How to be a (gently) productive writer


10 June 2022
Anna Vaught, author of The Alchemy, offers her top tips for gentle productivity

What does gentle productivity mean? Why do I know about it and how might it be something which works for you?

Seven years ago, I started to write, having wanted to for years. Since then, I have written eight books, the most recent of which is currently crowdfunding with Unbound - The Alchemy. A Guide to Gentle Productivity in Your Writing - as well as essays, columns, short fiction, reviews. In addition to writing, I teach part-time, tutor and mentor other writers, and have three sons, one of whom has been seriously ill over a prolonged period - and with minimal professional support.

How did I pursue gentle productivity?

I started and kept going by writing in little gaps of time, in gentle steps, on walks, in bubble baths. I would unfurl a thought when I had to be up at night, saying to myself, ‘Just this one little thing, Anna.’ Then I would do another little thing. I built a tribe around me, of friends who understood things about the publishing world and were sympathetic to creative endeavour and to whom I did not have to account for illness, being a carer or being a trauma survivor - this is part of the picture too - batting away the residue each day.  I kept reminding myself of how I had long used my imagination as a powerful tool, and relaxed and hidden in it too.
Let me summarise:

1. Start where you are and do not wait for ideal conditions

Work with what you have. In your mind are tremendous resources, regardless of how constrained your life has been. You contain multitudes: you are a miracle. So just dwelling in that imagination, in little increments of twenty minutes, is the work. Thinking is the work: YOU and observation of yourself and asking small questions of and about yourself is the work. It’s productive to be parsing YOU data.

2. Take small steps - because small steps lead to important things

It is not the amount of time you spend, but the quality of what has been done. If you establish a crystalline idea just while you are mulling, in observation of tiny details about you on a commute, a look out of the window, a walk, that is the beginning of your book or your short story collection.
Observe and try asking small questions; about something or someone you see, read about or which pops into your imagination. Then, try to answer them: keep moving forward. From here, form a plot, keep at it, step by step; a draft; an edit: a book. This is what I have done and how I have made progress.

3. Find your tribe - in real life, online or both

Life is difficult; the past few years have been a maelstrom. To be productive in extremis, in anxiety, as you recover from illness, when you are lost, sad or bereaved, push on with a creative project - in gentle steps - with a tribe.

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Who ARE these people? In my case, a group of writers, online, where situations are understood and where we are rooting for one another. I am shy, but I approached people and asked them to be in a little writing support group with me. These people are your friends, but they are also part of your being productive (and you are part of their work) because they help you feel seen, safe, and nourished. Moreover, be careful in real life and on social media with those who sap you of energy: you have no time for someone who is relentlessly full of negative criticism or a gaslighter, seeking to squash your creative spark. They exist. I have had to deal with them. I could cope and exit because of the tribe.

The alchemy of productivity

Productivity is often considered to be to-do lists and spreadsheets and word count and goals and deadlines: it is also quiet and may go unnoticed, happening in rumination, on the top of the bus, in a time when your heart is broken, and you think you cannot.

I think you can. In fact, I am certain of it. Have faith!

Find out more about Anna and The Alchemy here.


Want more on how to become a productive writer? Read this to discover why Lucy Van Smit belives journalling is magic for writers.

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