Why is Productivity So Difficult for Writers?

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Source: Pixabay | User: PoseMuse

I had a nagging doubt that though I’ve been on a productivity kick for a while, at some point, the words would stop flowing because of my re-entry into school. And that’s exactly what happened. I finished a huge chunk of my current project, but writing has taken a backseat to school.

This isn’t surprising. Any time someone goes through a major upheaval like moving houses, getting married, starting school, etc, writing takes a while to adjust.

Unfortunately, that’s a surface interpretation for why my writing brain has shut down. The deeper reason is that I relied too much on a morning routine that was not sustainable.

The problem with productivity suggestions like the ones outlined in the course I’ve talked about in my past 2 posts is that they reinforce the idea that writers have to meet specific conditions or they won’t be able to write, period.

I’m not going to deny that I got great word count mileage out of following advice such as writing first thing in the morning, listening to binaural beats, wearing the same outfit, and similar guidelines.

The problem is that these productivity suggestions train writers to be able to write only under a specific set of circumstances. Writers can apply these routines later in the day, but when my day has already gotten going, I don’t stop to write. It doesn’t happen that way for me, plain and simple.

One of the best bits of writing advice I read many years ago was something to the effect of: “If you have to wait until you have your favourite scented candle, this brand of coffee, this specific pen, this specific computer, this specific music, etc., before you write, your won’t get your writing done and you’ll use these things as excuses.”

One of the most crucial abilities for writers is to be able to write during less-than-ideal circumstances. Some people write when they’re at the doctor’s office, over their lunch break, while at a sport or activity for their child, waiting for laundry to finish up, and so on. Going forward, my goal is going to be to write in these stolen snippets of time.

Although I thought I had found a new way to write that was working for me, I have to start from scratch again. Some writers work best with rigid rules and schedules, but I have learned that although I’m like that in other areas, I’m not like that when it comes to writing.

The advice about getting up at 5 or 6am to write isn’t new. John Grisham is one example of someone who used to do it when he was still a practicing lawyer.  That doesn’t work for me, and that’s okay. There are other ways. I’m skeptical of all the writing websites that repeat the idea that it’s been “scientifically proven” that writing first thing in the morning is the best time. I tried it, I did it, and for me, it just wasn’t sustainable. That’s okay.

I want to focus on the school of thought in the writing community that tells writers to challenge the assumption that we need hours and hours to write anything worthwhile. I’ve had periods of my life when time was not an issue and writing still didn’t get done.

When we know our time to write is limited, we get more done. The course I took uses a great example of this involving an old laptop the instructor used–she knew it only had an hour or so of battery life before the battery would die, so she would write on this device. The result? She still got plenty of writing done.

Other writers use snippets of time here and there, and I know people for whom this works very well. I am not one them, and that’s okay. A few years ago, I read a blog post talking about how one writer admitted she doesn’t write fiction every dayand that’s perfectly valid. Another author, Daniel Jose Older, wrote an impassioned plea to writers to stop beating themselves up about not writing fiction every single day. He makes a valid point.

Many writers chastise others, saying that if we don’t all write fiction every single day of our lives, that we “don’t count” or that we won’t have careers. I get where this advice comes from. And I agree that a regular writing habit is essential for any writer–but it looks different for everyone.

Lucy A. Snyder, one of my favourite horror authors, and a writer with a day job like most of us, tends to write in binges over her weekends, something she talks about in her indispensable writing how-to guide, Shooting Yourself in the Head for Fun and Profit. I’m more of a binge writer myself, so I’m going to give her method a whirl even though I also have a lot going on during the weekends.

What about you? Does anyone out there have any thoughts when it comes to productivity, whether it’s a system that works for them, or other helpful tips and hints? Sound off below!


Book Review: Renovation by Sara Brooke

renovation book cover by sara brooke

Renovation by Sara Brooke
File Size: 
403 KB
Print Length: 113 pages
Publisher: Sinister Grin
Publication Date: September 1, 2016
*** Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review *** 


It all started with a leaky roof. Or did it? Something bad is happening in the small picturesque town of Oak Shade, Florida.

The Brennier family has just moved into their new home, and they are excited about the prospect of a new life. A new beginning. But things don’t always go as planned.

Almost immediately, their beautiful home starts to fall into disrepair. And there’s that strange thing happening in the attic…

Their call for help to a local repair company quickly becomes a different cry for help. And their lives begin to crumble as the situation gets stranger and more disruptive. It soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems, and a simple renovation could mean the deconstruction of their lives.

