Summary of “Productivity for authors: find time to write, organize your author life, and decide what really matters” by Joanna Penn: this manual brings together a range of advice to apply every day to set writing goals and improve your editorial production. Are you a blogger, a seasoned writer or just starting out? Take a look at this clever little book.
By Joanna Penn, 2020, 116 pages.
Full title: Productivity for Authors. Find Time to Write, Organize Your Author Life, and Decide What Really Matters
Chronicle and summary of “Productivity for authors” by Joanna Penn:
Joanna Penn is British. After she gave up a career in IT, she decided to devote herself to something she always wanted to do: writing. She began by writing works of fiction, mainly thrillers mingled with fantasy, and non-fiction books about her new career as a novelist.
Among her works of fiction are the supernatural thriller series Arkane and the London Crime Thriller trilogy. If you want to know more about her expertise as a writer, you can look into How to make a living with your writing or The successful author mindset.
At the same time, she developed an online community around her successful website www.TheCreativePenn.com and her podcasts. She also gives conferences in Europe and around the world based on her books.
In this book, Joanna Penn suggests taking a step back from your literary practice in order to analyse what makes it productive. She blends her own advice with that gathered from a variety of reference works on the topic.
The book consists of 13 short chapters that end with a series of questions. These are exercises you can do at home in order to improve your productivity as an author:
- What is stopping you from being productive?
- Goal setting
- Busy work vs Important work
- Saying no and setting boundaries
- How to find the time to write?
- Make the most of your writing time
- Co-writing and collaboration
- Productivity tools
- The productive writer mindset
- Healthy productivity
Are you ready to boost your productivity as a writer? Well then, read this summary of the main advice that Joanna Penn has to offer on this subject.
Chapter 1. What is stopping you from being productive?
The usual sources of resistance
Here is a list of some (good) excuses usually given for not writing:
- I don’t have the time;
- I don’t have any ideas;
- I’m wasting my time on other activities (marketing, etc.).
- I don’t know how to get started;
To start writing, you have to ask why do you want to make this change. It is likely to be an important change in your life. It is going to require time and energy.
What is YOUR why?
Joanna Penn left her job as an IT consultant in 2006 because she didn’t want to watch her creativity dying every day in a mundane job that offered no tangible results.
“Now I measure my life by what I create,” she says.(Productivity for Authors, p. 2)
What are your reasons for writing? It is not enough to simply say you like it or because you know deep down that this is what you like to do.
To find your why, you are going to have to be more specific than that. For example, you can say that you want to live by your pen rather than work for a multi-national, but this is still a negative reason. Perhaps you want to share the fabulous stories that are running through your head with the rest of the world. This is a more positive reason.
Finding a why is very important. It will be the reason you get up to write every day and it will stop you from giving up at the first obstacle. Once you identify it, write it down and hang it in a visible spot.
Your self-definition can help you to create.
Saying “I am…” (“I am a writer” or “I am an author of novels” or whatever else) allows you to set your identity in your brain. This is the goal you want to achieve. Saying it in the present tense focuses your mind and points you in the right direction.
Of course, it won’t happen by itself. It also commits you: “Now that I have said it, how am I going to make it happen?” You now need to put a series of actions in place for reality to coincide with the definition that you have given yourself.
“What is your why? What is driving you toward your goal? And what will keep you going when things get tough?
What is stopping you from being productive right now? Which thing do you need to address in order to move forward?
Do you have a specific goal and when do you want to achieve it? [Write the date down!]
“And what can you set up in stay in control? ”(Productivity for Authors, 4)
Chapter 2. Goal setting
What is your goal?
Choose a goal that is specific and measurable. For example: “I will write the first draft of my novel by the end of this year.” You will either do it or you won’t. This makes it a goal whose success or failure can be measured.
You will have sub-goals to take into account: research, among others. And you may also have other tasks to accomplish downstream: proofreading and corrections, publishing and marketing, etc. Take one step at a time.
The most important thing to choose ONE goal and to stick with it. Otherwise you may go around in circles, never knowing where to start or when to finish!
Pick one primary goal to focus on
Do not burden yourself with secondary goals. For example, do not decide to write your first novel and train for your first triathlon at the same time. Give yourself one main goal at a time – this cannot be overstated!
