am writing around obstacles

In summer 2012, here on my blog, I ran a 3-part series for my readers and me.

Its aims were:

  • to identify our obstacles to productivity; and
  • to create plans of action for getting around them.

It was a popular series. People joined in to describe the rocks on their roads, and devised individual plans of action to get around them. Or over them. Or under them. We had a good week.

I found it very helpful.

When I look back at the health challenges I’ve experienced since 2012, it’s plain to see that following the plan of action I made then has helped me get through some pretty tough times and keep going.

Obviously, my plan of action was focused on writing. As were those created by people in the comments sections three years ago. But some non-writing readers also emailed me to say they’d enjoyed the series and were applying their plans of action in various other disciplines.

It’s a shame to leave such a helpful series sitting in my archives, so I’ve decided to bring it back out into the light and update it up for you to use.

Here it is.

1. What are your obstacles to productivity?

2. How can you overcome your obstacles to productivity?

3. Drafting a plan of action to overcome your obstacles to productivity.

#AmWritingAroundObstacles Click To Tweet

I hope you find it useful.

In fact, if you participated three years ago I’d love to hear how things are for you now. It’ll be good to revisit and maybe revise our plans of action.

If you’re new to the series, please feel free to describe your own obstacles and draft your plans of action in the comments sections below the three posts. You’re very welcome to join in.

And please don’t overlook all the great comments from three years ago. The success of this series was in its community spirit, and the comments sections are where you’ll find the best of the action.

Okay, so let’s get to it.

Let’s get around those obstacles and leave them behind us. 🙂

Drafting a plan of action to overcome your obstacles to productivity

 am writing around obstacles


It’s the final day of our group therapy #AmWritingAroundObstacles series.

So far, it’s helped me recognise various obstacles to my productivity and grade them in order of severity and fixability.

You’ve helped enormously. Thank you for discussing your situations so openly. You’ve added breadth and depth to the conversation and I hope this has been as helpful for you (and for future readers) as it has been for me.

Today, I'm going to draft my plan of action. Click To Tweet

Here I go…

Choosing my projects
This is fundamental to the shiny new follow the joy in writing attitude I adopted at the beginning of this year.

Like many writers, I have a big file of story ideas. Some are just titles with single-sentence descriptions, while others are sketched out ideas. A few are outlined more fully, and some are researched in detail so that they’re ready to go when I decide to write them.

Also, like many of you, I experience plotbunny attacks regularly. But there simply isn’t enough time to write every story idea that occurs to us, is there?

Over the Christmas holiday last winter I took the not enough time thought to its extreme. I wasn’t being morbid, or anxious, but I faced the fact that I won’t be around forever and asked myself which of my as-yet-unwritten projects I’d like to be remembered for.

The answer was easy. Right then, it was my outlined space opera (that became Damage Control) and the three Big Idea novels that were sitting there fully researched and ready to rock.

Choosing just oneI dug deeper. If I only had time to finish one of those projects, which would it be?

That was more difficult to answer, because I wanted to be remembered for all four and hoped to finish them all before my time is up.

If you only had time to finish one project, what would it be? Click To Tweet

(I hope to finish many more than that, but you get what I was doing, yes?)

So I introduced another element. Having decided that now is the right time in my career to sign with an agent, I looked at my projects from the point of view of attracting an agent from my shortlist of ideal people.

The answer was obvious. As soon as I’d completed and sent in Golden Triangle, I started work on my futuristic steampunk adventure, A Flight of Thieves.

But the fundamental question was, and remains: which book would I like to be remembered for?

That question will guide my choice of projects from now on. And my answer to it has gone hand-in-hand with my rediscovery of the exhilarating joy of writing.

Furthermore, when I remind myself of it, I find all the external pressures of this business evaporate along with the internal ones. It’s a win-win-win situation. 🙂

2015 Update

I’m still thinking this way. I find it a powerful mental tool.

