Online Writing: Productivity Habits to Speed Up the Process

Evan Jensen

Online Writing Tips to Speed Up the Process. Makealivingwriting.comYou’ve got an online writing assignment, but you’re feeling stuck.

So you procrastinate. You make excuses. You roll around on the floor. And you keep listening to that voice inside your head that fills you with doubt and fear.

Sound familiar?

That’s exactly what Kristina Adams’ online writing career looked like for years when she first started out. Full-on writer’s block, lots of mistakes, lots of wasted time.

And then one of those life-changing epiphanies happened that changed everything. It made her rethink her approach and take a hard look at her productivity habits. The result: she went from writing next to nothing, to publishing her first book.

If you’re wondering how to get more online writing done, move up and earn more, you’ve got a choice to make.

Spend your days wasting time, doing nothing. Or do everything in your power to achieve your online writing and freelance goals. What’s it going to be?

If you want to speed things up and be a more productive writer, here are some things you can do:

Meet freelance writer Kristina Adams

Kristina Adams: Online Writing and Productivity Tips

Kristina Adams

Kristina Adams is the author of Productivity for Writers. She runs the site The Writer’s Cookbook, created to help freelance writers boost productivity, be more creative, and make money writing.

When she’s not working on her next fiction title, she’s writing and editing for clients, or helping freelancers develop better online writing and productivity habits.

Adams was a recent guest on the Freelance Writers Den podcast.

Q: What did your writing career look like when you first got started?

Adams: I wasn’t writing at all. I was suffering really bad with writer’s block. I finally realized I had to do something about it. When I finally did, I went from writing nothing to 14,000 words a day. I had a lot of writing friends ask me about how I did it. And that’s kind of how Productivity for Writers came about.

Q: What’s the best thing you can do as a writer to boost productivity?

Adams: Pay attention to the way you work. Figure out what needs to be done. And then come up with a system that works for you. It’s not enough to just set a deadline for an assignment if you have 50 million other things to do. Get specific. If you think a first draft will take you a few weeks, give yourself the time. Then break it down into research, writing, editing, proofreading, etc. Just giving yourself a general deadline isn’t enough.

Q: What’s wrong with leaving a writing assignment until the last minute?

Adams: Some people work well that way. You know, procrastinate, then wake up at three o’clock in the morning and scramble to get the assignment done. Working under pressure can make you work better, but not when it’s the kind of pressure that suffocates you. A little bit of stress is a good thing. But a lot of stress always ends badly. So you have to find that line for yourself, and plan ahead.

Q: What’s the main productivity challenge you see between part-time and full-time freelancers?

Adams: When you freelance on the side, it’s a lot easier to be productive. You only have a limited amount of time to write. So you get home, you write and do XYZ. And then you go to bed and repeat. When you’re a full-time writer and work at home, it’s easy to think you’ve got all this time in the world. When actually, if you’re self employed you have to be a lot more self disciplined as a writer.

Q: What do you suggest to structure a writing day to improve productivity?

Adams: Start with a to do list. I know it sounds a little old fashioned. Write it down on a piece of paper, use Trello or something similar. Break it down your writing assignments as much as you possible can. Don’t just say, “I’ve got this piece to write.” Go through every stage of the process, research, writing, editing, etc. It sounds really tedious and really silly.

But when you check off just one small task, it makes your brain get a little release of the happy hormone. And you start to associate happiness with getting all these things done. Over time you associate that with writing, especially if you reward yourself every time you tick something off. Eat your favorite chocolate bar. Watch 30 minutes of your favorite TV show. Over time you’re going to associate writing with that good feeling, and you’re going to get more and more done.

Q: How do you plan out a writing assignment?

Adams: I’m not a fan of planning everything out to the letter when I’m writing. It can kill creativity and interfere with your flow. But I think having a rough outline, so you know where you’re going is a good idea. It’s like you know the path you’re going to take, but you don’t necessarily know the scenery you’re going to see along the way. The way I do this, is bullet point things to death to develop an outline, come up with  heading and subheads, and make notes for research I need.

Q: What do you think about multi-tasking?