Choose different goals for different stages
The budding writer will tend to want to do everything at once: research, writing, correcting, editing, etc. As a new writer, you will begin by writing the first draft of your novel (or whatever content you want to write, fiction or non-fiction).
Later on, when the time is right, you will learn about the other steps of the process of creating a book. You will learn your new trade as you practice it, little by little.
An experienced writer is better equipped to juggle between different works in progress at different stages of development. If this is your case, then your productivity will depend on your ability to carry out tasks in conjunction with one another.
“What goals do you currently have in your life? And what is your primary goal?
What stage of the author journey are you at? What is the best goal for your current stage? And what could wait until later?”(Productivity for Authors, 7)
Chapter 3. Deadlines
The usefulness of the deadline
Novelists often work alone, with no-one to tell them when to stop. This is true for self-publishing in any case. Experienced writers who work with publishers have deadlines.
As a new writer, you are almost sure to work alone. It is vital that you set deadlines for handing in your work. Do not imagine that the creative process needs freedom and no time constraints. This is quite simply not true.
You may well never finish the work that you decide to undertake! To write, and to write efficiently (get tangible results), it is essential that you channel your time and set yourself a regular pace.
You will find that the more you produce, the more the creative juices will flow. Firstly, because you will see that achieving results is good for self-confidence. Secondly, because you will be feeding into what Joanna Penn calls the “creative pipe”.
What does that mean?
The things that you read and your experiences in life go into the top of the pipe. If you don’t write, or write without setting a deadline or without having specific expectations, then the pipe will become blocked. This is because the bottom of the pipe is closed! For creativity to move along smoothly, both ends of the pipe need to be in working order. The top (reading, experience) and the bottom (the output that is your own creations).
To help you write and set deadlines, you can try to surround yourself with a community of like-minded and benevolent writers. Joanna Penn names several Facebook groups, as well as physical communities of authors of which she is a member. They are mainly in English or located in the UK, but you can almost certainly find equivalent groups in your country or language.
Work out how much time you need for your book
There is no absolute answer to this question. Everything depends on the standards of the genre in which you want to write (in fiction, this can be a detective novel, fantasy, romance, etc.). If you have no idea whatsoever, pick a book that is similar to what you want to write, and count the pages.
Now, add up the number of hours you need to write that many pages. A budding writer (if they accept to not read over their work and not rewrite every single sentence at least twice) can write between 500 and 1000 words per hour.
Calculate the number of hours you can write per week and do the maths. For example, at a pace of 5,000 words per week, you will need 14 weeks to draft a 70,000 word book (the equivalent of a thriller).
This is an approximate figure, but it gives you an idea of the pace of work and lets you know whether your primary goal is achievable. If you have underestimated the time you need – or if you have been too generous – review your calendar and plan:
- Blocks of writing per week;
- The deadline for writing.
In the case of a first draft, expect to set aside an extra week or two in case of unexpected delays or to get started (create a plan, carry out or complete your research, etc.).
“What is the deadline for your goal? Have you written it down somewhere you can see it regularly? What can you do to make yourself more accountable?”(Productivity for Authors, 12)
Chapter 4. Busy work vs Important work
Learn how to eliminate certain tasks
Start by writing down all the things you do from day to day. Unfortunately, you have no other choice. Some activities will have to be curtailed or removed if you want to devote time to writing.
Note everything down — whether related to writing or not— and lay it all out in front of you. Starting from this, see what you can strike off your list, or at least how you can organise the tasks over time.
In other words, learn to spot the essential tasks and the non-essential tasks, the ones that you have to do now, and the ones that can wait.
Balancing busy work, important work and urgent work
Writing is not urgent in itself, but it is what matters most to you. Furthermore, you may be tempted to put off your writing work because you have “things to do”: household chores, email management, etc. Remember this quote from Seth Godin :
“Busy is not your job. Busy doesn’t get you what you seek. And busy isn’t the point. Value creation is.”
Take some time to correctly identify what you really want to achieve that creates value (writing a book), and what keeps you occupied without allowing you to create something important (important to you at least). Some urgent tasks have to be done, but others can be put off until later (why not make a “Later” list), or even removed or delegated (see chapter 10).
