“Writing, therefore, is also an act of courage. How much easier is it to lead an unexamined life than to confront yourself on the page? How much easier is it to surrender to materialism or cynicism or to a hundred other ways of life that are, in fact, ways to hide from life and from our fears. When we write, we resist the facile seduction of these simpler roads. We insist on finding out and declaring the truths that we find, and we dare to out those truths on the page.”
— From The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron
1. Get Your Mind Right
Much has been written about the power of your mind to inspire or dis-empower you. I won’t say much more about it here other than to say your mind can be your biggest obstacle or your greatest ally as a writer.
Holding onto thoughts like “writing is a necessary evil” or “I’m just not a writer” don’t serve you. Release those beliefs, and adopt some new ones.
My core limiting belief was “I’m not creative.” It was based on my misunderstanding of what creativity really is and the creative process. So I let it go and adopted some new beliefs. First, I now energize the belief that “writing is my path to freedom.” Second, I believe “each day, I’m becoming a better, faster writer.”
Pick some new beliefs, and write them down somewhere you’ll see them often. Choose beliefs that are empowering, inspiring and believable. It does no good to try to convince yourself of something when you know deep down you don’t believe it.
2. Manage Your Expectations.
In the beginning, you can’t expect to sit down and pump out a 1000 word article in the 30 minutes. With practice and training, that may become a reality for you, but to expect it too early in your development is a sure path to failure.
As you’ll see, writing is a process, and even those people who do write an article in 30 minutes or less have spent some time preparing, capturing ideas and organizing those ideas before they sit down to write their article.
3. Set Realistic and Reachable Writing Goals.
If you’re just beginning, it makes no sense to set a goal to write one new article each day. Give yourself a chance to establish a pattern of success. Set a goal to write just one new article each week. That may not seem ambitious to you, but after a year, you’ll have 52 articles out there.
As you become a more skilled and accomplished writer – and you will – you can ramp up along the way. Eventually, it will be no problem to write one new article per day; assuming that’s something you want to do.
4. Writing is a Learned Skill. Just Like Walking.
Writing is no different than any other skill we learn, and learning takes time. Remember, on average, it takes 10-12 months for an infant to learn to walk. And with that learning comes several small steps along the way.
First, the child learns to roll over on her stomach. Then the muscles strengthen to the point where she can support herself on all fours. Then she develops the skill and muscle coordination to crawl. Then she tries to stand on two feet, only to fall back to the floor.
But she keeps getting up, each time falling back to the floor. Does she give up and surrender to the fact that she’s “just not a walker?” Of course not. Regardless how many times she falls, she gets back up. Eventually, she takes her first few, shaky steps. Then a few more. Finally, after 10-12 months of trying, training and falling, she walks the length of the living room into mommy’s loving, patient arms.
Writing is no different. Just as we are all meant to walk, we are all meant to write, because writing is communicating, and we all communicate. Yes, it may be difficult in the beginning because your writing muscles are weak. But you need to keep writing to strengthen those muscles.
You will struggle. You will get frustrated. You will fall. That’s okay. It’s part of the learning process. But if you persist, if you just keep writing, just as the child gets back up each time she falls, you will learn to write better and faster. And as you do more if it, it will become easier. Before long, you will crank out that 1000 word article in 30 minutes.
5. Don’t Try To Be A Genius.
We often believe our writing has to be completely original and groundbreaking. We believe we must present some great truth of human existence each time we write. It’s a sure path to failure and frustration, and it’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s also a mask for perfectionism, and perfectionism is the mortal enemy of any creative endeavor.
Don’t get bogged down by the idea that you must convey revolutionary ideas in your writing. Most readers are simply looking for reinforcement of what they already know anyway. Simply present what you know and have learned about your topic, and do it in your own way. Your readers will be happy, and they’ll thank you for it. Good enough is good enough.
The paradox is that once you let go of the need to be a genius, you may actually start to look like a genius to your readers. Why? Because when you release yourself from the pressure to be a genius or to be perfect, you’ll actually get some writing done.
6. Create an Idea Capture System.
How many times has a creative or inspiring idea crossed your mind only to see it disappear shortly thereafter. Likewise, how often have you read something or heard something that inspired and stimulated your thinking, but you had no way of capturing it. Ideas and inspiration are all around you, as well as inside your own mind. But if you have no way of capturing, storing and retrieving those ideas, they’re useless.
