Efficiency and Effectiveness for Writers

Many thanks to Ev for inviting me to guest blog today.  I’m so happy to be here, especially as it gives the new parents more time to spend with Emile. Congratulations to the whole family!

gold clock faceMy husband is a project manager and sometimes I’ll be mulling some idea about how I’m spending my writing time and he’ll drop an idea on me that stops me in my tracks.  Here’s one of them:  being effective is not the same as being efficient.

Being effective is about results.

Being efficient is about process.

(He’s not responsible for any of this further mulling. So if you know Greg, don’t ask him to explain any of what I’m thinking. He gave up on that a long time ago.)

All the writers I know have other gigs in their lives.  Time is precious.  It’s not enough to be effective or efficient; we need to be both.

When I’m efficient with my time, I might measure that in words written or pages edited.  I might look at how many blog posts I’ve written.  Being efficient is important.  How can I be more efficent?

  • Get up early so I have time alone without disruptions.
  • Watch the clock.
  • Limit frivolous distractions.
  • Write during the time of day when I think most clearly.
  • Take care of myself, so my mind is sharp.
  • Set a timer so I persist through writing discomfort.
  • Listen to music that sustains my writing frame of mind.

All of this efficiency is great, but what if I am channeling my energy ineffectively?  What if I really need to re-envision my rough draft and I’m checking for typos instead?  I might end up with a manuscript 99% free of typos and then need to go back and rewrite every scene.  Maybe I’ve been efficient in hunting typos, but I’ve been ineffective in producing that final draft.

What about blog posts?  What if I’m blogging like crazy to build an audience for my novel–but I never have time left to write the novel?  I can be efficient at writing posts.  I can even be effective in building an audience.  Yet, when I stop to assess, I’m no closer to my goal of becoming a novelist.

What can I do to be more effective?

  • Define my goals in concrete terms.
  • Identify steps toward completing my goals.
  • Of those steps, identify the most time-efficient processes.
  • Be honest with myself about how I spend my time.
  • Be honest with myself when something isn’t working.
  • Take responsibility for the path I’m on.

So that’s it, right?  Be more efficient.  Be more effective.  End of story.

Not so.

All of these steps improve my odds at becoming a better writer, but the creative process requires something more.

I can’t always measure the effectiveness of daydreaming, but I feel it.  I can’t always explain why I need to research some weird aspect of Idaho history, but I feel it.  I can’t always explain why I need an hour to block out a relatively simple scene, but I feel it.  Whether we call it intuition or inspiration or motivation from the muse, these gut feelings are rarely wrong for me.  Often impulsive actions feel neither effective nor efficient and yet they are essential.

How do you spend your writing time? Are you effective and efficient?  Do you follow your intuition?  How are you with setting goals?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

- – -
Johanna is a writer and teacher. She’s the creator of Claire Morgane novels and the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter. Represented by Carolyn Swayze Literary Agency, her author blog is http://www.johannaharness.com and she tweets as @johannaharness

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5 Comments on “Efficiency and Effectiveness for Writers”

  1. September 10, 2011 at 4:26 am #

    Great post! I’ve gotten so much done on my novel this year, and your ideas about efficiency and effectiveness have given me a new way to look at why.

    Having a kiddo really taught me to be more efficient with the time I have. Otherwise I’d never get any work done. In terms of effectiveness, I’ve planned out my story goals for this project (something I’ve never done before) and that process has kept me focused on where my writing’s going. I still get distracted, and prioritize for other things, and my kid wakes up early some mornings and erases my writing time, but I have gotten a lot done this year!

  2. September 10, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Well stated. I especially love the “I can feel it” parts. Sometimes we undervalue that which comes from within.

  3. September 11, 2011 at 3:10 am #

    laurastanfill–I can relate to that. Having kids also taught me that some things are worth losing sleep over. Writing is one of those things for me now too.

    Charlene–so good to see you here! And yes–no matter how much I quantify, there will always be some part that remains a mystery. Usually that’s the best part.

    • September 11, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

      Well said about losing sleep, Johanna! My kiddo spent one night at Grandma’s this weekend and I woke up at 5 a.m. to get some extra writing time in before picking her up. The act of writing, and revising, keeps me grounded and it’s definitely worth those lost zzzs.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Effective vs. Efficient | Johanna's big thoughts - September 15, 2011

    [...] post first appeared as a guest post for Ev Maroon. [...]

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