This is a guest post from Harper Hodges. She writes at thecatwhowrites.com. Harper took over The Cat Who Writes blog when Pooh Hodges, a regular columnist for The Write Practice, died. Pamela Hodges, the regular writer today, is not a cat—so she asked Harper to help her write today’s post.

Hello,

I am Harper, a cat, a cat who writes. I have a large problem.

No, not the dog I live with. My problem is I struggle with self-doubt and don’t write very much. I really need help to become a more productive writer. My typist is always ready to type for me, but when I sit down to dictate I waste so much time worrying about the quality of my writing.

I really need to prepare for writing and follow Jeff Elkins’s Seven Steps to Increase Productivity—The Elkins Seven.

7 Steps to Become a More Productive Writer

To Be More Productive, Prepare For Your Writing

Jeff Elkins, a writer and the founder of Short Fiction Break, shared Seven Steps To Increase Productivity for Writers at The Write Practice Writing Retreat. My typist, Pamela Hodges, shared his steps with me. 

Mr. Elkins said that writers are in a constant state of personal disappointment over their writing. Writers battle self-doubt and often sabotage their writing by constantly checking email, getting up for snacks, and feeling despair that their words are not perfect in the first draft.

The purpose of The Elkins Seven is to manage our thoughts, feelings, and actions so we can get our writing done.

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If humans are in a constant state of personal disappointment over their writing, can you image the anxiety a cat feels? I don’t have thumbs and I have to depend on my typist. I constantly battle self-doubt as a writer, and I am easily distracted when I am writing. I keep wanting to watch cat videos on YouTube.

Instead, today I will share Jeff Elkins’s Seven Steps to Increase Productivity:

7 Steps to Become a More Productive Writer

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Step 1: Manage Your Emotions

Before you begin to write, you must manage your anxiety and personal disappointment.

Jeff said that when he begins, “I tell myself—my writing will be crap. It takes the expectations off of it, off of my writing. What I am going to write doesn’t matter.”

When you have no expectations for the outcome of your writing, it will be easier to write as it will keep you from self-editing before you write.

From now on, when I dictate my stories to my typist, I will take Elkins’s advice, and tell myself my writing will be crap. Then I don’t have to worry about the outcome of my stories. There is so much pressure to be taken seriously in the writing world when you are a cat.

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Step 2: Set up Your Place

Get a drink, snack, notebook, and pen before you start writing.

“My fears team up with my distractions,” said Jeff. Jeff knows he will want something to drink and snack on in the middle of writing, so he gets a drink and a snack before he starts writing. He doesn’t want any distractions to keep him from focusing on his writing.

The notebook and pen are to write down random distracting thoughts that appear in the middle of your writing session. Write down the random thoughts that keep appearing—pick up Martha from the groomers, clean the ten litter boxes, remember to walk the dog—in the notebook, so they don’t clutter up your mind.

I ask my typist to place a dish of water on the floor beside her computer, and she has little fish snacks for me on a plate. I let Mrs. Hodges have a bottle of water and an apple for her snack. I don’t want my typist to be distracted when I am dictating my story. If we don’t get our snacks before we start to write, we will end up wandering away to find something to eat, and not write very much.

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Step 3: Know What You Will Write

Know what you are going to write before you sit down. Then sit down and engage. Knowing what you will write before you sit down helps you be more productive with your allotted writing time. If you don’t know what you are going to work on before you sit down, you will waste time trying to decide what to write.

Once a week Elkins makes a priority list. He has three categories:

A. Urgent and Important
B. Urgent not Important
C. Not Urgent not Important

He puts his writing assignments into one of the three categories. Any writing in category C gets crossed off the list for this week.

Then he takes all of the items from list A and ranks them. Item A1 is the writing assignment with the closest deadline.

As my typist is only available for short amounts of time I want to make sure I am focused and productive. I would like my typist to type more often for me, but she is so busy rearranging the furniture and cleaning the ten litter boxes she doesn’t have much time to type for me. We used to have seven litter boxes, but now we have seven foster kittens and three more litter boxes. Oh dear.

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Step 4: Take Five Minutes to Check Email

Jeff  gives himself five minutes before he starts writing to check his email and Facebook. If doesn’t check his mail before he starts to write, he will be distracted and keep wondering about his messages.

If in the middle of his writing session he wants to check his email, he can tell himself he has already checked it.

Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, calls this resistance. These are the forces in our brain that try and distract us from writing.

I allow myself five minutes to groom myself and use the litter box before I start dictating to Mrs. Hodges, my typist. I don’t want to get up in the middle of our writing session to use the litter box as Mrs. Hodges will get up from the computer and start rearranging the furniture again.

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Step 5: Set a Length of Time To Write

Before you start writing, choose a length of time to write.

Elkins writes for ninety minutes. I tried to write for ninety minutes, but I got so tired after an hour. Elkins suggests you take a break rather than trying to push through.

And don’t use your break time to check your social media accounts or check your email. Get off of the computer and make a physical change. Elkins said, “Your mind changes when you make a physical change.”

I agree; my mind felt so much better after I jumped rope.

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Step 6: Set a Reward For Yourself

Jeff tells himself, “I can go for a five-minute walk when I reach my writing goal.”

Walk around the block, walk your dog, or skip rope for five minutes.

I let Mrs. Hodges walk around the block for five minutes, or jump rope. She just bought a green skipping rope. I like to chase a ping-pong ball or knock the computer mouse on the floor for my break. I tried skipping and I felt so refreshed—it was almost as good as a cat nap. 

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Step 7: Celebrate Intentionally 

When you take your five-minute walk, or your five-minute break jumping rope, tell yourself, “Good job. You worked hard.” Be happy you finished a certain amount of time writing. Be kind to yourself and focus on what you finished and not on what was left unsaid.

I like to say, “Good Cat. You worked hard.” Then I take a nap in a sunbeam. Before I heard about The Elkins Seven, I would tell myself how bad my writing was and feel discouraged.

Be nice to yourself, and encourage your efforts. Be a friend. It works. Really.

Do you have any tips on how to be productive in your writing? Let me know in the comments section.

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PRACTICE

Please write for fifteen minutes on your current writing project, or choose one of the 10 Best Creative Writing Prompts. Use the Seven Productivity Steps Jeff Elkins suggested. When you are done, let us know how your writing session went. Did you notice you were more productive when you used The Elkins Seven?

Please share what you have written in the comments. Mrs. Hodges, my typist, will read your stories to me, and type my response.

I look forward to reading your stories.

All my best,

xo
Harper, the cat, and Pamela, the typist

Pamela Hodges
Pamela Hodges
Pamela writes stories about art and creativity to help you become the artist you were meant to be. She would love to meet you at pamelahodgs.com.