Adams: I am vehemently against multi-tasking. I used to do it a lot. These days I don’t do it…I can’t do it. People talk about multi-tasking like it’s a badge of honor. But studies show that when you do something like watching TV and writing at the same time, your brain is split between these two different things. So it’s constantly flitting between the two. It can’t focus properly on either task. So you can’t give your all to either. And it actually takes you longer to do what you’re trying to do.

Q: Why do so many writers struggle with procrastination?

Adams: Generally, procrastination tends to come from a place a fear. So you need to work out what you’re afraid of. Sometimes the things we want the most are the things we’re most afraid of. A lot of people are just as afraid of achieving their dreams as not achieving them. So they just kind of get stuck. And that’s when people don’t write at all. Or they write something not as good as they could, because they’re so scared of giving their all and really pushing themselves.

If you’re a serial procrastinator, you really need to look inward and think about what it is you are afraid of. Therapy is a good way to do that. Talking to other writers is a good way to do that. And taking some time for some serious self-reflection is a good way to do that.

Q: Edit as you go, or write a complete draft first?

Adams: A lot of writers edit as they write. It’s a really bad idea. It’s a productivity killer, because you’re judging your writing before you can view it objectively. You see your writing like your baby, and you can’t take that emotion out of the equation.

What I suggest is writing your draft completely. Literally word vomit on to the page. Then take a break and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes once. Do something else like step outside, have something to eat, go for a walk, or work on a different project. Then you can engage a different part of your brain to edit.

People often think writing and editing are the same, but they not. They’re very different skills. You you have to learn when to go into writing mode and when to go into editing mode. Your inner critic is the editor, and is often very, very harsh. So once you learn to separate the two, you become a better writer and better editor.

Q: Can software help writers be more productive?

Adams: I think it really depends. I’m a big advocate for Scrivener. I would have never finished anything without it, and and that’s no hyperbole. I don’t write chronologically. Writing for me is more of a jigsaw than a linear process. Using software that allows me to move blocks of content around easily makes a big difference. But you can do with EverNote, Google Docs, or something else. Develop a system that works for you. Software can help you, but it can also be a really big time waster. It really depends on how you work.

Q: How do you set daily writing goals?

Adams: You can either set a daily writing goals by the amount of time you write or the word count. I personally write by word count. But it’s really about finding out what fits with how you work.

If you want to set a writing goal based on time, try this. Set a 15-minute timer, and write. You don’t do anything else. No research, no planning, nothing. That 15 minutes is purely writing time. When the timer stops, even if you’re mid-sentence, stop. This kind of free-writing technique really trains your brain to think, “This is writing time, OK let’s go.” And it teaches you that discipline.

If you do it by word count, set a daily goal for yourself that’s a bit outside your comfort zone, but not completely ridiculous. Some days you’ll be able to make your goal really easily. Some days it’s going to be hard. And you need to be able to force yourself to hit your goal.

Q: What will help writers improve productivity the most?

Adams: Really work on finding out what’s holding you back. It might not be what you think. Very often, it’s the people around us. For example, toxic people can be unsupportive about your freelance writing goals. They make little comments that ebb away at your confidence for weeks, months or even years. And eventually you doubt your ability to do anything. But if you know that, you can deal with it, or whatever it is that’s holding you back. Keep an open mind. Keep pushing yourself. And you’ll be happier and more productive than ever.

Develop productivity habits for online writing success

If you want to be a more productive writer, take a closer look at what you’re doing right. And pay attention to things you’re doing that aren’t getting you closer to your goal. It’s not a waste of time. It’s how you get unstuck. Then develop an action plan and establish habits to move up, earn more, and make a living writing. You can do this!

What are your productivity tips for writers? Leave a comment below.

Evan Jensen is the blog editor for Make a Living Writing. When he’s not on a writing deadline, or catching up on emails, he’s training to run another 100-mile ultramarathon.

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  1. Yui Aragaki

    I love your post thank you share with us.

  2. Patricia Coldiron

    I am a big fan of a to-do list.It really keeps you energized when you can put a check mark on your finished items and it seems like you are working a lot faster.

  3. Judith Norris

    If you’re a good typist already, practice to become even better. If you type poorly, practice to become what you aren’t. Productivity is individual. What works for one may not be what the other person needs to improve. Procrastination can be a mind game. When we make up our mind to write, we WILL write, no matter what. Fast typing is another thing altogether. A good motto is “Just do it!”

