#productivewriter – now what?


Very recently I have been thinking about the experiments in productive writing that we indulged in this summer.  Do I feel more productive, several weeks on?  Has anything changed, or have I gone back to my pre-productive writer habits?  What about you, fellow writers, who may have tried one or more of the #productivewriter techniques that we read about: are you feeling more productive these days?

The promise of Autumn

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The end of summer brings the traditional start of the school year.  I always looked forward to the feeling of new pencils, a clean notebook for class assignments, new subjects to learn and new teachers to learn from.  That heady sense of new unlearned knowledge ahead, before the reality of extra homework, long reading assignments, grades and exams and hurried lecture notes sets in.  It seems this is the perfect time for a check-in on productive writer techniques, and how productive we are feeling as writers.

For myself, I’m pleased to notice that I am having more momentum in my writing than I have in quite a long while.  I am sending out stories for consideration by paying and professional markets in my specialty of writing; while I’ve received several rejections, I have already been garnering a number of personal responses, along the lines of “We like your writing, this story isn’t quite right for us,” which I’ll always take as a compliment!  I’ve also received a few acceptances, which I am grateful for, to know that my work is honored and enjoyed by a professional editor.  Even more recently I received an invitation to rewrite a story that was “very close” to being accepted, which was thrilling (and which I did, of course…).

Not only that, but my work through the blog has made me feel even more connected to other bloggers.  I find writing an isolating process – just you and the screen or the paper and pen.  The kind and thoughtful messages and observations – and encouragement – that are posted in comments on my blog have warmed my heart and have helped me to feel like writing is an important and valued activity.  Thank you!

#productivewriter techniques – are they working?

Sketch by Theresa Barker.

Now, about the #productivewriter techniques – which ones am I still using, and which have fallen by the wayside?  Let’s review.

  • Write every day.  Yes, even if it is only for 15 minutes (or even just for 5 minutes), this helps.
  • Being encouraging to my writing.  Yes.  I still do A-B writer dialogs when I’m feeling uncertain or unconfident about my own writing.
  • Schedule a writing appointment.  Sort of.  (See Pomodoro technique below.)
  • Write a letter to your writing.  Not so much.  This one hasn’t been as useful as some of the others.
  • Write early in the day.  Yes!  I used to put it off, and now I find if I start first thing, use my Pomodoro timing technique, I feel so much more productive than before.  (And sometimes I still write later in the day, too!)
  • Write like a child plays.  Yes!  My sketches, my “throw-away” exercises, attempting poems, writing from prompts … while these seem “unproductive,” I get much more done on long-term projects when I’m indulging my child in these small writing-play activities as well.
  • Bonus:  Pomodoro technique (25-minute timed productivity sessions).  Yes.  When I start by sketching 4 small squares on a slip of paper, labeling them above with “25” and below with “5,” and then writing a list of 2-3 items, “what would  I like to work on today,” I feel energized.  I have discovered I am looking forward to the writing I’ll be doing that day.  It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, and I’m grateful!

Your turn

How about you?  What techniques help you, and which ones are not useful?  Do you have any specific writing goals you’re working toward when you sit down at your desk these days?  Any suggestions for more productivity techniques?

Thanks for visiting!

A stealth writer’s-productivity idea #productivewriter


At times I think of myself as a “stealth writer.”  I like to sneak up on writing, catch myself by surprise, and write about something that I never expected.  And, I equally enjoying discovering ways to feel I’m being more productive in writing, without feeling like I’m punishing myself.  Self-punishing is no way to invent truly creative work!

In recent weeks I’ve been experimenting with a stealth writer’s-productivity tool – the Pomodoro Technique.  The Pomodoro Technique is an idea borrowed from the world of software development.  I learned about it recently in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  But even though the idea didn’t come from a writing conference or a how-to book on writing, it has been a terrific technique to help me get more writing done.  Bonus:  I feel much more satisfied when I am done!

How does it work?

In a nutshell, you set a timer for 25 minutes (or any set amount of time), and then work on a project you’ve chosen.  When the timer rings, you place a check mark on a piece of paper.  (Yes, on paper!)  Take a 5-minute break.  Start again – set the timer and work on your project until the timer rings.  Make another check mark on the paper, take a 5-minute break.  Continue until you have four check marks – four pomoderos or units of work time completed – and then take a longer break (15-30 minutes).  Come back and start again.

