I was thinking about this today as I taking my daily walk. It’s something I’ve fallen out of the habit of doing in the last couple of weeks-ish and was reminded (for the nth time) just how important walking is to me. It’s not the exercise aspect, nor the access to fresh air, what matters is that I’m alone – no music, no podcast, no conversation – just me and my thoughts. Well, to be fair, there are times (more than I’d like to admit to be sure) when I talk to myself, but that hardly counts as a conversation.
The reason I decided to start my discussion on the subject of what constitutes productivity for a writer by speaking about my daily walk, is to demonstrate quite how important seemingly unrelated activities can be to the writing process. As someone who’s been suffering from a bit of a block of late, it’s taken a while to get to the bottom of it. Well, in fact what it took was for the weather to improve and for my knee to start hurting – all of which reminded me of the need to get physically moving again. Because ever since my return from said walk, the garden gate of writing has started to swing open, if not the floodgates quite yet.
While a great believer that writing must be treated as a job of work where you turn up and get on with it, there are aspects you may need to consider, including ensuring the mind and body are in good shape and ready for writing.
Now clearly writing productivity includes the actual writing, re-writing and editing, and I don’t believe anyone would argue that planning or plotting forms a key part of the writing process (at least for those who’re not pantsers) and who could argue about research being an intrinsic part likewise? But what counts as research? Is it specific, targeted investigation to establish facts around which you will write, is it background reading to get a feel of an era or a place, is it visiting museums to see how people lived, is it seeking out art or clothing or furnishings from a particular time or location, is it visiting period properties or certain geographical locations, does it involve learning a skill your character may have, or taking a journey they will take, can it be reading the work of other writers – whether or not they write in your particular genre, perhaps it’s simply living and being open to inspiration? I would suggest that it could be each and every one of these, and much more besides, as a writer never knows where or when inspiration will strike.
One more thing to be aware of – when I’m in the middle of writing something, I find it difficult to read fiction without the voice of what I’m reading leaching into what I’m writing. I know I’m not alone in this and, with luck, as I develop greater experience in the process of writing, that could change. But as doing without reading at all is simply too painful for me, in order to maintain my productivity, I also have to ensure there’s a good selection of non-fiction available on my TBR list for reading breaks when I’m writing.
I can’t write about the subject of writing productivity without talking about practice. In an ideal world, you sit down and you write. You pour out words into your current work-in-progress, and you don’t allow yourself to be diverted. But what about when you’re between WIPs, or when you hit a dead-end? Do you focus entirely on non-writing tasks? Shouldn’t you be flexing your writing muscles on a regular basis? I don’t believe everyone needs to write every day, but I do believe in the power of practising the craft regularly, even when it’s not on the project. A short story, a piece of flash fiction, an essay or opinion piece, something to keep your writing chops well oiled.
And there’s also the business aspect of writing – querying, pitching, marketing, cover design, networking, paying bills and doing taxes – and while none of these aspects will contribute to your daily word count, they’re all necessary. Now, you might be in a position where you can delegate some or all of those tasks, and you might not, but there’s no point writing a wonderful book if no-one ever gets to read it.
If you’d asked me this question even a year ago, I’d have probably given a very different answer. Then, I thought the only truly productive thing for a writer to do was to sit down and finish your manuscript. I believed anything else was entirely extraneous to writing… I know better now.
© Debra Carey, 2021