“Write down everything you have to do, or review your list. How much of it is “busy work”? How much can wait until a later stage of the process? Create your own list of “Things not to do” or a “Later” list!
What do you find it hard to say no to? Where can you set boundaries to protect your creative time?
How much do you allow yourself to be distracted? Have you disabled notifications on your phone?
How are you balancing busy work with important work and urgent work? What things fall into these categories for you?” (Productivity for Authors, 16)
Chapter 5. Saying no and setting boundaries
Create your Not To Do list
Joanna Penn gives the example of conferences:
“I used to do a lot of professional speaking, but even though it brought in money and helped people, it took a lot of time to prepare, do the event and then recover afterwards. As part of rebooting my productivity, I decided that 2019 would be my ‘year of no speaking’ and I said to no to everyone who asked. It made such a difference to make that decision in advance and I didn’t feel guilty about saying no. I didn’t feel like I was missing out.”(Productivity for Authors, 17)
If you decide in advance what you are going to refuse for a certain period of time – for example to not give any conferences for an entire year — you will feel liberated and that will give you the energy you need to focus on your main task. Don’t worry; you can go back to it later on.
Now you may of course face social pressure or pressure from your family. But remember – you can take responsibility to decide for yourself what activity to want to take a break from, for a while at least.
Set your boundaries for a limited time
This is the option we just mentioned. It amounts to setting priorities in your various tasks and commitments in society.
Batch your work
If you simply cannot remove certain tasks, then try to batch them together for a few hours in one day or for one day per week. For example, household chores and cooking can wait until the weekend. Meetings can all be scheduled for a Monday, etc.
Embrace the joy of missing out
When focusing on your goal, learn to embrace your choices – you have chosen to write, and here you are, writing your first draft. You are not missing anything. You are simply doing what you want to do.
It can be difficult to resist the siren song of social media, among others. They give us an impression that we need to do this or that, that we will miss out on something for ever. Leave these demands to one side. Focus on what you have decided to devote your time to doing here and now.
Are you in control of your time or do other people control your priorities?
It is also important to set boundaries with your loved one and to cut yourself off from certain everyday demands, such as telephone notifications. Of course there are people who require your attention and you cannot constantly refuse them.
But you can control these distractions by clearly establishing with those people the times when you need to concentrate on something else. Your writing block is a period of time when your phone should be switched off (or at least on silent) and during which you should not be disturbed.
There are apps that can help: Freedom.to, for example, blocks all notifications from your phone at specific times that you can select in advance.
Write your own Not To Do list
Where do you need to set boundaries to protect your creative time? What could you do if you are still struggling?(Productivity for Authors, p 22)
Chapter 6. How to find the time to write
Schedule your writing time
Joanna Penn quotes Stephen King, the master of the horror story:
“Don’t wait for the Muse. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day, from 9:00 till noon, or 7:00 till 3:00. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.”(Written by S. King, quoted in Productivity for Authors, p. 23-24)
Your writing time blocks need to be decided in advance, and clearly marked on your paper or digital diary. It is the only way to get into a productive and creative routine. Like Stephen King says, inspiration (the Muse) does not appear out of nowhere. It appears when your brain knows that the time is right.
Track how you spend your time now
List the time spend doing other things. You will see that you might be spending a lot of time doing things that are not really worth it. Television, video games and social media are the major time consumers these days.
Exercise can also be time consuming: if you decide to devote yourself to writing a novel, do not cut out exercise completely (see chapter 13 on this topic). Instead try to adapt your time better, exercising at home to avoid travel time, for example.
If you are employed, think about your ambitions. Do you want to make a career of it (in other words put in the extra hours) or simply make a living by doing your job properly? Carving out time for a writing project involves asking this kind of question.
Where can you carve out time?
The edges of the day are often good slots. At the start of the day (before you go to work or before the children are awake) or in the evening, when things are quiet around you.
You can also try quiet moments when you are on public transport, especially if you have a lot of travelling time. Some authors make this work very well.
You do not have to write for six, or four, or even two hours per day in order to be productive! The important thing is to stick to the times you have set for yourself, and to write the desired number of words (based on the calculation in chapter 2).
Remember that your writing block, whether the time you spend, the place or the moment you choose, is not optional. You have decided to do it and therefore you will be there at the given time.
