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How to be Extremely Productive by Doing Nothing

This blog is part of a series of helpful pointers for fellow writers in the “The Six-Figure Writer” Community

We live in a day and age where everything is about productivity. Increase profits, reduce costs, sleep less, work more. There’s a cultural anxiety. We buy books on time management and how to get organized. We live in a perpetually caffeinated state just to create more time in order to be more productive.

For a professional writer, productivity is determined primarily by self-governance and the ability to focus. We measure our productivity in terms of word count and pages written in a day along with the quality of what we write. Rather than live and die by the clock like most professions do, we`re slaves to document size.  

Rather than be told what to do in terms of tasks and duties, like most jobs, we writers must be in a perpetual state of creation. We have to pull words from our imagination and somehow group them together in a way that is engaging and at the very least, coherent.

Therefore, in order to create, we must make the space and time to allow ourselves to do so. As much as we may love the thrill and joy of writing, it does require mental strain to consistently conjure up words. Far too many writers hinder their creativity by not allowing themselves time to decompress. Space for yourself is needed in spite of the urge and panic of “being productive”.

That’s why it’s important you make time every day to be the opposite of productive. To do nothing mentally demanding. This even includes reading, because reading requires your brain to work. In other words, it’s necessary to be lazy.

How much time should you put into this non-activity?

30 minutes a day. 30 minutes is the optimal amount of time for your mind to decompress and recharge. Take a walk, nap, sit and watch mindless TV, browse the Internet. Just do something where your mind is on autopilot.

This seemingly wasteful time will provide two important things to optimize your writing.

1)      Give you a Break

Think of your brain like a muscle. You don`t work the same muscle, day in, day out without taking some kind of break, do you? Your brain needs brain-breaks too in order to function at its top performance level.

2)      Make You More Creative

By giving your brain needed rest, it will help you avoid writer’s fatigue and writer’s block. Practicing non-activity will also help alleviate stress, providing you separation from your work. A relaxed brain generates better quality content. 

You'll Never Guess How Many Words These Authors Type a Day

Daily word count is a daily concern for me. As a writer with my company specializing in written content, it’s my job to be prolific. If I don’t knock enough words every day, I don’t earn a living.

The good news is I have multiple ongoing projects that require my literary services. Not only do I have retainer accounts that pay me every month for content, I have been commissioned to ghost-write several books. Additionally, I am paid to coach other aspiring writers pen their own material. I’m not telling you this information to brag about how much work I’ve got lined up. I mention it to demonstrate the practical reality of a working writer juggling creativity with commerce. Ultimately, my daily output predicts how well I am managing my responsibilities to my clients.

In recent months, I have been averaging 3,000 words a day in order to not fall behind on my work schedule.

An important caveat here: When I say I write 3,000 words a day, this refers to days when I am strictly batching for writing. What does that mean?

Well, as an entrepreneur whose business is dependent on relationships, I must do many other things besides writing. I attend networking events, meet with (potential) clients, and of course, invoice and do all the boring paper work stuff. Therefore, there are “catch up” days when I do not put in 3,000 words. I may write 2,000 words on these days. Then on the days in which I batch writing, I actually write 6,000 to 8,000 words. You see how this averages out?

One more thing- when I mention these numbers, they refer to first draft-writing. The object of this practice is to figuratively vomit all my ideas onto the page so I can edit the material later. For me, the hard part when writing is always the initial draft. That’s why I try to write quickly. The fun part is editing all that goop later.

Okay, so enough about my output. Let’s look at some other authors. The idea behind supplying you these numbers is to help you see where you land on the scale of productivity. And before someone writes in to tell me it’s all about quality, not quantity, let it be known I agree.

But all those soon-to-be quality words have to come from somewhere first.

 Barbara Kingsolver: 1,000

Ernest Hemingway: 500

Jack London: 1,500

Jon Creasey: 6,000

Mark Twain: 1,400

Maya Angelou: 2,500

Norman Mailer: 3,000

R.F. Delderfield: 10,000

Stephen King: 2,000

W. Somerset Maugham: 1,000

This article first appeared on The Six-Figure Writer website. Click here for your copy of the book.