BY OWEN BONDONO In nature, all living things fill a specific role in their ecosystems. This is called their ecological niche, and organisms need this specific combination of factors to survive.
Similarly, every writer needs their own specific combination of factors to thrive creatively. Some people like quiet, while others like noise. Some write first thing in the morning, others write after everyone else has gone to bed. Finding your writing niche is key to upping your productivity.
Lists and charts have always made me happy. Even if you hate charts, taking notes on your writing habits can help clarify what factors work for you and which factors don’t. (For more great tips on National Novel Writing Month [NaNoWriMo], download the November/December issue of Writer's Digest now!)
Spend a few weeks setting aside writing time as often as you can. Record all the details of your writing session, including:
- the day and time,
- how much time spent writing,
- background noise,
- what else you’re doing (eating, drinking, texting, etc),
- words written, and
- anything else you think may impact your writing productivity.
Make sure you switch up these factors during the few weeks you’re recording, so you get as much data as possible.
Sitting back to look at this information will show you trends that are hard to spot on their own, especially when you do the math to figure out how many words you wrote per hour. As the factors change, productivity can vary widely.
Study these numbers for patterns. These patterns of productivity are the factors that will describe your niche. For instance, my niche is in the evening, out of the house, somewhere with some background noise but with my music playing. That’s why you’ll find me in libraries and cafes with too much coffee and headphones that look too big for my head. Everyone has their own niche, and keeping track of your productivity can help you find yours.
Get prepared to write an entire novel in November with
a little help for our October 9 webinar: How to Pre-Plot & Complete
a Novel or Memoir in a Month (comes with a bonus ebook).
Make Your Niche Into A Habitat
Once you’ve found your niche, it’s time to burrow in and make it your home. Habitats provide animals with everything important in their lives. They dictate the habits and routines of nature. As humans, we get to decide what is in our habitat.
Routine helps prevent writer’s block and gives you focus. If you always write after supper, then your brain will start shifting automatically into writing gear as you’re stacking your dishes in the sink.
Don’t think of writing time as stolen moments, but as planned time to give your creativity the room to stretch and play. Putting your writing time on your schedule – and sticking to it – helps you and those around you take it seriously. That’s when your niche becomes a habitat, when you settle down to live in the efficiency of routine.
To do this, lay out your schedule for a typical week. Index cards or sticky notes are great for this because you can move them around easily. On each card or note, write out one thing you must do in your day. Include everything: your job, your commute, your mealtimes, your sleep.
Figure out what you can rearrange. Some things you can’t move, like your commute. But with a little flexibility, many things can be moved. Showers can be taken in the morning or at night; the dishes can be washed any time. Rearrange your tasks so your butt is in your preferred writing chair during your writing niche as often as possible.
Most of us can’t afford to spend hours every day writing. There are just too many other things that need our attention. By making writing in your niche a routine, we can be more productive in less time. We may not be professional writers who can dedicate hours of the day to writing, but 20 minutes of high efficiency writing is better than spending two hours unfocused.
Owen Bondono is a border-crossing educator who teaches in Detroit and lives in Canada. He has served as National Novel Writing Month’s Detroit Municipal Liaison for six years and is currently revising his first novel. To write with him this November, visit his NaNoWriMo author profile.