Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

1 Simple Tip to Boost Your Writing Productivity: Learn to Touch-Type

A post in praise of touch-typing

This post originally appeared on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Self-publishing Advice blog here, where it was obviously aimed at indie authors and aspiring writers, a startling number of whom don’t touch-type. I’m reproducing it here because I believe the content is equally relevant and helpful to anyone who uses a computer keyboard for any purpose, business or pleasure.

Why the old-fashioned skill of touch typing can be a real boon to twenty-first century indie authors, and why you should add this accomplishment to your repertoire to help you increase your output as a writer.

Blog posts and books abound about how indie authors can increase their self-publishing productivity by various means, primarily by focusing on increasing daily word counts. Different methods exist for boosting your writing output, such as getting into a daily habit of writing a fixed number of words per session or day, or by writing in sprints, against the clock, or using popular schemes such as NaNoWriMo to squeeze out a fixed word count in a set time frame.

Image of keyboard with most of letters rubbed off

True touch typing means it doesn’t matter if you’ve written so much, you’ve worn the letters off your keyboard

Missing a Trick

But most of these schemes fail to mention one of the most straightforward practical tips there is: to learn to touch-type.  In an informal survey I’ve just conducted of over 100 indie authors, around 40% of them admitted they didn’t touch type. This included writers of multiple books. I wondered how much more prolific they might be if they mastered this important art.

What is Touch-typing?

Touch typing means typing accurately without looking at the keyboard. Thanks to an ALLi member in Russia, Alexander Kirko, I can tell you that in three other languages, touch typing is known as “blind typing”, which I think is a more graphic description.

When you can touch type efficiently, you can set down many more words per minute than you can when you have to look at the keyboard. This frees you to concentrate on picking the right words, rather than hunting for the right letters.

There’s no such thing as a “sort of” touch typist. It’s like being “a bit pregnant”. You either are or you aren’t.

Many Ways to Learn

Many of the respondents to my informal poll reported that they’d learned to touch type early in their careers, either at school or at college or on first entering the world of work, and plenty went on to say it was the most useful skill they’d ever learned.

But the good news is, it’s never too late to learn, and by throwing a little time at the task each day, you can quickly acquire the skill. It’s simply a question of putting in a certain number of hours to program your brain.

How you do it is up to you, and there’s plenty of choice.

  • I learned fresh out of university, using a tried-and-trusted traditional approach: a typing manual with a cardboard chart that taught you to match the right fingers to the right keys, building up your skill one row and one new finger at a time till you’d mastered the alphabet.
  • These days there are plenty of automated programs available online to make the process more fun.

Whichever route you choose, make sure you pick one that serves the layout for whatever language you write in. When I went to work in Switzerland in my twenties, I had to reprogramme myself to use a German keyboard, in which the Y and the Z trade places.

If you’ve learned to drive a car, you can learn to touch type. And you won’t even have to master hill starts or parallel parking.

So if you haven’t mastered the art of touch typing yet, and are seeking to increase your writing output, don’t dismiss this simple technique. Once you’re hammering out 80 words a minute (my current rate – I just checked on this fun online gadget), you’ll be glad that you persevered.

http://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/?affid=?885
All for one and one for all – the Alliance of Independent Authors’ cute pen logo

If you’re an author or an aspiring author, you’ll find more posts like this, with a new one published every day, on the Alliance of Independent AuthorsSelf-publishing Advice blog, of which I’m Commissioning Editor. 

Posted in Writing

The Pros and Cons of Writing by Hand

pile of screwed up handwritten manuscripts
With apologies to the trees who laid down their lives in the cause of literature…

Lately I’ve been finding that I am much more productive and the words flow more naturally if I write my work-in-progress novel by hand. This is despite being a really fast touch typist. Part of the reason may be that I associate my computer with work and am more averse to sitting down at my desk to type than curling up in bed or on the sofa with a beautiful notebook and pretty coloured pen.

Of course, this adds an extra step into the writing process. I then have to type  each handwritten chapter into the computer afterwards. On the plus side, I do a few extra edits as I do that, so the first typescript becomes the second draft.

Enter the Dragon

I can speed up that process by dictating the manuscript via my Dragon voice recognition software, which then types the words on the screen for me. I definitely recommend this process, but at the moment post-cold hoarseness is limiting the amount of time I can comfortably dictate. But at least I’ve stopped coughing now, which always confused my Dragon. You think with its fire-breathing heritage, a Dragon ought to be more sympathetic to throat problems.

Productivity Plus

Two further plus points:

  • I’m fast eroding my stockpile of notebooks (couldn’t fit any more in my notebook drawer)
  • I’ve just worked out that since Christmas I’ve been averaging more than 2,000 words a day

Go, me! And now I’m off to plant some more trees…. *

Useful Links

*And about those trees – the paper I use is always from sustainable sources, purposely farmed for this use. I’m sure none of it comes from ripping up rainforests. To my mind, complaining about responsible use of paper is like protesting about the destruction of wheatfields to make bread. And I am VERY mean about my use of paper – if I don’t use both sides, I tear a sheet into pieces and use the clean side for notes. Then all the waste is used as firestarters for my woodburner. While trying not to think of burning books. Just saying. 
Posted in Writing

High Speed Hawkesbury

Photo of Debbie Young and Steve Webb
Me with Steve Webb, our high-speed LibDem MP, at last year’s HU5K Run. He’s everything a local MP ought to be. (Photo credit: Steve Hammond)

With my diary madly busy in April, the arrival of superfast broadband in our household was perfectly timed.