Praise for Sara Brooke:

“Sara Brooke has written a nice Gothic horror story that has twinges of Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives with a twist of Bentley Little, but on a much darker, sordid level.” – HellNotes on Kransen House

“This novel is taut, well-plotted, and well-characterised…” – Mallory Heart Reviews on Still Lake

Renovation by Sara Brooke starts off with a familiar premise: a family has just moved to a new house, but lo and behold it seems the home inspection didn’t catch that the roof is leaky, which the family finds out soon after settling in.

Most home renovations in our ordinary lives can have nightmarish elements for different reasons: astronomical costs, uncovering other problems that previously did not manifest, the timeline of repairs, making sure a person has hired the right crew to do the job–not to mention the fact that one home repair seems to beget more items on the list.

In Renovation by Sara Brooke, things go wrong right from the outset. Mike, the father of the Brennier family, notices a construction crew has conveniently appeared right as he is surveying the damage from his leaky roof. They tell him they’re on their way to another job but that they could take a quick look if he wanted them to and provide him with an estimate of how long it would take to repair the roof as well as the cost. With not much other choice, Mike agrees.

The crew members of the construction team all seem odd from the start and it begins to affect the members of the family differently. Mike’s wife becomes far more sexually deviant and it’s not long before she abandons any inhibitions about sleeping with another man. Their teenage son, Greg, grows more and more suspicious. At one point in the book, all the family members have horrible nightmares that do end up materializing.

Suspense builds as the reader wonders whether Mike and his family will be able to escape the clutches of the “renovation crew” that has descended upon their house and is wreaking havoc. The interpersonal relationships between each family member begin to fray as the renovation crew wreaks havoc on them in different ways, which definitely made for an engaging read. Brooke does a masterful job of chipping away at the sanity of each character and showing the manifestations in unique ways.

If you like your horror with a hefty dose of creature feature mixed in with some highly erotic elements, you will definitely enjoy Renovation.

Sara Brooke author photo
Sara Brooke is an international Amazon bestselling author who writes horror and suspense novels. A lifelong avid reader of all things scary, Sara’s childhood dream was to write books that force readers to sleep with their lights on. Her first novel, Still Lake, was released Spring 2012. Among her other novels, she had The Gardens of Babylon published by Sinister Grin Press in December 2015 and The Zyne Project in March 2016. Sara’s influences and favorite authors include Bentley Little and John Saul. She is presently working on her next novel and an upcoming documentary film. You can find Sara online at her website.

Being a Productive Writer is a Shaky Road

typewriter image stock photo
Source: Pixabay | User: oceanverde

I’m halfway through my experience of trying out the tips and tricks in the online course Writing Mastery: Productivity for Writers taught by Jessica Brody (read my review of the course for more information). That review was fine and dandy, but it also happened before I tried any of the tips and techniques, so now that I’ve had a chance to enact some of Jessica’s suggestions, have I become a more productive writer?

Yes! But there’s a caveat.

Have I produced more words this past month alone compared to the past year? Yes.

Have I written every single day, seven days a week? No.

Have I followed every single one of the the course instructor’s techniques religiously and with feverish zeal? For about the first five days, yes. Then…I had to modify some of the steps she mentions in the Morning Magic Routine. Out of the multiple steps outlined for this process, here are the ones I continue to do:

  • I do wear my “writing only” outfit
  • I do write in my Gratitude Journal every writing session
  • I do eat a healthy breakfast
  • I do listen to dark ambient versus binaural beats and have found my usual soundtrack of dark ambient to be more effective
  • I do have a Sacred Writing Ritual, which is to pour myself a cup of coffee or tea and sometimes, to light a small candle.
  • I do write🙂

Has my word count got up? Yes. Exponentially. I’m not exaggerating. The funny thing is that even though I am tracking word count with the fantastic spreadsheet the course instructor provides with the purchase of the course, I feel a sense of satisfaction that I have accomplished something.

This is in stark contrast to the looming sense of dread, fear and shame that I experienced with NanoWrimo last November, where my focus was whether I hit enough words that the program demanded and whether I would fall behind.

So, my word count has, happily, gone up, but I think a big reason for this is because the course helps writers calculate their own average daily word count, and then the rest of the steps are based on you as an individual writer and meeting your own goals as opposed to trying to push yourself to conform to someone else’s required word counts.

The one thing I am struggling with most — and that I wish the course instructor devoted more time to — is the whole getting up early and having enough energy to get through the morning thing. I’ll admit that I still haven’t mastered the art of not relying on a snooze button to get up.

There have been days I have been dead tired for many reasons I won’t get into, and I haven’t been able to get up at 7am despite having moved the time I go to bed earlier than where it was previously (My goal is to get to 6am. Let’s just say I’m still building up to that).

