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Friday, February 27, 2015

Writer Productivity Tip: Healthy Competition

This is a continuation on our series on tips to make the writing process and your writing career more organized, less stressful, and more effective. 

There is a small chance that I might be a little bit competitive.

My husband and I keep a cribbage board on our coffee table so we can continue our complicated, in-depth tournament whenever we have a spare half an hour. I may or may not have resorted to yelling at my sister over a game of Sorry or Apples to Apples. For me, it's just not a cozy family gathering until there are winners and losers and I am collecting my bountiful spoil.

Okay, okay, so I have to plead guilty.

There are a lot of ways in which being a writer and a competitive person is terrible combination. Obviously, there isn't a lot of good that can be done by stalking your critique partners' book reviews, or obsessing over the Amazon rankings of authors in your genre. However, there is still a place for healthy competition in a writer's life. For me, competition comes in three forms: against myself, against a clock, and against a situation I can't control.

To compete against myself, I keep a writing journal. Before I begin the day's work, I write down what I want to accomplish, what I've been struggling with, and how I think I'll fix certain problems. At the end of the day, I write down what I actually accomplished. End-of-day Me has to report to beginning-of-day Me and be held accountable for her actions. On good days, this means I write "I wanted to write 750 words today and get to the end of the scene with the Cheetos. I got to the end of the Cheetos scene at 600 words, but I kept writing and got 1,000 words today!" I like writing that a lot more than I like writing "I got distracted watching Property Brothers and, um, I thought about my plot a lot... does that count?"

When I am writing a first draft, I write best in short bursts. Give me a half an hour timer or an active sprinting hashtag on Twitter and I can churn out 1,000 words in half an hour. Just don't ask me to do it again for a while. It isn't a pace I can keep up, but slow and steady doesn't work for me during rough drafts. Fast and sporadic keeps me excited about the story, and my fast writing pace helps keep the plot moving forward as well.

My last method of competition is sort of a mix of the other two and is driven out of necessity. My husband and I will agree to watch an episode of Friends after he finishes the dishes. I'll put my daughter down for her nap on a Saturday afternoon. I have a limited, but uncertain, amount of time to finish what I need to write. This sense of urgency, combined with the uncertainty of not knowing when the dishes will be done or when my daughter will wake up, keeps me on task and focused.

For me, immersion in my world and characters doesn't come until I'm editing on paper. I need to get the story out before I concentrate on setting and whether my voice is consistent (confession: it probably isn't).

Do you work better with no distractions for hours and complete immersion, or in short bursts, working quickly? Does it vary depending on what part of the writing process you're in?

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