output. Whether you’re a casual writer or one making a living at it—we always want to be more effective with what writing time we have.

But how to go about it? There are probably 100 ways to make changes for every 50 writers. Some work, some not so much. Before looking at crunching out more words than in 2023 (or whatever your goal is), first look at who you are as a writer.

  1. Are you a plotter or a pantser? If in-between, what is your process?
  2. How far ahead do you plan your projects? Weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually? All of the above?
  3. What are your goals for 2024 for your writing?
  4. Do you write best in the morning or at night?
  5. How many words can you write on average in an hour?
  6. How many hours do you have in a week?

People who plot will need more time at the start of a project for planning and outlining. The pantsers will most likely dive right in but will need more clean-up time either along the way or after (depending on preference). For each way, be aware of your own editing time, plus what time you’ll need to go over feedback from others.

Planning your projects for the year can help you stay the course and keep you motivated as the rush of January winds down. But to look at what you want to do, and help it become part of what you did do, you need to be realistic and make an Estimated Word Count (EWC). This involves a calendar and pragmatic expectations of your time and your obligations.

You can figure this EWC out weekly. From seven days, first cross off any days when you absolutely can’t get writing done. In my case, I take two days off a week and usually try to keep them. So, that leaves me five days—if I have nothing else going on.

On the days you have some time for writing, how many hours do you really have?  Don’t try to squish time into places that won’t work in the long run. This is a marathon, not a sprint. If you have family or other social obligations, exclude appropriate time from your calculations, along with vacations, holidays, conferences, or anything that would make writing during that time impossible. And more things may come up. Go through the week, then the month, and even the quarter, and year if you want. (Going month by month might be easiest.)

Example: Jane has a full-time job, but she can get in an hour and a half of writing in the morning by getting up earlier than normal. She can also get in maybe a half hour in the evening, but she’s not a nighttime writer, so she might not count on that. She has Saturdays free, and can usually get six full hours of writing in. Just counting the morning-before-work time (7.5 hours) and her Saturdays (6 hours) she has 13.5 hours a week of writing/plotting/editing time. To make things simple, let’s say she’s in mid-project and not plotting or editing this month. It’s February, so she has 54 hours.

This is where knowing what your average hourly writing speed is kicks in. To find it, set an hour timer, and just write at a comfortable speed. Repeat a few times to get an average. There ya go!

Jane can do 1,000 words an hour, so she can probably hit 54,000 words in a month. This isn’t counting those possible evening hours—she fades after dinner and they may or may not happen. Plus, downtime is essential to increasing productivity. Editing and plotting aren’t included.

54,000 words are about 180 pages. Not bad.

What does all this counting and calculating have to do with productivity? One of the destructors of productivity is overestimating what you can actually, reasonably do, and being unclear on the time a project will take. If you know your process and your timing, you can get more done during your writing sessions.

Maintaining a steady pace for a long time is crucial. And for some folks, seeing their word counts increase motivates them.

Productivity isn’t about how fast you can sprint to finish a project—it’s about developing a routine that gets the work done but doesn’t cause burnout. Knowing what you can do, and accounting for weeks when your count may be lower reduces the stress and raises your ultimate efficiency as a writer.

Other important notes for increased productivity:

  1. Keep a comfy place to write. It should be clean, easy to use, and hopefully away from others (or, if you like sound—then near others).
  2. Find a way to break it up. I write with a timer in 25-minute chunks, then look away from my keyboard for a minute (helps the eyes), and do a few stretches. Then, I dive in for another 25 minutes.
  3. Pivot as needed. If your process isn’t working, try another.
  4. Refill your well. This can mean anything that recharges you. Increasing output means needing more input! Read, walk, be with friends and family, and have quiet time—something to keep you centered and ready to march on.
  5. Make sure you do a deep dive into the type of writer YOU are. Time of day, location, sound level, and type of snacks that will keep you moving but not put you to sleep are all important.

Hopefully, these ideas will spark a new way of looking at productivity. Knowing yourself and your own process can help you set healthy and constructive goals to start any new year right.

Marie AndreasMarie is a multi-award-winning fantasy and science fiction author with a serious reading addiction and currently has 25 novels ranging from humorous fantasy to space opera to steampunk.

If she wasn’t writing about all the people in her head, she’d be lurking about coffee shops annoying total strangers with her stories. So really, writing is a way of saving the masses. She lives in Southern California and wanders parks and beaches to recharge.

When not saving the masses from coffee shop shenanigans, Marie likes to visit the UK and keeps hoping someone will give her a nice summer home in the Forest of Dean or Conwy, Wales.