3 Ways to Increase Your Daily Word Count While Away From Your Computer

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Image by Beliroz, deviantART, courtesy of a Creative Commons License: http://beliroz.deviantart.com/art/Keyboard-in-the-night-183881657

Image by Beliroz, deviantART, courtesy of a Creative Commons License: http://beliroz.deviantart.com/art/Keyboard-in-the-night-183881657

While I’ll be cheering on NaNoWriMo participants from the sidelines this year rather than joining the race, I am forever looking for ways to expand my own daily word count—not just in November, but all 12 months of the year. My goals may be more modest (while they fluctuate depending on my work-in-progress and what stage it’s in, I currently aim for an average of 1,000 words a day, six days a week), but with a full-time job and a family, they’re not easy to meet.

When people find out I’ve got a novel in progress, they inevitably stop to take in my energetic 3-year-old boy, already-almost-walking 9-month-old girl, and full-time job overseeing Writer’s Digest magazine and say the same thing: Wow, you have your hands full.

I do. Literally. If I’m not in the office, you can often find me with a giggling, hair-pulling baby in my arms, a pot on the stove (or, um, the pizza guy on the phone), and a little boy dressed as a superhero tugging on my pant leg.

So for me, pushing my daily word count is about finding ways to write in between the times when I can actually sit uninterrupted at my laptop. Here are three methods that work for me—and may just work for you, too.

1. Ms. Phone, please take a letter …

On TV commercials, people talk to their phones to find out where the nearest Chinese restaurant is or to remind themselves to buy flowers for their anniversary. I talk to my phone to record ideas for fictional scenes that pop into my head at random moments of the day. Snippets of dialogue, emotional descriptions and plot notes all get recorded to be sure they don’t evaporate before I can get to my keyboard.

On my drive home from work, I have about 15 minutes of quiet time alone in the car until I pull into the daycare. Sure, sometimes I listen to music, or NPR news. But especially if I don’t yet know what scene I’m going to tackle after the kids are in bed that night, I like to use this time to brainstorm. Hands-free, I’ll dictate what comes to me into my phone. I once “wrote” 650 words between quitting time at work and pickup time at daycare. Sure, there were lots of misunderstood words and typos to correct—no voice command app is perfect—but when I do get to the computer, cleaning up the copy is far easier than starting from scratch.

wd1114_160

The November/December Writer’s Digest magazine
is filled with advice for keeping the words coming.
If you’re looking to increase your productivity or planning for NaNoWriMo,
check out a preview in the Writer’s Digest Shop, or download it instantly.

2. Go go Gadget keyboard …

There are other times—say, if a baby is napping on my shoulder—that I can get my hands free but not balance a full-sized laptop on my lap. And we’ve all had those moments when we don’t have our computers in reach when inspiration strikes—but we do happen to have a tablet or smartphone with us, so we try to peck out the words on our touch screens as fast as we can, all the while grumbling that our fingers can’t catch up to our brains.

That’s where my Bluetooth keyboard comes in. I got one for my birthday back in August, and my husband is still pretty proud of himself for how much I rave about it. For only about $30, it came with a slim case and slips easily into my purse. No matter where you are, simply pair it with whatever device you have on hand, and voila! You can actually type out a scene or notes at full speed. When I have my Bluetooth keyboard along, I no longer mind if a friend is late to meet me for lunch, or if my dentist leaves me in the waiting room. In fact, sometimes I’m secretly glad.

[Click here for more Tips and Inspiration to Write a Book in a Month.]

3. Note to self …

It is one of the stranger side effects of the writing life that I email myself perhaps more than I send messages to anyone else. But every day, no matter how busy I am, whether I’m using one of the methods above or another, I try to at the very least send myself the briefest of notes regarding what my next scene will be.

At worst, when I sit down at my keyboard later, I’ll have some kind of starting point, rather than a blank screen (and a blank brain). At best, if I’ve gotten a little carried away with my note taking, my scene might already be half-written.

What I’ve found is this: Whether you’re a “pantser” or a plotter (or, in my case, a little of both), when you sit down to write with SOME kind of notes in front of you, you’ll spend less time getting in the groove and more time churning out words.

What about you? How do you increase your daily word count? From one hands-full writer to another, I invite you to leave your own tips in a comment below—we can all use all the help we can get!

Happy Writing,
Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer’s Digest Magazine
Follow me on Twitter: @jessicastrawser

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17 thoughts on “3 Ways to Increase Your Daily Word Count While Away From Your Computer

  1. lymoore

    What App do you use on your cell phone to dictate and have available in written text for later editing/ review? That would be PERFECT for me as I am on the road quite a bit. Waiting until I eventually get to a keyboard would leave me with a backlog of material to take care of.

    1. Jessica Strawser Post author

      Sounds like it would be a great method for you to try! I honestly don’t use a special app, though I know they’re out there. My phone (a Samsung S3) came with a decent voice function built in. You just tap a little microphone button and can dictate a Google search, text message, email, anything.

      1. lymoore

        What App do you use on your cell phone to dictate and have available in written text for later editing/ review? That would be PERFECT for me as I am on the road quite a bit. Waiting until I eventually get to a keyboard would leave me with a backlog of material to take care of.

        Perhaps I misunderstood your phrase: Sure, there were lots of misunderstood words and typos to correct—no voice command app is perfect—but when I do get to the computer, cleaning up the copy is far easier than starting from scratch. I thought you just went home to proof what you had dictated. I, too, have a Samsung Galaxy, but I think I have to go back and listen to the dictation and transcribe it. Any other suggestions?

