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6 Ways to Improve Writing Productivity—and Quality

From time to time, I feature guest posts on this blog, and today's post shares six ways to improve writing productivity from Crystal Stone. My personal favorite tip is to take notes everywhere, which is why I've always got pen and paper on hand (just in case).

Crystal Stone's poetry has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Driftwood, Occulum, Anomaly, BONED,Eunoia Review,isacoustics, Tuck Magazine, Writers Resist, Drunk Monkeys, Coldnoon, Poets Reading the News, Jet Fuel Review, Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle, North Central Review, Badlands Review, Green Blotter, Southword Journal Online andDylan Days. She is currently pursuing her MFA at Iowa State University, gave a TEDx talk on poetry the first week of April and her first collection of poetry, Knock-Off Monarch, is forthcoming from Dawn Valley Press this autumn. You can find her on Twitter @justlikeastone8, on instagram @stone.flowering or at her website www.crystalbstone.com.

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6 Ways to Improve Writing Productivity—and Quality

 Crystal Stone

Crystal Stone

There are a lot of assumptions about writers and the writing process. Most seem to assume a level of supernatural influence and pre-destination. A muse whispers in your ear, or doesn't, and that's how you know whether you're on track to be Plath, a mechanic at the local family-owned shop or a doctor with loads of student loans (because at least eventually you'll earn enough money to pay them off).

I'd like to dispel that myth. Everyone has a poet in them. We're all just doing things to hinder our voice and production. Here's what I've done to create more (and better!) poems.

1. Clear Your Mind

It's hard to write poetry when you're thinking about the gnats in the sink, or the mildewed clothes in the washing machine that you forgot to move along to the dryer the night before. Make your to-do list and write your feelings. I handwrite my to-do list every day alongside writing at 750words.com. This website has been excellent for my mental health and clarity, because not only is it a private, blank slate for me to write on every morning, it also analyzes the writing (all the way down to most frequently used words) so it can help me know what I need as a writer and person for the day. For example, here are today's stats:

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I know that I'm present, focused internally, affectionate, and worried most about money.

2. Put Away Distractions

My phone is always on silent. I've deleted all the social media apps except Instagram and Messenger. I've also turned off notifications for all my apps. I only want to talk to others when I'm ready. I only want more items on my to do list once I've finished the list I already made. This takes away all the pressure and helps me response (usually) in more reasonable amounts of time.

3. Find a Regular Spot for Observations

If I want to write a poem, I don't just go to the park—I go on a 5-mile skate at a local lake. Because I go there every week multiple times a week, I notice even small shifts in the environment and every shift becomes a metaphor or image that emerges in a poem or essay later. At the park, I know it's May because of the dandelion and cottonwood snow. There are mulberry stains in the concrete. I know it's June because the toads are all babies and the storms wash them up on the trail. By the end of July, the toads are all teenagers and the dragonflies are mating in front of me. By August, I can't step on the sidewalk without bumping into a grasshopper. The lake has a pollen sheen on its surface. I remember the construction, the mosquitoes, the kayakers, the fisherman, the poison ivy. And all of these observations become images in poems I'll later write. Although for me this regular spot is outdoors, I know others that have a regular spot in a train station (Brandon Stanton) or a bar (Charles Bukowski). Find the place that inspires you.

4. Take Notes—Everywhere

I have a terrible memory so I write down everything. The drunk man I talked to on Main Street who played checkers with me and offered to quit when I was losing. The drunk man at the bar with the fidget spinner tattoo. The bearded lady in the Burger King drive-through. The lingering essence of weed on a potential lover's olive skin. The thunder that vibrated my house like a violin. Real life is too complex to imagine completely. Even fiction writers are stealing their dialogue from conversations they heard on a bus, train, or from someone's cell phone conversation in a Target checkout line.

5. Expose Yourself to New Words

I know what you're thinking—she's telling us to read more. And I will, but not yet. What I mean here is don't be afraid to use a thesaurus. Buy a magnetic poetry kit. Play a game like Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, Text Twist, Banana Grams, Mad Libs, or whatever other literary game is your favorite. Most of us have conversations with the same people all the time. We're hearing and exchanging the same words. To learn new words, to shift the language in our poems, we need to acquire new words or remember that other words (even the ones we don't use every day) exist and can make our literary work more beautiful.

6. Read, Listen, and Watch More

You need to consume good media to produce good media. When I say "good media," I don't just mean dead white men in an English literary canon. I mean contemporary poets, translations, podcasts and interviews of those same people, current nonfiction essays, respected stand-up comedy shows (my current recommendation is Michele Wolf), newspaper articles from reputable sources (New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic), independent films (Sundance). Follow poets and literary journals on Twitter so you can force yourself to engage even when you're trying to disengage. Studying these things will give you new words, new experiences, and conversations to engage in that you might not be having with your friends, families, coworkers, or peers.

The understood end of this process is the writing itself, but that looks very different for everyone. What I know is that these things inspire me and allow me to quiet the external voices and find the poems inside me. I know I ultimately have to give myself time and mental space to write—any writer can tell you, a day off work alone isn’t enough to produce brilliant poems.

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