“Are you scheduling your writing time at the moment? If not, why not? Where is your resistance?
Do you have an accurate view of how you spend your time? If not, trace a week of activities, including TV and gaming. What are you going to give up in order to find time for your writing?
Have you done the calculation on how much time you need for that first draft? Or revision time or whatever you need?
Have you scheduled your next block of writing time? ”(Productivity for Authors, p. 29)
Chapter 7. Make the most of your writing time
Choose the right location
Joanna Penn writes and reads over her work in a local café. She goes there early in the morning, when there are not many customers. She drinks one coffee every hour so that her presence is accepted and uses the table as a work space. Why not work from home?
It is better to have a specific location in which to write. Joanna Penn has an office in her home, but that is where she manages her website and podcasts, as well as her admin and accounting.
Having a specific location in which to write helps to create a special ritual. You know why you are there. You have chosen to be there for one reason, and one reason only. Get into the habit of doing things there that you don’t do anywhere else.
For example, you can decide to rent an office, go to the library, or join a co-working space. Some of these places may cost money and this can even encourage you to go there – additional motivation!
Get into the right mindset – quickly
Music or complete silence, background noise… Choose your path. Whatever the case, make sure you are sufficiently cut off from the rest of the world in order to create your own world, in your imagination. This works whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction. You need to let ideas appear and come together.
This way you get into your “writing mentality” fairly quickly. You don’t want to waste too much time on the inevitable distractions and noises around you.
Turn off distractions
Make sure to turn off everything that relates directly to your mobile phone or other digital activity. Set your devices to silent in order to resist the temptation to scroll down a page or answer an email.
Use timed writing
This is not a bad idea. There are several methods that exist, including the Pomodoro method (Francesco Cirrilo). This allows you to excel and makes you want to do more in less time. It spurs you towards action. You could even try it in a group from time to time.
We can’t stress this enough. If you get caught up in other activities — including digital activities — you will never get to the end of your writing project!
If you really find this too difficult, set aside short time slots (5 minutes maximum, timed) during which you allow your brain to wander, time to procrastinate.
Measure your progress
All important work takes time. Sometimes you will not be able to see your progress. That is why it is good to measure your progress from time to time and to reward yourself when you complete actions.
Joanna Penn takes the example given by James Clear in Atomic Habits using an empty jar and a jar of paper clips. After each writing session, put one paper clip into the empty jar. Little by little, you will see that the jar starts to fill up.
Even this small change can help you to stay motivated. You can also allocate points or treats if you reach or exceed your goals.
Know what you’re going to write before you write it
This does not mean that you need a detailed structure of what you are going to write. It means that you need to have a general idea of what you are going to talk about.
When you are out for a walk or you have some free time, or even on your way to the place where you write, take some time to think about what you are going to write. You can also devote the first few minutes of your session to working out the main ideas that you want to get down on paper. Make a quick note of them and get down to work.
Spend more hours in the chair
The more you write, the more productive you will be. Either you spend several hours in one day writing, or spread out several short writing sessions throughout the week. When you are working elsewhere or when you have many other things to take care of, you often have no other choice.
For example, you could try to do six one-hour sessions: one hour per day devoted to writing!
Joanna Penn makes this point: the reader will not be able to tell the difference between a page that you wrote when you were bored and did not feel like writing, and a page that you wrote in a flurry of inspiration.
The moral of the story is: write, no matter what. What if you don’t feel like writing today? So what, you go to your day job even when you don’t feel like it. So go anyway. Maybe you will start to enjoy it on the way. The most important thing is to be regular in practising your writing.
Of course, if something urgent happens or if you are sick, that is a different matter. There are times when you need to know when to stop or take care of the necessities in life.
“What does your creative set-up and ritual look like?
How will you stop distractions and interruptions?
Have you tried timed writing? If not, why not?
How will you measure your progress?
How could you write faster?
Are there other ways that will help you make the most of your time writing?” (Productivity for Authors, p. 39)
Chapter 8. Dictation
Ways to write
People first wrote on stones, then on paper with quills, before the typewriter and the computer today. So why not dictate? The idea may seem surprising or difficult to put into practice, but it is worth experimenting.