The one thing I completely agree with the instructor 100% about is that a person does their best and most productive writing in the morning. Yes, I know several writers who get their best writing done in the evenings, on their lunch breaks, during their subway rides, and other different times of the day, but for me, switching to mornings has been a gamechanger. 

The other amazing thing this course has taught me is that I don’t need uninterrupted marathon 8-hour days to get writing done and to be productive (although that’s perfectly valid and for those writers for whom marathons are a daily reality, more power to you).

Here are some other things I have found helpful:

  • I have been very good about turning off notifications on my phone, not turning on my phone until my writing session is done, putting my phone in another room, and generally looking at my phone a lot less.
  • I don’t write on a laptop or computer, so I don’t have to worry about turning off distractions on that front.
  • In an ideal world, I would like to check Facebook less times a day but one step at a time.

What I had to cut out or move to a different time of the day because it just wasn’t working for me:

The stretching–I’m incredibly sore upon waking up. This is a daily reality for me. This makes it challenging to move around and I don’t like to add to my pain if I can help it.

The five-minute meditation–if you can swing it, great. I felt this step was a bit cumbersome for me to get through as I already do my meditation in the evenings, but to each their own.

The multiple journalsas I mentioned above, I write in my gratitude journal, which I find helpful, but the goal journal was just turning into me writing the same thing every day, which was “Write x amount of words today”, which is a goal I have met every day I have been writing. I accept that goal-setting is something I need to improve, but I had to cut it down to one journal.

Writing tools–so, many of the course instructor’s suggested guidelines are catered to laptop writers, which is fine because most people do this. I have done it in the past. However, as I did during NanoWrimo, I am writing on my Neo AlphaSmart, which is an electric typing device. The other writers I know who have an AlphaSmart (like Adam Cesare, for instance) swear by it and I’m one of them. If extended longhand writing wasn’t so painful for me, I would write do that.

So, Anita, will I become a more productive writer if I make like you and do the course you’ve been talking about? It’s quite possible, but I find the other things that have contributed to my success are grit, determination, and above all, passion for my project. I am writing a possibly Young Adult Gothic novel, and I am loving every minute of it. On those days when I haven’t written, I hate that icky feeling I’ve received because I want to spend as much time in the universe I’ve created.

However, I think one of the good things about limiting my writing sessions to 1 or 1.5 hours at a time is that it keeps my energy and passion for the project going–if I spent 3 or 4 hours a day writing this project, which I could, ostensibly do, I would get sick of it after a while and I wouldn’t have enough energy to carry me through to the next day.

By limiting my spurts of “you only get to work on this book for a finite amount a day, and you’re on a timer, so make the most of it!” I think I am setting myself up for the achievable results I am seeing, with a huge increase in output.

This course has been a godsend for me because I know so many writers who have worked out their own routines and know what works for them and they are generally jiving with their writing processes.

But for the longest time I struggled with not understanding the circumstances that got in the way of me getting writing done, and now that I have figured them and found a solution to get around those obstacles (for the most part), my writing productivity has definitely improved.

I encourage everyone who is struggling with not getting writing done to take a look at this course I am talking about and try it out. See if the outlined methodologies work for you. I know it seems overwhelming or like it’s a lot, but once you get to the stage where you’ve formed a habit, you will want to keep it up. I know I do🙂

Want To Be A Productive Writer? Get This Course

writing mastery course udemy

Last month, I took a course on Udemy called Writing Mastery: Productivity Hacks for Writers that gave me the tools to become a more productive writer, far more than all the volumes of books, articles, blogs, podcasts, conference talks I have consumed over the past two decades.

In all the years that I have battled to be more productive and to find out how to be more efficient as a writer, to get good quality words down on paper, I read some variation of the same things such as that I would have to wake up earlier, turn off or block distractions, write first thing in the morning, do research before sitting down to write, and the same things over and over again.

Try the Pomodoro technique. Try writing for just 5 minutes with a timer and see if that helps. Write during your lunch break. Write after work on the subway. Write in public places like coffee shops or libraries that are free of distraction and temptations. Buy expensive software and devices that “guarantee” you will become a more productive writer if only you’ll hurry and buy [insert product here] now!

The course on Udemy that I heard about through the writer grapevine was helpful because the instructor provided concrete, easy-to-use tips and techniques. There’s nothing here that’s rocket science. Although changes in general require commitment, period, such as establishing a regular and consistent routine, Jessica emphasizes the fact that it takes time for us to form new habits and that even she slips up from time to time.

This course is not a variation on all those blog posts and articles you’ve already read that pontificate upon common sense things, like “Wake up earlier and you’ll have more time to write.”