  2. Cristine

    Hi Jessica

    I’m a brazilian reader (excuse me if my English is not too good) and I’ve recently read this article and it’s simply amazing 🙂

    My partner and I are editors of a small literary blog (small for now, I hope) – Cafeína Literária (Literary Caffeine), http://www.cafeinaliteraria.com.br. And we’d like to know if there’s a problem translating/versioning this article and publishing it in our blog – with all the credits, of course.

    thanks!

  3. richard_todd07@yahoo.co.uk

    I’ve come up with a half dozen story ideas and more situations, conversations, and characters while walking my dog than any other time.
    Thanks to my iPhone I haven’t lost any of these gleaming words

  4. L E May

    I wrote my first novel on my iPad and I’m writing my second on both my iPad and my Mac so I use the iCloud to sync my work between devices.
    When I have the place to myself I stick some music on (usually orchestral music from movies) and write at the desktop but if I’m out and about I will write on my iPad during work events, public transport journeys or any where else I can take the opportunity to get a few words down.

    1. Jessica Strawser Post author

      It’s so important for all of us to sync! (Occasionally I’ll access different versions of my docs from different computers and end up living in fear of modifying the wrong version.) Thanks for sharing the tip & reminder with everyone here!

  5. JanelleFila

    My most productive writing comes in the mornings while the house is still quiet. I set my alarm for one hour before the rest of the house wakes up (regardless of the day or time). One hour before Saturday soccer games. One hour before rise and shine for work and school. One hour before Sunday brunch and family game time. I love the quiet house, and having that hour of writing first thing in the morning really starts my day off right.

    The rest of the day I cram in “extra” sessions, talking to myself in the car, scribbling notes or texts to myself at stop signs and traffic jams. I get quite a bit sketched out in my mind during my hour commute. At work, I e-mail myself constantly, whenever I come across a cute name or a co-worker’s funny anecdote.

    I love doctors’ appointments, soccer games, band competitions…anything that gives me time to “wait.” Instead of chitchatting with moms I don’t know, I scribble into my notepad as fast as ideas will come. Most of my reading comes in small chunks like this, too, squeezed in during grocery shopping trips and while the hamburger meat is browning. Janelle http://www.janellefila.com

    1. Jessica Strawser Post author

      Brilliant. It so often really is about *finding* or *reclaiming* time to write rather than *making* time to write, isn’t it? But I love that you make the time, too, in the mornings. With that level of commitment, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until more good writing-related things are headed your way! Thanks for taking the time to comment and share what works for you.

  6. willalan

    Its amazing how much dead time has been recovered for writing since I bought the HP slate tablet. I’m doing most of my ‘on the go’ writing using the One Note ap that will synch with my desktop, and laptop. This old dog has really impress himself with how quickly I got used to the tablet’s screen and keyboard. I’ve gone from five hundred words a day to five hundred words on a bus ride to work. I’ve even gotten better at using it when I have to stand on the bus. ‘Old dogs new tech’

    1. Jessica Strawser Post author

      Thanks for sharing! Five hundred words on your commute must be a GREAT feeling. Your story makes me wish I lived on a bus route!

      And, I actually may be in the market for a new tablet myself soon–I’ll have to check out the HP slate.

  7. Shernette

    I’ve just re-discovered my talent for writing and find myself thinking out the scences of the book I’m writing while commuting.

    I can completely identify with four small children of my own – and I still endeavor to get the writing done! I’m getting there.

    1. Jessica Strawser Post author

      Four small children, and still committed to writing–amazing! My hat’s off to you. Thanks for being an inspiration to other writer-parents like me.

  8. Sally Jadlow

    I call the writing you describe, “Writing in the cracks.” I write the same way. When my hands are busy with something else, my head plans what tol write when I get to the computer again. I also keep a pad of paper and a lighted pen on the nightstand by the bed to jot ideas during the night. I just finished a novel “The Late Sooner’s Daughter” that will be out soon. Most days I managed to get 1,000 words a day in.

    1. Jessica Strawser Post author

      “Writing in the cracks”–I love that! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I interviewed Harlan Coben for WD a few years ago, and he talked about how he’s always writing even when he’s not writing. Here’s part of what he said:

      “I’m a rude guest, I drift off a lot, I ignore people because all of a sudden I get caught up in an idea. My friends are used to it: Oh, Harlan’s going off to la-la land.”

      Here’s to many productive trips to la-la land ahead. 🙂

  9. dymphna st james

    I have started a new novel and I am aiming for a page a day(about 250 words) and if I write more even better. I now have 18 pages and hope to have 25 pages at the end of this month. For NANOWRMO I plan to increase my word count to two pages a day (about 500 words)15,000 wiords in a month and if I write more even better. I want to have at least 25,000 words or (100 pages) at the end of November. I try to write at least five days a week. Aside from working on my novel, I plan to complete a short story that I have an idea for. I am a pantser and plotter combination. I have completed a novel and am now in the revision process and plan to revise again after my first revision. I still continue to write short stories and personal essays when not working on my novels. When you see the words start to grow and the pages increase it is very exciting.

    1. Jessica Strawser Post author

      Good for you! Bravo, too, that you’re setting your own word count goals for NaNoWriMo rather than feeling as if you have to follow everyone else’s “rules.” I think it’s important for us all to remember that we need to do what is realistic for us and what is going to push and challenge our own limits without sending us over the edge. Good luck in November! We’d love it if you’d let us know how it goes.

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