If in 2012 you’d described to me the winter of horrible health I was going to have in 2014/5, and then told me that in spring 2015 I would finish writing, editing, polishing, and submitting the big novel (The Honesty of Tigers) that might just be my masterpiece, I wouldn’t have believed I could achieve it.

But achieve it I did, with help from some wonderful friends and the working system I devised in my 2012 plan of action.

Work patterns
I’ll continue to record and measure obstacles against productivity, and to tweak stuff accordingly.

Some external events and situations can’t be changed. I’ll identify them and work around them.

Internal obstacles are easy to recognise now that I know to look for them.

The one I expect to have the most immediate effect is social media.

My plan of action is to catch up with social media first thing every morning, and again over my quick lunch, then I’ll leave it alone until I relax in the evening.

That will cut out several hours of “Twitter sitting open in a tab” per day, but I don’t expect my active participation will be any less than it is now. It’ll be a change in pattern, is all.

2015 Update

The biggest efficiency change in my work pattern has happened quite recently, and mostly because of Darren Rowse’s superb daily podcast course 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, which I enjoyed on his ProBlogger site during July this year.

I’d heard of Darren before, as I’m sure many of you have too. But I’m embarrassed to say that in the past I assumed his blog was all about monetisation. Which I don’t require and have never been interested in.

Well, I was wrong. It isn’t. There’s a world of learning available over there at ProBlogger, of which only part is about how to monetise a blog. It’s a university of blogging.

I learned so much on his podcast course! But as well as all the technical stuff I picked up, probably my biggest takeaway was designing a method and a practice for my regular tasks.

This doesn’t affect my novels, but my routine in that area is fine so it didn’t need to change things there. What my new efficiency does is allow me to produce blog posts and newsletters regularly, without denting my creative writing work.

It’s a new freedom. And of course it’s all linked, all part of the same thing. I write novels, and I blog for readers and writers, and I produce a behind-the-scenes newsletter, and they’re all parts of the whole.

I can’t overstate how grateful I am to Darren for giving me the tools to build this new efficiency and freedom in my working patterns.

Thank you, Darren!


Ideally, bringing these new patterns online will balance everything better for me. I hope that will include helping me manage my health condition on a daily basis, by planning activities and their expected fallout in advance, and in the light of measured results from previous projects.

2015 Update

It worked, and still is working. I still tweak my plan of action regularly. I’m very glad I worked my way through this process.


Over to you
Plan of ActionAre you ready to draft a plan of action to overcome your obstacles to productivity?

Show us yours in the comments below and let’s all celebrate our planning and navigation skills! 🙂


Are you ready to overcome your obstacles to productivity? Click To Tweet


Further reading

Introduction post is here.

Day 1 is here.

Day 2 is here.

How can you overcome your obstacles to productivity?

 am writing around obstacles


Welcome to Day 2 of our group therapy #AmWritingAroundObstacles series.

Today we’ll look at our obstacles in more detail. Drill down into those suckers.

I’m going to measure and grade mine according to severity of effect, and start thinking about how I can get around them, or over them, or under them.

I invite you to do the same, so each of us can start working towards a plan of action that we can draft in tomorrow’s post.

Here we go, then.


Did you hear me sigh just then? I get so fed up talking about my health condition and would rather not even think about it in relation to my writing if I can get by without doing so. It’s boring.

My MountainBut it’s here and it’s big. It never goes away, and out of all my obstacles it has the most significant effect on my productivity, so I need to deal with it.

I nearly said deal with it and move on quickly to the stuff I can do something about, there. Which is pretty much my standard operating procedure. But this exercise is all about examining our obstacles with a view to overcoming them, so I’ll suck that sigh back in and look my physical condition squarely in the eyes.

I just sighed again and almost deleted everything I’ve written so far below the health subtitle.

Stop, Bridger! It isn’t waffle. It’s examining a frame of mind in order to deal with it, and maybe even change it.

I always claim to have the management of my illness cracked. But the truth is, while I’m good at managing the fallout from my physical and mental activity, I’ve never quite cracked the prevention’s better than cure aspect of it.