Here is a link to a tutorial on how the Pomodoro Technique works:  http://lifehacker.com/productivity-101-a-primer-to-the-pomodoro-technique-1598992730.

Is that all there is to it?

It is deceptively simple.  But the intentional act of setting the timer helps focus the mind.  If you have interruptions or distractions, that’s okay, don’t panic! – just note the interruption very quickly and come back to the project.  You’ll take care of the interruption after the timer rings, during your 5-minute or 15-minute break.

Why use pencil and paper?

This makes it a very tactile ritual.  You could automate the record-keeping, use a computer-based spreadsheet or print out a pre-designed form.  But the act of drawing a check mark on a piece of paper when the timer rings, of setting a timer and (perhaps) hearing it ticking away, the brrring! sound when the timer goes off – all these sensory activities act as aids to keeping the mind focused on your writing, making it less likely you will “self-interrupt” by checking email, looking at your Facebook feed, or going to YouTube for a video distraction.  You CAN do all that – but you’ll do it during breaks between pomodoros.

What does it look like?

Sketch by Theresa Barker.

I really enjoy the way it feels to draw a row of four check-boxes, labeling them with the pomodoro time (25, above the box), and the break time (5, below the box).  Perhaps it’s the engineer in me, or maybe it’s the artist that runs in my family.  The visual feels so satisfying.  At the end of the row of pomodoros, I like to add two or three “what I’d like to write on/about” items.  That helps me keep track of what I’d like to work on during my project time.

I have added the feature of jotting down non-project items that I need to take care of during the day; I write this list on a yellow Post-It note that I put on the back of the pomodoro sheet.  When an interruption happens – say, I remember I need to email someone or make an appointment today – all I have to do is flip over the pomodoro sheet and make a note.  When the timer rings and I take a break, I can check the list of Post-It note items, and I’ll do one or two during the 5-minute break time, if I feel like it . . . otherwise I wait until my longer 15-30 minute break after 4 pomodoros are completed.

Sketch by Theresa Barker.

There is a fun book called The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated, written by Staffan Noteberg, a software developer in Scandanavia, with very cute little water-color illustrations included … and I recommend it if you’re looking for more information.  Staffan provides additional data on how the brain works and why this method can be effective for feeling, and being, more productive.  I found his book in the library and it was a good resource.  However, just by following the simple steps I described above, you’ll be able to do the technique and judge for yourself.

The best part of the Pomodoro Technique

The best part has been:  feeling that sense of getting my writing DONE.  At the end of even a single pomodoro, I feel that rich sense of flow that we all strive for, the sense of having worked with focus and purpose on a task that we enjoy and that gets us closer to a particular goal.  Looking back on my rows of check marks at the end of the working session, I feel a tangible sense of accomplishment.  If I completed four pomodoros, that is two hours of writing!  Six pomodoros = three hours of writing!  Even a single pomodoro means I’ve spent almost thirty minutes in close pursuit of a writing achievement.  It is a highly rewarding process.

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Why do they call it “Pomodoro”?

The inventor, Italian Francesco Cirillo, started setting a timer in college to help him get his coursework tasks done.  The timer he used, a kitchen timer, was shaped like a tomato. He called the technique pomodoro after the Italian word for tomato.

Your thoughts?

Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique?  Do you ever use a timer in your writing?  What are your thoughts about drawing your own check-boxes vs. using a form?  Keep me posted!

What rituals keep you grounded? #productivewriter

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When I  am away at a conference, I always think I’ll accomplish more than I do at home.  Somehow the idea of being freed of everyday responsibilities – preparing meals, feeding the cats, doing the dishes and grocery shopping – leads me to believe I’ll be able to spend every minute in creative expression.

Yet being away from my own familiar environment presents its own challenges.  I miss the sense of sitting down at my own familiar desk, pulling out my keyboard or my favorite pen and yellow pad, and starting to write.

This past week I did accomplish much, although it ended up being largely about immersing myself in new learning (nonfiction writing).  We wrote several new pieces as part of our daily in-class and homework writing.  But those stories I brought from home to revise – untouched.  The stack of books I took to jumpstart my reading – unopened, for the most part.

