Writing Process: 7 Productivity Boosters

Draft 2 of Blizzard, my novel set during the Blizzard of 1888, turned into something of a beast: it was a complete re-write that took very little material from the first draft. I worked almost exclusively on it from mid-January to mid-May. Along the way, I adapted my writing process and learned some new tricks to help myself work better and faster.

It should be noted that these process tweaks are only applicable to early drafts. Later-stage editing requires different rules. I’m still working on all aspects of my writing process, trying to consistently achieve my best levels of productivity so that I’m able to produce writing work even when my schedule is at its tightest. (Next year: full time job, two kids (one in school) private lessons, busy husband.)

7 Productivity Tips for the Drafting Process


  • Pre-Plan EVERYTHING. I use a Scrivener file, and each chapter gets its own document, color-coded by character. Every Sunday, I fill out the notecards for all the chapters I want to write for the rest of the week. I use the method in Lisa Cron’s Wired For Story: Main Plot, Sub-Plot, Plot Cause, Plot Effect, Story Cause, Story Effect. (It sounds redundant, but believe me, it’s not. I love Cron’s system.) When it comes time to write each chapter, I already know what points I need to hit. But I don’t write myself into a corner, either; it’s enough freedom so that my creative mind can still take over.
  • Focus on one or two character arcs at a time. I tend to write novels from multiple perspectives. I decided to do something new for Blizzard, and treat it as three novellas twisted together. I wrote all the Flora chapters, then the Henry and Charlotte chapters, and finally the Calvin and Benedict chapters. That way, I was able to stay involved with each character much longer, which strengthened their voices. This book leant itself well to that, because most of the characters were split apart and don’t get back together until the end. I’m not sure how well it’ll work in future novels. At the end of the draft, I put all the chapters back their rightful places.
  • Set time or content goals, not word count goals. Word count worked well for me during NaNoWriMo. But another writer said something to me that struck a chord: if you’re focused on word count as a goal, you may write things you don’t intend just to get the job done for the day. It’s inefficient to have to go back and cut those parts later. So I started meeting time goals for each day, and I think the quality improved even if the word count varied. Later in the process, I switched to writing a chapter a day, and that also worked well.
  • Don’t get sidetracked. I didn’t work on any other writing projects during this draft, not even this blog. It got my complete focus. I think I’d do that again with big “beast” drafts.
  • If it’s going slowly, it’s going badly. This is a general rule for my writing: if I keep getting stuck, if I slow down, I’ve lost my sense of direction. Usually it means I’ve written past the end of the scene. I backtrack and either start fresh or cut to the end.
  • Commit to nightly brainstorming sessions. This was KEY. Every night, I got out my notebook for ten minutes and free-wrote about the characters I was working on. I worked out problems and came up with solutions. I figured out so many things in that notebook.
  • Take breaks. I almost never wrote on Saturdays, and I used Sundays mainly for planning. I can’t write every day, no matter how much I’d like to. I need the break, and I need the feeling of a fresh start on Monday.
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Now it’s on to draft 3, which will need a whole new set of guidelines! The draft-rotation schedule is never boring.

What have you learned about your working process recently? 

2 Responses to “Writing Process: 7 Productivity Boosters”

  1. I love hearing about how other people work. I’ve been slacking on writing big time, so much so that I’ve actually started to miss it! (I’ve done only a few blog posts, for my own blog and for an insurance blog I write for and almost nothing else.)

    Some things I’ve done in the past include timed writing, and setting aside specific blocks of time to work on specific projects. Both these things work well for me, if I stay with the habit of doing them.

  2. Leanne Sowul says:

    I love reading other people’s process tips too. It’s like celebrity gossip for me, haha!

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