Techniques for Producing Words Despite Your Precious, Beautiful Screeching Howler Monkey, Part III

Read Part I and Part II of this series!

Part III, or: I Could Keep Doing This Forever But Three Is a Good Number. Our final two tips/techniques are…

Word Sprints and Accountability Buddies

The problem: You feel isolated while writing. Or you don’t feel much motivation with only yourself to disappoint. You have a deadline and no energy. Writing lacks thrill.

For some folks, there’s nothing like external pressure and accountability to get things done. I often find that one of the best ways to get things done is to kick in my competitive drive, which my family can tell you is… intense. (I was banned from playing Magic: The Gathering with my brother as a child, and I’m still not really allowed to play competitive board games. It’s. Um. A problem.) And similarly, I’m far more likely to get something done to avoid disappointing someone else than if it’s a purely personal goal. I love deadlines with a passion, but they aren’t always forthcoming.

So this is actually two techniques rolled into one. First, group (or paired) word sprints: Find a buddy, set a timer, and WRITE. It’s like a joint Pomodoro. You can make these as long as you want, but I always find that they don’t work if I go longer than 30 minutes at a stretch; I no longer treat it like a sprint, and devolve back into bad habits. At the end of the time, compare progress. If you’re the competitive sort (and cheerful about it) you can crown a “winner” for the sprint; otherwise, you can just cheer each other on. At the very least, this forces you to admit to another human being when you cheated and checked Facebook for fifteen minutes.

Longer term, having a writing group or critique partner waiting on your words creates external accountability and gives you deadlines that exist as more than personal goals (but are nonetheless more flexible than your editor’s). Even just talking about something publicly can ensure that you work on it, just to avoid the awkward conversations about “What ever happened to…”


Problem: You need an excuse to make a spreadsheet. You feel insufficiently motivated without a visual indicator of progress. You don’t have enough spreadsheets in your life. 

If you don’t find spreadsheets inherently intoxicating, this may not be as effective for you. But really, is there any problem a spreadsheet can’t improve? Especially a color-coded, conditionally-formatted spreadsheet?

I love spreadsheets to track my writing. Admittedly, I’m not great with daily wordcounts in spreadsheets; I usually have only a couple weeks of tending to a spreadsheet in me, tops. So I stick with them for short term goals, but if you have the diligence to check in every day with your spreadsheet, they can be a great tool.

They can give you a visual indicator of progress, and a quick visual motivator. Format your cells so that they turn prettier colors the closer you get to your goal. You want that cell to be green, don’t you? The green of the sea. The green of a verdant forest. The green of a sparkling emerald. Not that muddy yellowish color it is now! Keep going!

It’s also great for spotting patterns. You can see when you wrote more or less, and try to figure out what was different, and if you can make changes to hit more of those green days and fewer of those red and yellow days.

My machete draft spreadsheet, not yet green.

The main thing I use spreadsheets for is actually deleting words. When I do what I call a machete draft to get rid of word bloat or trim down an overlong manuscript, I always plug everything into a spreadsheet so that I can see where the words are coming from, target areas that haven’t been touched as much, and generally enjoy the numbers ticking down.

A warning: This kicks my self-competitive mode into overdrive, and it’s hard to turn off. My husband starts making sad noises, the dog paws at the door, the baby fusses, but I MUST write more words. The house may be a wreck but THAT IS THE GREENEST FUCKING CELL YOU HAVE EVER SEEN IN YOUR LIFE.

…So there you go! Six quick techniques to sample to stay productive while your child attempts to slap your keyboard because he KNOWS that’s how you make Caspar Babypants play. Not that I’m trying to restrain a wailing, dancing toddler right now. Nope. Okay, gotta go…

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