I work from home and spend a large part of every day online, and can assure you that the difference between a screen loading instantly and slowly, many times each day, can make a significant difference to one’s productivity, and not just because of the extra seconds required for every transaction. Continue reading “High Speed Hawkesbury”

Posted in Writing

My New Time Management Trick

For the start of the new academic year, a new post outlining a way of using school timetable methods to manage an adult’s workload

Photo of Laura in her new school uniform
Maybe a smart uniform would make me feel more efficient

Enviously examining my daughter’s beautiful school journal, provided by her new secondary school to help pupils manage their school timetable, homework and extra-curricular activities, I realised that I’ve been missing an obvious trick for my own time management: using an academic diary to manage my workload.

If, like me, you work from home, or just want to get more out of the hours in your day, I hope my new time management plan, outlined below, will help you.

My Working Day

During my many years of marching to the beat of an employer’s drum, I often had to complete time-sheets to demonstrate how many hours I’d worked on various client contracts. Now those days are behind me, and I have the luxury of working full time from home. My natural antipathy to housework ensures I’m not tempted to leave my desk other than for a mid-morning tea-break and lunch, scheduled to ensure I stretch and breathe, and to reassure my retired husband that I haven’t forgotten his existence.

The pattern of my working day is geared around my eleven-year-old daughter’s school timetable. Since she started secondary school (high school) last week, I’ve gained an extra hour, as she leaves homes nearly an hour earlier than when she was attending the village school. It’s as if the clocks have gone back an hour: I’m normally at my desk by 8am.

Everyone tells me that as children get older they need you more, rather than less, so I take time out when Laura gets home to talk to her about her day, supervise homework and take her to evening activities (flute lessons, Guides, Youth Club, Stagecoach and tea at Grandma’s – phew!) But I can usually grab an hour or two of time in the evening after she’s gone to bed.

My To-Do List

A combination of regular paid work, short-term contracts, public speaking gigs and speculative personal writing projects means my workload is busy and varied, and I’m never, ever bored, but trying to squeeze such a mixed agenda into a fixed time-frame is challenging. It can be frustrating to feel that I’ve worked all hours, cutting corners on sleep, without achieving all that I need to do. As a result, my to-do lists can often be classed as works of fiction. I’m also conscious that I should be getting more exercise, and would like to squeeze in a thirty-minute daily walk.

It’s a classic problem for self-employed creative types: to be full of ideas, enthusiasm and energy, but to fail on the practical side, overpromising and underdelivering. Even if your only client is yourself, rather than a paid customer, as when you’ve committed to yourself to write a short story or novel, it can be disheartening, and end up sapping your creativity as well as your income.

My New Plan

I’m therefore uplifted by by new plan, which is to follow the structure and principles of a typical school timetable to make the finite number of hours more productive:

  • start with a grid of available time slots, broken down into short segments that match a realistic concentration span (no more than two hours each)
  • create a list of “subjects” (e.g. blog posts, articles, fiction or non-fiction writing projects, contract work, planning, financial management)
  • allocate an appropriate number of periods per week to each subject, according to their priority (writing projects every day, financial management weekly)
  • schedule the slots into a grid in a varied pattern that reflects when the different parts of my brain work best (creative writing first thing, admin later in the day)
  • include some free time for rest and refreshment (mid-morning playtime, sociable lunch break)
  • allow some free periods for contingency e.g. for rescheduling an activity if I need to go out for an appointment during its allocated time slot (I usually go out at least once a week to meet an author friend for coffee or to take a brief for a new contract)

I’m resisting the urge to dash out to the shops now and buy a shiny new academic year diary, complete with timetable to fill in. Instead, I’m going to create a template on my computer and print it out at the start of each week, adding details of the specific projects I need to complete each week. I’m also going to schedule a series of “school bells” on my phone to make sure I move on to the next “class” as necessary during the day. If not, it’ll be detention time for me!

Will it work for me? Will it work for you? Only time will tell. I’m just trying not to be discouraged by the fact that I’ve just drafted this blog post in a time slot I’d allocated for fiction writing…

Do you have any top tips for time management that you’d like to share here? Please feel free to join the conversation via the comments box below.

Photo of Laura in Dark Ages fancy dress
Going back in time at the Scottish Crannog Centre

 

If you liked this post, you’ll find my daughter’s attitude to action-lists entertaining, in this post from the archives:

What A To-Do! The Tale of My Young Daughter’s Action List

 

Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

Training My Dragon (Dragon Voice Recognition Software, That Is)

Picture of a dragon reading a book
How I’m training my Dragon

A post about my new toy: voice recognition software

As a multi-tasking, overloaded author who still hasn’t mastered the art of saying “no”, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my productivity and time management.

Recently I was introduced by my author friend Orna Ross, founder and director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, to a new way of squeezing more words out of each day: using voice recognition software.

To my amusement and delight, the software she recommended is known as “Dragon”, manufactured by Nuance, and to increase its (already impressive) accuracy, you are encouraged to “train” it. The training consists of reading specific extracts of text to help it get used to your voice.

I’m still at the early stages of using Dragon (and also a free speech recognition programme that was included with my other new toy – how spoiled am I? – my tablet). But I have to say it’s great fun, and much more reliable than whatever they use to produce the subtitles on news programmes, which are always full of amusing errors. To be fair, part of the problem there may be that the software has to respond to an ever-changing variety of voices and accents, rather than acclimatizing to one.

Not Just for Authors

Voice recognition software is useful not only to authors, but to anyone who types a lot of text on computers – business letters, blog posts, emails, even social media updates. If you’d like to find out more about it, you may like to read the blog post I’ve just written in my capacity as Commissioning Editor for the Alliance of Independent Authors on their blog of self-publishing advice here: http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/voice-recognition/

Rather pleasingly, when I was first starting to use Dragon, it interpreted the name “Orna Ross” as “Order Rocks” – and I’m hoping that now that I’ve mastered it, order will indeed rock, in my study, if not throughout the house.