How to Increase Your Productivity as a Writer

“Writing” is inseparably linked to “typing” nowadays. The days of putting a pen, much less a quill, to paper are long gone for most. Instead, most writing now takes place on computers. If you have a blog or write a book, you probably “typed” it rather than wrote it proper. One reason why journalism is now dead, I believe, is because “journalists” spend all their time on blogs and Twitter rather than actually going out in the field to talk to people.

The biggest problem of all with this current state of affairs is that it’s simply far too easy to be distracted when you’re on a computer and you have a net connection.

But I’ll now suggest to you a way to eliminate brain fog and increase your productivity dramatically as a writer. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Here’s a brand new system you can use to take your work up a notch…

Medieval chronicler writer

Go Outside

Yes, I’m serious.

There’s something in sales and psychology called the Zeigarnik Effect, which stresses that people tend to put more weight on uncompleted tasks than completed ones. For sales, this means that when you make a pitch, you should eliminate any distractions that could possibly lead to the Zeigarnik Effect’s showing up. If your prospect has too many potential tasks to focus on, the effectiveness of your sales pitch diminishes rapidly. This is why you see “squeeze pages” with no links.

An internet connection is a bottomless pit of potential tasks to focus on. Which means you’ll linger longer on your work and it may well be lesser in terms of quality. There’s far too much of that in “journalism” nowadays, enough to give you some pause in pondering this phenomenon.

By going outside, you take away some of that temptation to wander around different tasks (remember, willpower is limited and any system based on it is going to fail). Turn off your smartphone if you have to. I can’t explain why this feeling arises, but you truly feel a degree of freedom and relaxation. There’s no distractions or outrage train trying to tempt you to get on board. You are free to commune with your higher self and work more efficiently toward your kleos. Try it out a few times and see if you get the same feeling. I know that many others have.

Of course, there are distractions outside, but they’re of a different sort if you choose the right place. The distractions also come and go quicker, so you tend to be more focused. There’s even a certain “energy” to these momentary lapses that you can channel into your writing.

Long time readers will know by now that Central Park is one of my favorite places to go when it’s warm enough. For me that’s usually from April to November. I meet women there of course, but I also go there to read and write. I’ve been doing more reading and writing than approaching this year.

Central Park Autumn Fall October

It’s now the middle of October and the fall colors are starting to come out in spades. The serenity of the scenery gives you a certain feeling of peace that is conducive to putting your thoughts down, and you only need look up for a few seconds before writing again. This is for a couple of reasons. First, the distraction is not an extended one like on the internet, so you give your mind an outlet for some necessary diversion without going down the road to “multi-task” hell. Second, the feeling of serenity that you get makes you happy, so you feel more motivated to keep on doing what you were doing. Third, when I write, I write old-school, in a notebook. The physical act of writing in that notebook, on paper, itself eliminates distractions.

Again, it’s just something you should try in order to understand it fully. The only extended distraction you need to worry about outside (at any venue), is if you see an attractive woman you want to approach, but that’s a good distraction, because doing an approach, with success or “failure,” leaves you feeling energetic, and you can channel that energy into your writing as well when you’re finished (at whatever stage of the dance that means).

This may not work out in quite the same way for you. The important part is to find a spot that allows you to get that feeling of energy – where you eliminate most long-winded distractions to minimize the Zeigarnik Effect. The only task that you should have before you to complete is your writing. When you find yourself in such a state, the words almost write themselves, as if you aren’t guided by your own consciousness, but by the Muse, and once you start, the words keep on coming since you have minimal distractions.

For instance, a few days ago, surrounded by the changing trees, I started to write the tentative blurb for the first installment of my epic novel, tentatively titled The Red War. I’m usually not as good with these short-form things as I am with longer-form stuff (like this post). Yet, when I was there, the blurb came magically, in maybe 200 words or even less, and it was potent, aggressive, and vivid as to what that first installment, The Awakened Lion, is all about – the transition from peace to war after well-meaning failures, and the return of a beast (the title character) to his natural habitat.

That was great. And then immediately afterward, I started thinking about Thutmose III. Maybe that was because he was another great leader of men on the battlefield, another lion of sorts, but I don’t really know for sure.

Then I asked myself, “is there a good epic story about this underrated king?”

Then some words came out on paper, and it looked like I was on to something that could turn into a gem.

You might be seeing a story about Thutmose III from me soon. It depends on how it goes from here. For the past few days I’ve been going out there and letting it write itself, and I like what I see so far.

Thutmose III Pharaoh at war Megiddo

That’s the feeling I get when I leave my house. The natural feeling of “letting a story write itself” is magnified when I’m out of my house, because I have minimal distractions.

To a lesser extent, I get this feeling in coffee shops also, though I haven’t explored it as much. This can sound strange, since at a coffee shop you’ll have a full internet connection, but for me there’s just something about being home that keeps me more distracted when I’m trying to write something.

For you, it might be entirely the opposite. The point is to find what environment leaves you feeling the least distracted and with the most peaceful energy, conducive toward letting your words write themselves. In such an  environment, it sometimes feels effortless to write, and that’s what you want.

To sum up…

The system to increase your productivity as a writer goes like this.

  1. Find the environments that leave you least distracted (defined as presenting you with the least possible new tasks your brain will want to complete) and most energetic.
  2. Begin writing. Then your brain will want to complete that task.
  3. Optional: write on physical paper. It leaves you with a different feeling and a different level of commitment than typing.

To commune with the Muse you have to go where she lives. It usually isn’t the internet.

This is a simple system you can use right now.

If you want to learn why systems are better than goals, and the energy metric behind this system, check out my review of How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

If you want to learn some more of these psychological brain hacks (such as avoiding the Zeigarnik Effect), to increase not just your productivity as a writer, but your entire life, read Stumped.

  • VisionNow A

    Great stuff! Keep up the writing, I’m always reading. Your emails are insightful.
    There is nothing like a blank sheet of paper… it is so exciting. I also get the thrill when I look at a blank excel worksheet. There is so much that can be done and thought about, it’s just waiting there.
    Give us more details about your new book: The Red War.

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    • My emails are one thing I’m looking to improve, TBH, but thank you.

      The Red War details will come. I’m trying to get the logistics in order.

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