IPT Time Management Clinic – 5 Tips for Productive Writing

This week begins a new IPT Writing Clinic. For the month of April, I’ll be sharing tools and tips I’ve found for making the best use of sometimes limited writing time. Unlike most of our clinics, this one has a fluid schedule. I’ll start the discussion this week, but where it goes from there depends in large part on what I hear from you.

So don’t be shy. Pull up a chair and read the “lecture”, then join the discussion.


Writers are always looking for ways to improve productivity and maximize the time they have for writing.

Available time varies from one writer to the next. Family responsibilities, an outside job, outside responsibilities, health, temperament, they all play a role in the time each writer can spend writing.

Following are five things I’ve found helpful.

1. Spend as much time as possible writing.

This may seem self-evident, but I’ve noticed a tendency to put other things ahead of writing in my own writing life. It starts innocently enough. A day or two goes by without writing. Then a week. Maybe two. Pretty soon, I’m bemoaning low production. I used to think that if I didn’t have an hour to write, I had no time to write.

Not so!

On hold with a long-distance telephone call? Jot some thoughts on a notepad.

Waiting at a doctor’s office? Take out that notepad and start writing.

How about that long drive, when hubby has fallen silent. Where’s your notepad? (Make sure hubby is driving and not you!)

Mind you, you may not be able to remember where you left off in the last chapter, but that doesn’t matter. What are you thinking during that long-distance hold? What’s the mood in the doctor’s office? What sort of scenery are you driving through? Write it down! It could be the beginning of something beautiful!

2. Record every idea

Even if it’s just a line or two, write it down. Just make sure the note you write is enough to remind you what you were thinking when you read the note again days, weeks, or months later.

Make sure you have a pen and paper handy at all times. You never know when an idea might strike.

Oh, and for those with smart phones, did you know there’s a word processor included with or available for most of them? Use it!

Or call and leave yourself a voice mail!

3. Record thoughts as well as ideas

Have you ever seen something and thought, “Now that’s interesting, but what would happen if…?” What better way to get an idea started? Write it down.

If you have the time, it doesn’t hurt to follow that train of thought to the end of the tracks. There’s no telling what you might find at the station.

4. Keep a writing journal

I’ve heard a lot of people pooh-pooh this idea as a waste of time (not all of them writers), but I’ve been keeping journals since December 1989.

I have a journal for each story in development, as well as a journal for general writing thoughts that don’t fit with a specific idea.

If you don’t have a writing journal, start one. Most of us think that if we’re not working on a specific story, we’re not writing, but that hasn’t proven to be the case for me. Putting thoughts on paper anywhere can be like priming a pump. Pour one thought in, a river of thoughts come out.

5. Start a document for Miscellaneous Scenes

You know what these are. Those snatches of dialogue, descriptions of settings or action, even characters ‘speaking to you’. Things that are very clear, but have nothing to do with a specific story.

This is like a writing journal, but everything in it is fiction. Scenes, dialogue, whatever.

Keeping a Miscellaneous Scenes journal is a lot like free-association writing. Once you get started, write until there’s nothing more to say. Don’t worry about it making sense and don’t worry about it being perfect … it won’t be. Just write.

There’s no guarantee that what works for me will work for everyone. What I can guarantee is that if you try enough of these ideas, they will lead you to an idea that does work for you.

And even if you don’t end up with The Great American Novel using any of these ideas, you will most likely write something that will lead you to the story you’re meant to write. For most of us, that’s all we really need.

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