Problem is, there are strong pulls from opposite directions. The only way I could achieve reasonably reliable energy and freedom from exhausting pain would be to do nothing except rest. Whatever I do, there’s always a health payback. Even from mental activity.

Writing hurts me. A 90k-word novel takes me between 6 and 12 months to write when I’m in my version of the best of health, and the payback from that superhuman effort will last for months afterwards.

Chances are the edits will arrive during that payback period, and edits have their own intense effect which increases the already exhausting pain. And by that time, I’ll also be working on my next novel.

I’m not giving up writing. Uh uh. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. Seriously, the only thing I’d give up writing for is my family, and they won’t ask me to do that so it’s not gonna happen.

However, just because the extreme answer to my two-way-pull isn’t viable, in this or any other universe, that doesn’t mean I can’t (stand by for a “You’ve Got Mail” moment)… tweak things.


Measuring productivity
I used a spreadsheet to record different elements of my lifestyle and measure how they effect my productivity.

I split my working day into 4 sessions:

  • early morning when I start writing, until midday
  • the afternoon, when I usually siesta
  • 4pm to 8pm
  • 8pm until midnight-ish when I crawl back to bed

I did it this way because different daily events channel me into writing at different times of the day.

Those events appear on the spreadsheet as: spoons; visitors; non-routine events; WIP; outlined; deadlined; and blog.

Outlined is there because I work more efficiently when I’ve planned a story thoroughly, and the deadlined column helps me maintain a good focus on the big picture.

FamilyAfter only a few weeks the spreadsheet showed clearly what I already knew, that the biggest productivity-sucking gravity in my writing world comes from spoons and visitors.

And for visitors, read: our daughters and their babies. All of them are here today and this blog post has taken me twice as long to write as yesterday’s did when they weren’t here.

2015 Update

We have four grandchildren now, two 3-year-old boys and two 1-year-old girls. All gorgeous! And as I mentioned yesterday, two of them and their mum live with us now. So my writing takes place in the late evenings, after everyone else goes to bed. 9pm to midnight or 1am is my time.

What I failed to put on the spreadsheet is social media, which I realised during our conversation in the comments section yesterday has a bigger effect in my daily life than I’d thought.

Actually my Twitter-life would be very difficult to measure, because I have it open all day and dip back in when my mind drifts away from my WIP. I’ll deal with that. My plan of action will include something like, SM in clearly-defined short bursts.

2015 Update

As I’ve mentioned, with my greater attention to quality blogging and my weekly newsletter for readers, my routine workload is bigger now than it was in 2012. Not to mention my list of novels in various stages of progress, and despite the scary health stuff I experienced over last winter.

(Or, more likely, because of that stuff, as I described in this recent post.)

Despite everything, I’m managing everything far more efficiently now than I was three years ago. The plan of action I devised them has definitely helped me in this. No doubt about it.

I’ve also been helped by new technology that didn’t exist back then. Hooray for apps and gadgets and all sorts of clever things! 🙂

So my blogging is… not automated exactly, but assisted in many small ways by plugins and apps and 3rd party sites that offer various services. I’ve spent quality time testing these things and learning how to use them, so that my blogging and newsletter work is now a pleasant and enjoyable weekly routine.

There are many more gadgets available now than I could ever use in my work, but I like to keep my eyes open for news and reviews in that area.

This is the sort of thing I mean:

Here’s an excellent round up of time-and-effort-saving tips for author blogs from social media strategist Frances Caballo.

And this brilliantly concise article by author assistant Kate Tilton suggests ways we can connect with readers via Instagram.


Over to you
What do you think? Which of the obstacles you talked about yesterday have the biggest effect on your productivity?

Which of them could you tweak, maybe? How would you do that?

How about measuring them against your results? Would that work for you?

How can you overcome your obstacles to productivity? Click To Tweet

Yesterday was brilliant and you’re all wonderful. Let’s get our group therapy gig going again in the comments today. 🙂



Further reading

Introduction post is here.

Day 1 is here.

Day 3 is here.

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