You don’t have to be Stephen King to be a productive writer. Using the right applications and writing tips, you can get more writing done with less frustration, and finish what you start.
I’m not going to pretend that writing is easy and doesn’t require experience and skill. But if you’re not taking advantage of all the tools at your disposal or taking on-board the writing habits of professional writers; your writing productivity may not be as efficient as it could be.
Different writing projects require different approaches, but the following tips and resources apply to nearly all projects.
Keep a Notebook
Many writers have ideas about what they’re going to write before they begin a writing project. If you write blog posts, student essays, reports and more on a regular basis, get into the habit of keeping a notebook to jot down ideas – be it paper, digital or both.
As a Mac user, I use a several digital notebooks on my Mac and iOS devices, and I use them for gathering ideas and other content for current writing projects. The Windows version of OneNote can be used for the same purposes.
Though it’s a significant investment, the pen and paper writing tool Livescribe 3 is useful for handwriting notes that arethen automatically archived in the Livescribe app or Evernote. Livescribe can also convert your written text into digital text, so it’s searchable. I sometimes use Livescribe when I don’t feel like typing, but when I want to quickly jot down notes and review them them on my computer via my Evernote account.
Keeping notes is a part of the prewriting process that can provide big boosts to your productivity and really kickstart your writing project.
As you research your project, you need a method for bookmarking and managing your resources. Evernote’s web clipper service allows for annotating and bookmarking webpages to a designated notebook, so it’s all in one place when you need it.
Another online bookmarking and annotation tool called Diigo can also be used and accessed from any browser. With Diigo you can highlight webpages and review your highlights and notes in your Diigo account. Similarly, you can use PDF readers like iAnnotate for iOS or GoodReader for the iPad (shown below) to read, annotate, and manage documents, and even export all your highlights and notes for your project into a separate document.
Outline Your Project
Creating an outline of your writing project is the best way to see if you know enough about your subject, and to organize the structure of your blog post, report, or story. By planning the direction of your writing project using an outline, you will be able to write with more confidence and focus.
For long writing projects, I use OmniOutliner for the Mac. OmniOutliner isn’t a cheap solution, but it includes very handy outline templates and other features for writing and getting the most control over your outline. The less expensive Cloud Outliner is another Mac solution that also integrates with Evernote. Outlines can also be useful brainstorming tools.
Text Expansion Application
Normally when writing a project, you will use similar words and phrases many times. In this case you should consider downloading a text expansion program such as TextExpander for Mac or PhraseExpress for Windows.
With these programs you can create short abbreviations that trigger assigned words, phrases, and other snippets when the abbreviation is typed. For example, when I type of the word, “download,” I type the abbreviation, “dl,” and TextExpander types “download” for me. I use hundreds of snippets for typing single letter words and punctuation marks to entire template emails.
Use Voice Dictation
If you’re a relatively slow or clumsy typist like I am, or if you have a handicap makes typing difficult, you might want to try voice-to-text dictation. Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows, or DragonDictate for Mac are the gold standard in this department. Though these programs might misunderstand what you dictate, they never spell common words incorrectly. If you dictate words clearly, your text input speed can be twice or three times what it is when typing manually.
Effective voice-to-text dictation is an acquired skill, so practice using the program for several weeks before you need to dictate a writing project. I find text dictation useful for brainstorming ideas, writing emails, and typing forum comments. I also use it for longer writing projects, such as short stories that don’t require me to reference resources as I type.
Note that while text dictation reduces the need to physically type, it may not help you write faster, because you have to think about what you’re going to say before you say it. You will also need to read back over dictated text to check for accuracy.
Build Writing Fluency
If you struggle to write, you probably need to build your writing fluency. This can be done by writing daily in a journal or using the distraction-free writing site 750words.com. The latter challenges you to crank out 750 words per day with little regard for proper grammar use or correct spelling. The goal is to build your writing expression skills by using stream of conscious writing.
Writing, like any other skill, requires daily or frequent practice as well as knowledge about what constitutes good writing.
Automatic Spelling Corrections
Mac OS X and Microsoft Word both feature automatic spelling correction. When I’m typing on my Mac, it will often correct typos and misspellings as I type. The feature is enabled in System Preferences > Language & Region > Keyboard Preferences > Text. Enable “Correct spelling automatically.”
Notice also that Mavericks includes a text expansion feature that syncs with iOS devices, but this feature is nowhere near as powerful as TextExpander.
For Windows 8, autocorrect spelling settings are enabled by default; but if yours are turned off, open Settings, and then click on Change PC settings > General, and enable “Autocorrect misspelled words.”
For longer writing projects, you can be more productive if you use an application to organize the chapters and sections of your project. Scrivener for the Mac and PC allows for breaking up your writing project so you can work sections in any order you want.
Scrivener includes most important features from Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages, but it is more than a word processor. It includes features for keeping notes, outlining your project, and for importing and bookmarking your research into folders.
Scrivener can increase your writing productivity because it includes tools like full screen, distraction-free typing, and digital index cards for plotting your fictional story, or organizing your non-fiction project. Scrivener even keeps a project file that can hold everything related to your project.
Let Your Project Percolate
Though many people write against deadlines or due dates, you can actually increase your writing productivity by allowing your drafts to percolate. If you give yourself enough time to work on a project, it’s best to write the first drafts very quickly and then come back a few days later and work on a second and third draft. By creating some distance between between the time you start revising drafts, you can see the content with fresh eyes, and better understand how your writing can be improved.
It’s also worth getting into the habit of reading your writing aloud in order to gauge the flow, and to better recognize awkward sentences. You might also want to use the text-to-voice feature on your computer to have your writing read back to you.
Writing requires lots of focus, patience and a willingness to critique your content to make it better. When you write, it’s very important to reduce distractions (like television, vocal music, and side conversations) that can get in the way of your writing. Try to write in the mornings or late evenings when your mind may be more focused, and when there are less people around.
Lastly: pay attention to software tools and features that help improve your writing workflow. They can really help.
What helps you increase your writing productivity? Need some inspiration for changing up your workflow? Add your $0.02 in the comments, below.