Why consider dictation for your writing?
“Writing speed and stamina improve with dictation. It’s much faster to speak words than it is to type them, especially if you can get out of your own way and stop self-censoring. I can type around 2,000-3,000 words in a first draft writing session of two hours, but with dictation, I can get up to 5,000 words in the same period.” (Productivity for Authors, p. 42)
For Joanna Penn, as for other authors she names in this chapter, dictation appears to be a genuine option worth considering. In addition to improving productivity, it also improves creativity. In what way? With dictation, the novice writer avoids writing and rewriting a sentence or a paragraph a thousand times. Dictation frees the imagination and idea association. No more focusing on details, but on the story itself.
Furthermore, dictation has positive effects on health. Back problems, muscular pain or tendinitis in the arm, sight issues: many writers have to rest their limbs and feel the need to move around while they write (to avoid looking at the screen for example). Dictation makes this possible!
If dictation is so amazing, why isn’t everyone doing it?
There are many (good) reasons why people don’t want to dictate: the habit of typing, working in a public place, technical issues, etc. However, these forms of reluctance deserve to be overcome whenever possible.
You can choose between two types of dictation:
- Speech to text conversion in real time
- Or dictate now, transcribe later
In the first case, you can use Dragon (paid) or free software for Mac, PC or Google Docs: the programme transcribes your words directly into a text document.
In the second case, you can use Dragon (download an MP3 in transcription mode) or call on a human transcriptionist (Speechpad.com or Rev.com) or artificial intelligence (Trint.com or Otter.ai). Solutions are evolving daily: you can do an online search to find companies that provide this service in your country or working language!
There are telephone applications and free software that are really easy to access. They are not always precise, but they can help you to get started.
A microphone is useful to increase the quality of the dictation and facilitate the transcription. You should also choose a good recorder, if you decide to use a mobile device (for option 2).
“Why might you consider dictation? How might it help your writing?
What’s stopping you from dictating? How can you work through those issues in order to try it?
What method of dictation might work for you? What tools do you need to get started? (Productivity for Authors, p. 48)
Chapter 9. Co-writing and collaboration
Joanna Penn has co-written seven books, among them Risen Gods (with J. Thorn), Summerfield Village (with her mother S. Penn) and Co-writing a book (also with J. Thorn), and she does not intend to stop there.
Writing can be very fast when two people on the same wavelength take turns to write.
Complementary forms of expertise can also make a book more interesting. This was the case with The Healthy Writer, written with the doctor Euan Lawson, as well as with Risen Gods.
“The whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to co-writing.”(Productivity for Authors, p. 50)
Joanna Penn co-wrote American Demon Hunters with three other people: quite a challenge! It strengthens the bonds of camaraderie, especially when you meet up in the same location to work together.
When two or more people market a book together, you increase your chances of selling the work. You also get introduced to new readers. What luck!
Of course they exist: no two people have exactly the same style, tone or ideas. But it is possible to agree about a certain way of working that increases productivity and respects each person’s differences. For example, American Demon Hunters is composed of four characters who speak separately from chapter to chapter!
It may sometimes be hard to make compromises, but it is necessary to move forward in the creative process in a productive manner. Sometimes you have to accept to separate if the collaboration is not working any more.
You need to share the income from your books. Why not use PublishDrive Abacus or BundleRabbit. Or simply use a spreadsheet.
Pick the right partner
Be careful when it comes to choosing who to work with. You need to maintain a balanced relationship in which both partners can communicate.
Make sure you write in compatible genres
You also need to choose one (or several) partners who are compatible with the genre you want to work in. Even if you admire a particular writer, you may not be able to work with them if your styles and your creative worlds are very far apart.
Use a written contract
Be sure to formalise the terms of the relationship, especially when it comes to royalties (which last from 50 to 70 years after your death) and the concrete writing procedures (how many hours of work, how many words, etc.).
Trust and honest, regular, transparent communication
The agreement is an opportunity to talk and find out whether the partnership is going to work. Generally speaking, communication is vital throughout the process. Using a shared Google Doc is a good option; it allows you to write and to make comments without necessarily speaking in person.
Communication also helps you to motivate one another, when one collaborator may be feeling down or under pressure, for example. You will also need to agree about publishing the work and media coverage.