  4. Ubai

    Your thought on writing out the first draft entirely and then editing it is right on the mark.
    Trying to edit each word as I write not only makes writing a struggle, but as you suggest, it stifles productivity and imagination.
    Word “vomiting” lets you wander into the depths of your writing mind and reach places where you would not otherwise dare.
    Thanks for the great piece.

  5. craig ogata

    What exactly does a editor for a blog do? Just curious.

    • Evan Jensen

      Hi Craig. It really depends on a lot of things based on the way the blog operates. Probably a little different for every blog. Here’s that basics of what I do for Make a Living Writing:
      -Review guest post submissions via email
      -Assign guest posts to freelancers, send contract, review/edit
      -Optimize post for SEO, write headline, coordinate graphic with designers
      -Set up post in WordPress and schedule
      -Plan/manage blog post calendar with Carol Tice
      -Submit guest post info to accounting for payment

      It’s a process. I’ve been a freelance blog editor for a couple of other sites and the roles were similar. Primarily plan/manage a blog post calendar, write and/or edit blog posts, coordinate graphics. Some blog editing gigs have their editors do all of this, and then assign someone else to set up for publishing. Hope that answers your question.

      • craig ogata

        I am just curious. What kind of posts are you looking for right now? I am not pithing for a guest post spot. I just want to see the process is like. To test myself. As a personal challenge.

      • Carol Tice

        I think Evan forgot — editing the posts! He also does a great job of boiling down, finding cuts, typos, and other problems. For instance, Craig, if your comment here was part of a post, Evan would have changed ‘a editor’ to the grammatically correct ‘an editor.’

        • Evan Jensen

          Ha ha. Left out the most obvious. And it’s not just editing for grammar/punctuation. But editing for the style and voice that represents Carol’s approach to freelancing, coaching, and the Make a Living Writing brand.

          Here’s a curious insight to editing Make a Living Writing. On the blog home page, every post appears with a Read More button. And the text that goes with it is generally about 175 words, no more, no less. Sometimes it’s a snap, sometimes its a process to write, rewrite, edit those lede sentences to fit that parameter.

          • Carol Tice

            Right on — making that teaser lede really pop is its own art form.

  6. Dan Wise

    One of the secrets to my writing a lot of articles within a short period of time is to research first before writing. Instead of writing article A and then getting the points for article B, I try to know how many articles I will need to write in a particular day, and I ensure I research the points and everything I need for those articles before I start typing the first article.

    • Evan Jensen

      Hi Dan,
      Not a bad way to work. But kind of sounds like content mill work, which isn’t a good way to earn pro rates as a freelancer.

  7. Ambuj vats

    Still, waiting for the day to hit 14000 words/day. I might get crazy if it ever happens.

    Once I quit my job, I thought I will have all the time in the world but soon I realized that I am trapped in chores and social gatherings. Took a while to set a proper schedule.

    I agree with Kristina that making a template before writing increase productivity. It also works as a blueprint for me and prevents my writing to look directionless.

    Including a workout and a meditation session just before the writing helped me minimize the writer’s block. It also makes me more creative.

    I really like what she said about the procrastination. Majority of times it is born with the fears in our own mind. We do have to think deep and break the usual pattern (incredibly hard) deep-rooted in our sub-conscious.

    I did the same mistake of editing while writing. It is one of the biggest productivity killers. When I was starting out I wrote 300-400 words in 2-3 hours. Once I break this habit, I was able to quickly increase it to 700-800 words.

    Awesome stuff! Learned a lot of new things.
    Keep sharing!

  8. Derrick Washington

    Excellent article, Evan. I think you are right in so many ways. I like how you explained that procrastination comes from a place of fear. I definitely agree because I once had that battle and I am have been victorious in that area for quite a while now. You also made a good point when you said to write your first draft before making any editorial changes. To word vomit on the page, first, as you put it. I like that. It is the best way to see your writing from an objective point of view. I appreciate you for sharing. Thank you, Evan Jensen.

    • Evan Jensen

      Hi Derrick,

      Thanks man. Just want to point out advice in this blog post is from a Q&A podcast interview from the Freelance Writers Den with writer Kristina Adams. Although, I agree with most of her advice and strategies.

      Keep going.



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