"Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world's best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She does her best to take her own productivity-related advice."
How To Maintain Writing Productivity Through Tough Times
I don’t need to tell you we’re living through tough times — and have been for a while. Many of us have spent the past year at home, dealing with more distractions than ever. Whether it’s kids clamoring for attention, noisy neighbors, or just the siren call of the couch, there’s constantly something trying to pull our focus from work. And that’s before you even begin to consider all the unprecedented external stresses of our soon-to-be post-pandemic world.
To compound the issue, we’ll often beat ourselves up even more during tough periods for not achieving enough. The space between expectation and reality can lead to a whole lot of unhelpful guilt, which in turn stifles creativity even more.
One upside of this predicament, however, is that we can practice mechanisms and skills to overcome these feelings — skills that we can employ for the rest of our writing careers. I’m here to help, with 7 tried-and-tested tips for maintaining writing productivity during difficult times. I hope these will get your pen scratching and your keyboard clicking!
The writing you do doesn’t have to be directly related to your main project(s), or something that’ll ever see the light of day. But establishing a daily writing habit (think: quick creative exercises, writing to a prompt, or morning pages) will flex that writing muscle in a low-pressure way, and can spark ideas if you’re struggling for inspiration. As Leanne puts it, “the key is not writing fast, but to keep writing” — and a daily writing habit, however brief, will keep the thread going even when times are tough.
Creating a concrete plan that sets out a) what you want to achieve and b) how you plan to get there can help provide the intrinsic motivation you need to keep going when you’re facing resistance.
Say you want to publish a book within the next year: by setting that goal in writing, and by breaking down your abstract ambition into a timeline of realistic steps, you’re providing yourself both with something exciting to work towards and giving yourself a bit of that all-important structure we tend to lack in difficult times.
If your discipline is wavering (and who can blame you?), consider finding other ways to stay accountable. Leanne swears by this method for overcoming writer’s block: make yourself accountable to another person, or people. This might mean messaging a writing buddy a couple times a week about your progress, working in silence with a friend on Zoom (my preferred method), or joining message boards or Facebook groups for writers to talk through your worries.
You’re not alone, and building yourself a community of supportive individuals will not only give you the extrinsic motivation of meeting someone else’s expectations, but will also expose you to new methods of working. Plus, sometimes all it takes to relieve anxiety and get your creativity flowing again is to hear that someone else is in the same boat.
It’s not realistic to expect yourself to never procrastinate; the human brain can’t stay on task 24/7, especially if you’re feeling stressed or unmotivated. Anyone who claims they can is either lying or a robot. However, rather than writing off your procrastination as a complete waste of time, consider pivoting to make “procrastination time” part of your workflow.
It’s often said that a change is as good as a break, and that principle can apply to procrastination, too! If you feel your concentration waning, rather than doom-scrolling on social media, use that time to “procrastinate” with a different type of work. Authors these days have to wear many hats, and there are plenty of non-writing tasks you can occupy yourself with. Getting ahead on a practical task like promoting your next book is still satisfyingly productive, while being different enough that you can return to writing with a refreshed and reset mind.
Bonus tip: if you don’t want to write or work, you can also read! Anything related to your current project, like a book in the same genre, can subconsciously help your creative process and will also provide some much-needed escape.
Unfortunately, we can’t pack up and head on a solo writing retreat as often as we’d like. What we can do, however, is create a mini-retreat for ourselves within our own homes. By setting up clear rules to others on when you should and shouldn’t be disturbed, you’re not only minimizing interruptions, but also making a promise to yourself that this is your productive time, and you’d better use it wisely.
Life happens, and chances are you won’t always be able to maintain a serene environment of monastic silence, 100% free from intrusions — especially not if you have kids, or a particularly needy dog. But sitting down at your desk, putting your phone on Do Not Disturb, and asking the people you live with to respect your designated writing time is a good start. Plus it’ll go a long way to distracting you from any real-world troubles, if only for an afternoon.
True, there’s only so much of this you can do in lockdown, but even moving from one room to another can be a handy reset when productivity is stalling. I usually write at my desk in my bedroom, but when I find myself struggling to concentrate (read: staring out of my bedroom window aimlessly), I’ll move downstairs and work at my kitchen counter for a couple of hours. It helps jolt my mind by changing up the familiar environment — plus it puts me within reaching distance of coffee, so it’s a win-win.
Despite what hustle culture tells us, you don’t need to be productive all the time. Firstly, you’re a real person with lots happening in your life, so cut yourself some slack. Secondly, overworking will only serve to make you less productive in the long run. Writing can be tiring, and you need to take breaks to produce your best work.
Check in with yourself once in a while, to spot when you need to take a break before you reach total burnout. You don’t have to take every opportunity that comes your way if it comes at the cost of your mental and physical health. Sometimes, the key to productivity is to spend a little while not being productive.
Productivity isn’t about working every hour of the day, but about working efficiently. By implementing the tips discussed here, and knowing when it’s time to step away from work for a bit, you can establish the healthy habits required to reach your writing goals — even through the toughest of times.