Practicalities of co-writing
Good preparation helps improve productivity and creativity. You should at least be clear about the broad lines of your shared work before you begin writing.
“Why do you want to co-write or collaborate with another writer? What are the pros and cons for you?
Why are you a good fit as a partnership?
Have you laid out working processes, deadlines, money, etc. in a written document?
How will you make sure that your collaboration works for the long term?” (Productivity for Authors, p. 55)
Chapter 10. Outsourcing
What’s interesting about outsourcing
It allows you to save precious time by giving you the opportunity to focus on the important things, leaving certain tasks to others.
This can be very useful for experienced writers such as Joanna Penn herself, as a novelist, speaker, blogger, podcaster and community manager.
How can you automate or outsource certain tasks to free up some time?
Joanna Penn works with freelancers, except for her husband, who manages the business with her. By way of example, she works with:
- A virtual assistant;
- An independent writer for one of her blogs;
- A sound engineer for the podcasts and audio books;
- A transcription service;
- Marketing assistance — her husband — for Amazon;
- A premium hosting service for her WordPress sites;
- An inbox manager who sorts her emails.
To get an idea about your outsourcing needs, you may find it useful to look at the work of Gay Hendricks in The Big Leap. He suggests four different zones :
- Zone of incompetence: You are no good at this. For example, you don’t know how to edit your manuscripts. Formatting, spelling and grammar rules, etc.? If these skills are beyond you or you don’t want to get involved with them, you can outsource these tasks to an editor.
- Zone of competence: Someone else can do this better than you, even if it is within your range of skills. For example, when it comes to formatting a book or blog page, you can call on people who like detail and will enjoy this kind of task much better than you.
- Zone of excellence: Not many people can do this as well as you. But even in this case, you may decide to delegate or put a pin in this kind of activity. This is what Joanna Penn did with her conferences: even though she is a recognised player in this field, she prefers to devote herself to what better represents what she wants in life.
- Zone of genius: Nobody else can do this like you. Write your stories – this is the unique thing you can offer the world. That is what she means by the word genius: what characterises you best.
“This reframing of activities can help you to change the way you spend your time. Remember, productivity is about focusing on the things that you should be doing instead of filling your time with stuff that you shouldn’t be doing.”(Productivity for Authors, p. 61)
What about the money?
At first you may not be in a position to outsource. But take things gradually. Begin by saving the money that you will go on to use for this. It’s an investment. As your income grows, you can increase your skill set or outsource.
Ready to outsource? Follow these eight steps
- Make a list of everything you do currently
- Eliminate items from your list. What really needs doing?
- Write procedures or make videos of your current processes
- Find virtual assistants and freelancers
- Interview first
- Communicate expectations upfront and keep in touch
- Be a good client
“Do you currently work with different freelancers? How much do you do yourself? How much do you WANT to do yourself?
What are your zones of incompetence, competence, excellence and genius? Are you spending too much time in the wrong zone? What is stopping you from hiring more help right now? How can you remedy that so you have more time to create?
Make a list of everything you do, and split it into logical groupings?
Eliminate tasks that really don’t need doing – or don’t need doing right now.
Could any of the tasks be automated?
Where can you look for freelancers / virtual assistants?
How will you work effectively with them?” (Productivity for Authors, p. 67)
Chapter 11. Productivity tools
Back up your writing
Better to back up too much than not enough! Think about using online services like Dropbox of course, or automatic email sends to yourself. Don’t forget about hard drives and thumb drives.
Keep all the different versions of your work.
Remember to save the successive versions of your writing. If you have the misfortune to lose the last version, you have the one from just before.
Organize your computer file structure
Become an organisational wizard when it comes to storing and classifying your files, a Marie Kondo of computer files! You need to do this to have a clear view and to save your precious time. Choose a file name with a unique and clear tree structure.
Google Diary and Calendly (that allows someone else to make an appointment in your diary) are very practical tools. The days of the paper Filofax are gone (unless you can’t do without it). The digital age allows us to get organised and coordinated in a fast and easy way.
To Do list
The application Things is practical for generating lists. Generate a list or check your current list every morning. As your different devices synchronise, your lists will follow you wherever you go.