Today I came across an article that reminded me of the power of ritual to keep you grounded.  It’s a feature in Real Simple magazine (don’t laugh!) called “How They Do It” (byline:  Jane Porter), in which five “experts” give their opinion on a particular question; this month’s question is:  What daily or weekly ritual keeps you grounded?

While the 5 experts (CEOs, business founders and executives) describe rituals that don’t look like mine e.g., (a weekly run with co-workers, Saturday morning journaling, a weekly dance class, etc.), when I saw this question I immediately thought about my own rituals, and about you, fellow bloggers and writers, and our #productivewriter experiment.  I can’t wait to ask you:

What rituals keep you grounded?

Like many of you, I’m sure, I am a creature of habit.  Now that I am back home, I’m excited to get back to my rituals.  They help ease me into writing and provide a solid foundation for my creative expression.  These are some of mine:

  1. Brewing a hot cup of (looseleaf) tea twice a day (midmorning and midafternoon), especially Earl Grey and Darjeeling.
  2. Doing my “sketch-a-day” practice.
  3. Freewriting from a line of poetry, courtesy “Poem of the Day” from the Poetry Foundation.
  4. Taking a walk in the afternoon with my son.
  5. Every 1st and 15th of the month:  sending out submissions for material I’m marketing.
  6. Responding to comments posted to my blog, and reading/commenting on blogs I follow.
  7. (About once a week) Write a new installment of one of my serialized fiction blog stories.
  8. Read and review a book a week.
  9. (On occasion, especially when I’m stuck) Write a journaled dialog between my “organizing” self and my “creative writer” self.  More about this in a future post.
  10. (Sunday nights) Write a new blog post about productive writing.

Do these rituals remind you of any of your rituals?  Do you do something completely different?  How do your rituals help you to accomplish your own creative expression?  I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Setting writing goals #productivewriter

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This week I’m at a writer’s conference in Port Townsend, the Centrum Writer’s Conference.  Tonight I’m sitting in my hotel room, thinking about the week ahead.  In the mornings I have a class all week with a wonderful instructor called Sayantani Dasgupta, author of Fire Girl:  Essays on India, America, and the In-Between.  With every morning committed in this week-long course, I’m keeping the afternoons open to work on my own writing.

I used to come to a conference and rush around, going to every class session and workshop, filling every day with instruction.  Looking back, I realized it was hard to digest all that information.  Not only that, but afterward I missed being able to spend time actually writing myself.  Now I try to look over the schedule with an eye to blocking out time each day to be able to write.

When you are a writer (or photographer or textile artist), the days can seem to flip by (like on those old-fashioned calendars in the movies) without seeming to make progress.  This week I’m going to try a new experiment in productive writing:  setting specific writing goals.  Each day I’ll write down my goal(s) for that day’s writing.  And at the end of the day, I’ll check to see if I’ve made the goal, how long it took, and what I learned about my writing and the writing process itself.

Setting goals is a proven way to achieving success, but the creative spirit does not always lend itself to linearity or measurement.  Yet, by asking myself what really matters in my work, what I really want to accomplish, I hope to help the creative spirit to focus on what is really important.

Join me!  If you’re interested in becoming a more productive writer, let’s engage in this together.  Each time you sit down to write this week, take a post-it note or open your calendar and write down your goal for that writing session.  Try to make it measurable and concrete.  Some examples:  write for 30 minutes on a new short story; spend 45 minutes doing writing exercises; identify three new markets for that story I want to send out.

Let’s check back in with each other next Sunday and see how we did!  Have a great week of writing.

Coming this week: “A blueprint to becoming a published writer”

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I’ve been invited to write a guest post this week for Dar Writes, a blog from my friend and writing colleague, Darlene Reilly. Darlene is an accomplished writer and writing teacher.  She puts a huge amount of effort in helping others learn about writing and into sharing her craft.  And, she is an amazing and prolific writer!  My guest blog post is entitled “A blueprint to becoming a published writer.”  I’ll be reblogging the post here after it appears on Darlene’s blog.

Stay tuned!


Blogging question

Do you do guest posts?  Do you host others’ posts on your blog?  What are your thoughts about the experience?  Feel free to comment below.