Developing Good Work Habits

Writing, like any kind of work, requires a certain amount of discipline. However, unlike many sorts of work, pounding away at the keyboard is only helpful when you have ideas to get onto paper (digital in most cases today, but the idea is the same as writing in the past). In order to become more productive, you must develop good work habits. Part of the task is to base your work habits on the kind of writing you do, your personality, and the requirement to get a certain amount of work done in a given time. It’s also important to consider your work environment.

I normally work a 12 to 14 hour work day, but I don’t spend all that time at the keyboard. My work day is split into one hour segments with 15 minute breaks. The day always begins with chores and breakfast for me. After all, everyone has to eat. During my first segment, I’ll answer e-mail, and then it’s usually time to take a break. I get some cleaning done or get the wood stove ready for the evening fire. The point is to get out of the office for 15 minutes so that I can rest, but also remain productive.

During the second segment I normally write as much text as I can. Sometimes this means pressing pretty hard in order to get the task done, but you need words on paper to move forward. Last week’s post mentioned some ways in which I get the job done. This segment usually goes by so fast that it seems as if I’m just starting when my timer goes off. Yes, I use a timer on my computer to keep a routine in place. Pacing yourself is important. At the end of the second segment it’s usually time to check the chickens and get any eggs they’ve laid. A walk outside is nice too. Sometimes I play Frisbee with the dogs or do some cleaning or even just enjoy some sunshine while I read the newspaper.

The third segment sees me editing the text I’ve written during the second segment and augmenting it. I usually end up with half again the number of pages that I had at the end of the second segment. The point is that the book has advanced, but that the text is also in better shape by the end of the third segment.

Depending on how everything has gone, I can sometimes fit in a fourth segment that I use to research new book material. I write ideas for the current chapter directly into the remaining blank spots so that I can start working on them immediately after lunch.

Lunch is an hour long. Afterward, I check on the animals again, check out the orchards and gardens as needed, and generally get things cleaned up. You’ll notice I do a lot of little cleaning segments during the day. For me, it’s better than trying to clean the entire house all in one fell swoop. Plus, I like a clean environment in which to work, some people actually do work better in clutter. There isn’t any right or wrong to the question of environment, just what works for you.

The rest of the day goes pretty much like the first part of the day went. I’ll have a robust writing segment after lunch, followed by an editing segment, followed by a research segment. It may seem mundane and potentially quite boring, but it’s an efficient way for me to work. Of course, you have to come up with your own routine—whatever seems to work for you. Keep trying different ways to approaching your writing until you come up with an approach that’s both efficient and rewarding. Yes, I’m quite tired by the end of the day, but I also feel quite happy with what I’ve gotten done. Let me know your ideas on writing workflow at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

In Praise of Editorland

A good friend of mine, who just happens to be a really good editor too, runs a blog site called Editorland. If you’re like me, you have a shelf full of books that purport to tell you how to write better. These books do provide you with the mechanics of writing better—they provide a common framework of rules that everyone follows to make writing clearer, succinct, and expressive. However, they all lack something that Editorland provides—an experienced hand.

Experience is hard to find in books, articles, or even most places online. It’s not just a matter of learning when to break the rules or to observe the rules to an extreme—being a good editor (or a good author, for that matter) consists of far more than rules. For example, creativity is a good thing, even for a journalist, but certain kinds of creative prove troublesome to an extreme. Burying the topic of a story well into the story is never a good idea and Bill lets you know about it as part of his one blog post.

Sometimes it’s a matter of when to use a hyphen or the proper spelling of a word. The blog posts cover a wide variety of topics that will interest anyone who writes and is tired of not finding good answers in the books on their shelf. The idea of Editorland is to make you a better editor (or author) in discovering how to feel your way through a topic and how to use both words and punctuation effectively. Writing is an art, no matter what sort of writing you do—it can’t be taught in the same way that an engineering discipline can be taught. Experience is the best teacher.

The best part of Editorland is that you can go back through the years of posts that Bill has created and learn quite a bit about the art of writing. The topics seem fresh, even when they were written quite some time ago. In short, if you write, give Editorland a try to see for yourself that it has quite a lot to offer.