Ultimately, to have a productive writing session, you need to have self-control. I can give you all the best tips in the world, but unless you have zero self-control, it won’t help.
Here’s my tip: open your document and write. And don’t stop.
Need something more specific?
Social Media? Turn it Off!
Yes, this is the most obvious. Don’t check social media until you’ve finished your writing time! Turn your phone off if you have to. Do whatever it takes to not get distracted. I have the willpower to not check Instagram before I write, but if I somehow end up on there (maybe to message someone, maybe to look for something I saved for reference), it’s harder for me to turn it off and get back to writing.
Treat Writing Like it’s Your Job
And no goofing off when you’re on the clock. It’s your writing time, so sit down, and write. It’s a production environment, folks. Time is ticking, and words have gotta fill the page. Sometimes I’ll get a timer going, say for 10-20 minutes, and write without stopping until the timer goes off. Other times I’ll use the stopwatch function and let it run while I’m writing to mimic being punched in at work. I’ve even logged in my hours in a notebook.
List Things to Lookup Later
Need to google what kind of fish live in the Atlantic Ocean? Jot it down and keep writing. Wondering what plants are used to dye fabric? Look it up later. Right now, you’re writing. Once I’ve completed the draft (or round of edits), I’ll pull up that list (physical paper, or via word document) and spend a writing session looking up all those things. Then I can go in and make corrections as needed. And because I have a list of things to do, it’s easier for me to not get sidetracked while exploring all that info on the internet.
(If it’s a plot-altering thing, by all means, stop and look it up, but make sure you don’t end up on YouTube 15 minutes later, watching funny cat videos.)
Set Session Goals
Maybe write for 30 minutes? Maybe finish the chapter? Maybe tackle that descriptive paragraph? Having a goal in the back of your mind can help you get right on track the minute you open that draft.
Write and Don’t Look Back
Whatever you do, don’t get stuck in the destructive editing circle. When I first started writing, I got to a point where I was writing and re-writing the first couple chapters for a number of books. The instant I felt like something wasn’t right, I was back at the beginning, tweaking those first couple paragraphs…and I never got deeper into the middle of the story.
And can I tell you a secret? When you finally get past that beginning and into the middle of the book, things will need to change again. You’ll have learned more about the characters, about the story world. But don’t got back to change the beginning. Because by the time you get to the end, you’ll need to change things again, because know you know the ending.
So if you’re unhappy with the beginning, or a certain scene, or can’t figure out a character…just keep writing. By the time you struggle through to the end, you’ll have a better picture—the full picture—of the story and how things need to be started, hinted at, and carried through.
Just keep writing, y’all. Push on. Get the book finished. It’ll be worth it when you’re done.
Helena George has participated in NaNoWriMo 5 times, winning each one (and even writing a 100K+ draft in Nov. 2018). She encourages writers to also do the twice-yearly Camp NaNo, because setting your own personal goals is less stressful and more fun. So far, her multiple YA fantasy stories remain unpublished, but hey – hard work will pay off eventually, right? Follow her on Instagram @julian.daventry or check out her blog.