Productivity Tip #9: Think Outside the Keyboard
From Publisher Kevin J. Anderson—The ninth of eleven tips to help you get more time for writing, and to produce more writing when you do have time
Think Outside the Keyboard
After the previous tip, now that you’ve set up the perfect established writing spot, keep in mind that this is not the only way you can write. Your word processor isn’t the only tool you have.
This technique is one of the most obvious and effective, though least-often attempted, means of increasing writing productivity. Think outside the keyboard. If you can learn different ways to write, with different tools—like a talented musician learning to play several instruments—you can take advantage of nearly any situation in which you find yourself … and get pages done, no matter where you are.
I have a desktop computer in my office, where I do most of my editing. I am just as comfortable working on my laptop whenever I’m away from home—in restaurants, at hotels, on airplanes. But it doesn’t stop there.
Remember the old pad and pencil? For those times you find yourself alone in a coffee shop, or riding the bus, or sitting at a picnic table outdoors, you can jot down notes, outline a story, write a rough draft. By hand.
My wife and I once plotted and outlined an entire Star Wars “Junior Jedi Knights” trilogy using crayons on the butcher-paper tablecloth in an Italian restaurant. Before leaving, we tore off the wide chunk of the paper, folded it, and took it with us as our “notes.”
For myself, I prefer to do my initial writing with a hand-held recorder. I love to go out hiking on beautiful trails, take inspiration from the scenery around me—and get away from all the interruptions at home. Writing by voice recorder allows me to be productive during an already enjoyable outdoor activity. Sometimes I just talk myself through plot snags, letting my imagination roam as I develop imaginary biographies for characters or histories for my fictional worlds. Most of the time, though, I dictate finished prose. My record (so far) has been composing 45 pages (once they were transcribed) of finished prose in a single, very long, hike.
Speaking finished prose out loud into a voice recorder may be difficult until you get used to the idea. Some writers have tried and couldn’t quite get the hang of it; several told me they felt self-conscious walking along and talking to themselves—just pretend it’s a Bluetooth set or a cell phone. Nobody else knows the difference. Face it, nobody learns to type 200 words a minute the first time they touch a keyboard either; it seems unnatural, the keys are in a very strange order, but you get used to it and then pick up speed. Same with dictation.
At first, I used the recorder just to capture ideas when I went out for a walk. Before I learned to bring the recorder along, I would come up with snatches of brilliant prose, but by the time I hurried back to my keyboard, I’d forgotten it. With practice, though, I now write finished text off the top of my head (which I still polish).
The drawback with a recorder is that someone has to transcribe your words, but if you don’t want to do it yourself, typing services are available to do this for a reasonable fee, even voice-recognition software (although a batch of science fiction terms makes the learning curve rather steep). Because of my prolific writing output, I keep my typist busy almost full-time just with transcribing duties. I use an Olympus DS-7000 digital voice recorder, with the attendant software to download my audio files and email them to the typist.
For a full description of dictation as a writing technique, see my earlier blog, “Dictating, Writing, Hiking.”
Other people have developed their own unique alternatives to sitting-at-the-typewriter writing. Find some for yourself, see what your natural method for storytelling is.
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