Now, before I go way off track, one of Jessica’s biggest suggestions is to wake up earlier. BUT it’s not just another common sense thing in this case. She explains why waking up earlier is beneficial, and it’s not just because of time. Turns out that the brain is like a computer, and if you overload it first thing in the morning with things like social media, cell phones, news, TV and other distractions, the writing part of your brain will be tired and sluggish and it will take time to get into the writing mindset.

At least half, if not more, of the apps, techniques and hacks that the author includes in her course are things I had never heard of like binaural beats, developing a “morning magic” routine, and the fact that we must think of our brains as computers. And like computers, it’s important not to overload the system or run too many programs at the same time.

Best of all, Jessica doesn’t waste time evangelizing expensive software or ridiculously expensive equipment that, while it looks great and may help some folks with productivity, is too cost prohibitive for most writers and doesn’t necessarily guarantee better results.

Sound like something you might want to sign up for? The course organizer, Jessica Brody, has very generously and graciously offered a discount code so that you can buy the course for $19 instead of the regular fee of $30! Just click the underlined link here and makes sure you don’t miss out on this wonderful deal!

The course is affordable, and it definitely has something that even the most seasoned writer will be able to make use of, so check out this wonderful course🙂

As a bonus, Jessica has also provided a discount code so that you can buy another one of her courses, CREATING HIGH-CONCEPT IDEAS THAT SELL, for the price of $15, which is a great deal as the regular fee is $20. Just click on the underlined link and you’ll be ready to go!

Book Review: Fear the Reaper, ed. by Joe Mynhardt

fear the reaper book cover

Fear the Reaper
ed. Joe Mynhardt
Crystal Lake Publishing
Purchase information
404 pages, 2013
*** Review copy purchased online *** 

Things start off with “Hecate” by Adam Lowe, which is about the Greek goddess of witches, Hecate. The language in this poem is very evocative and the poem ends on a creepy note.

Next up we have “The Life of Death” by Mark Sheldon. It starts out on a more humorous note. It’s anachronistic on purpose, making similes to modern-day references. This is the origin story of Death, real name Mortimer (nicknamed Morrey). It’s a sad tale, ultimately, but humanizes Death, which makes things more interesting.

“Stumps” by Jeff Strand is about an immortal main character but immortality doesn’t mean he can’t be killed or wounded. The price is incredibly steep to maintain his status. Others figure out what he can do, and although it’s a grim tale with macabre elements, there is humour, as well, and it was one of the best pieces of the bunch.

In “Death Squared” by Rena Mason, two boys, Billy and Trent, ride their bikes to the house of a female classmate who recently committed suicide. Trent learns the hard way that once you damage someone badly enough, you can never take it back. When you remain faithful to someone you know is as horrible as Billy is, you can never erase that stain from your soul no matter how hard you try to scrub it off. I also enjoyed the ominous note upon which this story ended.

“The Culling” by Richard Thomas reminded me of The Lottery and The Hunger Games. In this twisted tale, the townspeople sacrifice their own to appease beasts. There’s a wonderful twist at the end that I won’t spoil, but this story was one of the more memorable ones.

Robert S. Wilson introduces a main character who can stop death from happening in “The Death Catcher” but the thing is that after people cheat death, they don’t feel as good as they thought they would. This story had a definite sci-fi bent to its horror and reinforced the theme that a person can try to cheat death but won’t get very far.

“Spectres” by Taylor Grant is about Matt, who seems to have just come out of a coma. It’s also more in the sci-fi horror vein. He wakes up with someone else’s memories after volunteering to spend ten years frozen in a statis. He learns the hard way that everything comes at a price, and I thought this story ended on a very effective gut punch.

“Der Engel Der Liebe” by Dean M. Drinkel is historical fiction tale set in Vienna in 1870. This is another story that wastes no time making circumstances absolutely horrible for the characters involved. If you like stories of Jack the Ripper, you’ll enjoy this macabre tale.

Next up is “Do No Harm” by Joe C. McKinney, which is about a doctor who gets kidnapped by vampires so that he can figure out why a boy they ‘turned’ isn’t transitioning into a full vampire. He’s got his work cut out for him and the results turn out to be very interesting.

To cap off the anthology, we have “Non-Returnable” by the late Rick Hautula. In it, a bookstore employee is worried that her boss will fire her. He hassles her about a physics book she decided not to buy, but her life starts to take on some truly bizarre turns. It’s very fitting that this story would be the last.

Overall, Fear the Reaper is another good quality anthology from Crystal Lake Publishing that features great horror stories centering around the theme of Death and they’re all very diverse so there is something for every horror reader to enjoy.