This is Joanna Penn preferred writing programme. In terms of productivity, the software is primarily useful for defining internal targets within the main project, and it can read over your work using flags that change colour as you progress.
Password protection and management
- Password facilitates password management;
- LastPass lets you share passwords securely, with your freelancers for example.
Perfect for collaborating and storing your files in the cloud. Other solutions exist, such as Google Drive and Amazon Drive.
Useful software for storing articles or other resource materials in one place. It can be used with Feedly that gathers blog articles. It is helpful in curating content.
Social media scheduling
You’re not Twitter all day long! Schedule your posts using an application like BufferApp.com for example or IFTTT.com. Later.com is very helpful for Instagram and Zappier.com to link tasks to one another.
Email list management
ConvertKit helps manage marketing emails. You can also use AWeber and ActiveCampaign, but according to Joanna Penn ConvertKid is specially designed for creatives with an online business.
Teachable for online courses
For authors who also do online teaching and want to make a living from it, Teachable is a good option, because this programme can host audio and video files, for easy management of payments, digital taxes and affiliates.
Accounting and bookkeeping
Accounting software (for example Xero, paired with PayPal and your bank account) or an actual accountant? It’s up to you, depending on the size of your business or the time of year (taxes).
Stop distraction with Freedom
We mentioned this already: Freedom allows you to remove some of the distraction caused by your mobile devices. This means that you can stay focussed for longer.
“Is there a part of your process that could be improved with a tool?
Which tool(s) could help you to become more productive?” (Productivity for Authors, p. 80)
Chapter 12. The productive writer mindset
You need to be clear about your real motivations (the purpose of chapter 1). Make sure you understand what pushes you to write, but also think about what may be holding you back. Why?
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for yourself. They can be very beneficial when it comes to making progress: goals, deadlines, time frames, etc. This may not look very creative, but it is the key to success.
“It’s easier to create within boundaries, and you’re already setting specific boundaries for your book, so why is time any different?”(Productivity for Authors, p. 80)
Time and quality
Some classics (like A Christmas Carol by Dickens or Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury) were written in a very short period of time. You can’t judge quality or the importance of a piece of work solely based on the length of time it took to produce it. This will stop you from getting stuck in.
In fact, the concept of quality varies from one individual to another. At the end of the day, it is impossible to measure the quality of a piece work based on the time spent writing it.
Are you lacking inspiration? There may be several causes for this. The answer to the problem also depends on how your career is moving forward. Have you thought about filling the “pipe” or well of your creativity? Are you sufficiently curious about other things that are happening or other people writing around you?
It’s not a question of copying other people’s work, of course, but about transforming it, adapting it, making something new out of their creations.
Writing is hard
Sitting down at your desk and writing hundreds and thousands of words is not enough. Writing is a difficult art, or indeed craft. But this is not a reason to give up. If you have truly decided that you are going to produce something in writing, then you have to be prepared to get the job done.
“I feel guilty because I’m not writing.”
“Maybe you’re in love with the idea of writing, but you don’t actually want to write.”(Productivity for Authors, p. 84)
If this is your case, then be honest about it, own your decision and move on. It may be a temporary block. In this case, find the cause and take action. If you are sick, then be kind to yourself and don’t feel guilty.
This is a central issue, and it takes a variety of forms: “X writer is better than me, I’ll never be that good. I’ll never win that prize, so what’s the point?”, etc.
But look at the example of your models. Look at when they started their career and take hope. Didn’t they fail at some point? Don’t they have years of experience over you? Perhaps this will put your own situation into perspective.
You can also compare yourself to yourself. Aren’t you a better writer than you were ten years ago? Haven’t you made progress in your thought process about yourself? You have already come a long way. Take heart and be aware that doubt is part of the learning process. You are not alone in having doubts.
“What is stopping you from being productive? Go deeper into each answer. For example, if you said writer’s block, then dig to the next level and work out what that block might really be.
Who do you compare yourself to and why? Is there a way to use that as an inspiration for your next steps?
How will you overcome these mindset issues to be more productive?” (Productivity for Authors, p. 86)
Chapter 13. Healthy productivity
You are not just a brain
“To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”
This quote attributed to Buddha is given by Joanna Penn to highlight the importance of taking care of your body. She says that your physical health is in layers (like an onion) that you must learn to recognise.
