Five Productivity Tips for Writers: Yvonne Ventresca talks NaNoWriMo


There never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything important done. For writers, this can be especially true, because our “work” isn’t always clearly defined. Does staring out the window, thinking about a character’s motivation count? Consistent progress can be a struggle. One of the benefits of NaNoWriMo is the way it brings a community of people together focused on a common objective. Here are five productivity tips to help with writing goals, during November and beyond.

1. Do your creative work first.

What’s the first work-related thing you do each day? If you’re like many people, you check email and social media. Some experts think this is a mistake, because it puts you in a reactive mode (responding to the various messages) instead of proactive mode (focusing on your most important work.) In “Laying the Groundwork for an Effective Routine” (Manage Your Day-to-Day), Mark McGuinness says, “The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off.” If (like me) you can’t bear ignoring your inbox, consider setting a timer so that this initial email check is limited and doesn’t consume too much writing time.


2. Create a deadline.

If you don’t have a real external deadline, make up your own. That’s one of the beauties of NaNoWriMo! You could also pick a date to exchange manuscripts with a critique partner or promise to have the story ready for beta readers by a certain time. Making a commitment that is announced in public or involves other people can work wonders for motivation.

3. Make a visual chain.

Jerry Seinfeld once advised a new comedian to create a chain of success. You can do this by making a large X on a prominent calendar each day that you complete a certain task (like drafting or revising). Soon the line of Xs becomes self-perpetuating because you don’t want to break the streak. (Gold stars work, too!) James Clear says on, “The Seinfeld Strategy works because it helps to take the focus off of each individual performance and puts the emphasis on the process instead. It’s not about how you feel, how inspired you are, or how brilliant your work is that day. Instead, it’s just about ‘not breaking the chain.’”

4. Try a new take on writing sprints.

The Pomodoro Technique is a simple method of getting a project completed by using a timer. Created by Francesco Cirillo, this is the premise: Do 25 minutes of concentrated writing, followed by a 5 minute break, do another 25 minutes of focused writing, followed by another 5 minute break. (After two hours, take a longer break before beginning again.) Dividing a larger task into smaller pieces makes it more manageable and the timer helps encourage undivided attention. It’s cheap and easy, and any timer app can now replace the tomato-shaped timer that Cirillo originally used. NaNoWriMo participants can also use the word sprint timer available online.

black-flowers-white-lies-yvonne-ventresca5. Set up rituals for success.

Waiting for a source of inspiration can slow down the writing process, but inspiration can be nudged along by establishing rituals. Play the same music, light the same candle, or sit in the same spot with coffee nearby—whatever trigger works to say “It’s time to create!” Training the brain to work with these cues is more reliable than waiting for a good idea and can make the creativite process a little easier.

I hope you find these tips useful in achieving your writing goals. Whether or not you participate in NaNoWriMo, be creatively productive today!

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About Author

Yvonne Ventresca’s latest young adult novel, Black Flowers, White Lies was recently published by Sky Pony Press (October, 2016). BuzzFeed included it at the top of their new “must read” books: 23 YA Books That, Without a Doubt, You’ll Want to Read This Fall. Her debut YA novel, Pandemic, won a 2015 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for the Atlantic region. Yvonne’s written a number of blog posts about productivity that can be accessed from her Productivity Pinterest boards.


  1. Great tips, as always, Yvonne! Thanks for sharing! I find myself getting caught in the email (or social media) trap too often, and then before I know it, I’ve lost a lot of productive writing time.

  2. Great tips! Another fellow writer recently recommended doing a visual chain also. I need to try it. It sounds like a great trick to keep me writing daily.

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