Some ailments are due to your social environment (noise, etc.), while others are related to your posture and the ergonomics of your desk, and still others may be old injuries, etc. Scan your body regularly and take the time to find out where you need to heal. Scan your different layers!
Sustainable productivity vs spike productivity
Do not wear yourself out working. This is another reason why it is important to plan to leave buffer zones for resting or soaking up additional working time.
Schedule time for rest, relaxation and play. When you visit a museum or go for a walk, you are not idle: you are picking up new ideas, images, sensations, etc. They will work for you moving forward. Do not neglect these moments of relaxation and play.
Sort out your sleep
Sleep is not optional in a writer’s life. Writing demands deep intellectual effort and the brain needs to sleep to maintain its health. We sleep for good reasons.
Again, if your sleep is poor, ask yourself some questions and examine your bedroom. Are you sleeping in good conditions? No screens? Etc.
Consider your natural rhythms and cycles
The seasons have an influence on the body and on your behaviour. Your own projects create cycles too. Have you just finished a book? Rest for a while until you are ready to start again.
You should also try to notice the times when you are most creative. Ideally, these moments are when you should schedule your writing blocks.
When do have the most creative energy?
For example: are you a morning or an evening person? Are there times of the year when you feel more tired, or in contrast, more dynamic? Learn to live and work with your body, and your own biological rhythms. Your body will thank you and you will be even more efficient.
The body is built to move. Writers are not in the habit of exercising a lot.. You need to make up for this by taking up a sport, or walking, whatever you like to do. Do not picture this as an obligation, “effort” or even as exercise.
In reality, the more you move, the more you will want to move. See each movement as something positive that helps you live better and more profoundly.
Don’t forget to eat healthily at regular times. Forget the cliché of the writer who eats scrappy meals at any time of the day or night. Take care of yourself, including by paying attention to what you eat on a daily basis. This is a vast subject, but here is one question:
“What can you do in the next 24 hours that will start you in the right direction?”(Productivity for Authors, p. 94)
Depression, anxiety and chronic pain
Joanna Penn sends readers to her co-authored book The Healthy Writer and to her website (see the interview with Michaelbrent Collins).
Become part of a community
You are not alone as a writer! To avoid solitude, get in touch with reading or writing groups, visit cafés or libraries to write, share your story or make new contacts on social media.
Beware of the information overload! It can severely damage your mental health if you let it. From time to time, disconnect from your phone and your other digital devices.
You could decide to do something completely different one day a week. You can also set aside longer periods during the year when you disconnect from the internet and social media.
“Why are physical and mental health important for productivity?
Think of your health like an onion. What is the first layer you need to tackle? What’s bothering you right now?
Where is your resistance around health issues? How are you going to ensure self-care in order to be productive for the long term?” (Productivity for Authors, p. 96)
Conclusion about “Productivity for authors: find time to write, organize your author life and decide what really matters”:
A useful read that offers good lines of thought
Whether you are a novice or an experienced writer, this book could be useful in more ways than one. Firstly, because it will give you some tips and tricks and will introduce some very practical tools; next, because it will make you reflect on what you want and how you want to move forward with your writing career.
What to take away from “Productivity for authors: find time to write, organize your author life and decide what really matters”:
At the end of the book, Joanna Penn gives readers three major pieces of advice to remember. If you only take away three things from this book, this is what they should be:
- “Choose your focus and eliminate everything else”: in other words, lighten your mental load in order to focus, for the desired period, on your chosen goal (creating the first draft of your novel, for example).
- “Schedule your creative time and don’t miss it!”: when you have successfully organised your days in such a way as to devote a couple of hours to writing, do not miss the appointment with yourself under any (bad) pretext.
- “Sort out your sleep”: this is the best way to recharge your batteries and conserve your spiritual energy to become creative on a daily basis.
- Lots of practical advice to stop procrastinating and get to work.
- Simple writing that is easy to follow.
- Quotes from other authors to enhance our vision of this career.
- Self-publishing is not without risks: among them are the danger of typos and page formatting that appears less professional.
- You may need to read other books by Joanna Penn to find out more about a certain number of points, such as The Healthy Writer on the topic of self-care, for example.
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