An effective idea capture system serves as the storage facility for your pre-ideas – those intriguing tickles of inspiration that float in and out of your life like puffy, white clouds on a sunny day.
If you have a good idea storage and retrieval system, you’ll never run short on ideas for writing. You’ll also write faster because you won’t be spending time looking things up. You won’t waste time searching frantically through the dark corners of your mind, home or office looking for that perfect quote you read last week.
Your system can be as simple as 3×5 index cards, a journal or a small notebook carried in your back pocket or purse (don’t forget a pencil). For the more technologically inclined folks, Glen Stansberry has put together an impressive collection of tools in his article, No Idea Left Behind: 25 Tools for Capturing Ideas Anywhere.
Since I spend much of my day online, one of my favorite tools is WordPress. Whenever I come across an interesting idea or quote, I create a draft post, and save the idea there. I also use Evernote, a popular app designed for note taking, organizing, and archiving. When I find an interesting article, quote or website worth saving, I save it to my Evernote account.
7. Research Your Topic.
If you’re writing about a topic that’s relatively unknown to you, you’ll need to do some research. That’s what professional writers do. Many times, when someone hires a writer, they’re not just hiring them for their writing ability. They’re also hiring them to research the topic and base their writing on that research.
Put on your investigative journalist hat, and crack the books a bit. Read magazines, blogs and websites on your subject. Wikipedia is a good place to start too. Not to mention Google. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned over the years just by doing a simple Google search.
Just because you’re not an expert on the topic doesn’t mean you can’t write about it. Besides, the period of time you’re learning about something new is prime time to write about it. Why, because as human beings, we love learning. Discovery is exciting (I think it’s built into our DNA), and that excitement will come through in your writing.
Yes, it will slow down the writing process, but it’s a sacrifice worth making. Not only will you expand your depth of knowledge and expertise, but you’ll also find it will make you a better writer on topics about which you already do have some knowledge.
Even if you do have some knowledge on your topic, it still won’t hurt to do a bit of research. You research will help stimulate new ideas you might otherwise overlook.
8. Organize Your Ideas Before Writing.
Whether you’ve researched the topic or not, your writing will go smoother and faster if you organize your ideas before you sit down to write. A simple outline – my personal favorite – goes a long way toward getting your piece completed with as little fuss and frustration as possible. In Write Faster, Write Better, David Fryxell says this about making an outline:
“It’s so important because it begins the organizing, shaping and molding of your mass of material. Once your material is organized – first in your head and then on paper – the rest is just carpentry. The real art lies in developing the blueprint; the writing is mere craft.”
Although I rarely use them myself, many people suggest using a mind map to help organize your writing. A mind map is a diagram used to represent words or ideas linked to and arranged around the central idea of your piece. There are several mind mapping tools available online, and one that I’ve played with is FreeMind, a free, open source mind mapping tool.
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Write a Bad First Draft.
Once all your research is done, and you sit down to do the writing, the secret is to separate writing from editing. You want to get as much information on the page as you possibly can without editing it.
The first draft is like dumping all the puzzle pieces onto the table and taking a look at all the pieces. Once you have all the pieces out there, then you can go back and move the pieces around, make corrections and get thing more orderly.
In his book, The Now Habit, Dr. Neil Fiore writes:
“Students entering Harvard, for example, are brought to a special section of the library where the rough drafts of famous authors are kept. This exercise has quite an impact on young writers who previously thought that the work of geniuses arrived completed and leather-bound in a single stroke of inspiration.
“Here, the freshmen can examine how a successful writer often starts with an apparently random series of ideas centered around a theme; many of these ideas later proved superfluous to the final design, but were essential to the process of developing a new concept.
“That is, the early drafts are not discarded like mistakes, but are viewed as the initial steps in unfolding ideas. The liner ordering of ideas come later, as a second process, to communicate the original experience in a sequence that can be appreciated by the reader. In the first draft, the last part competed often becomes the introduction of the final version, and the initial concepts if the draft become the conclusion.”
10. Master the Censor.
Another key to writing faster is to turn off the Censor. The Censor is that little voice in your head that tells you when a sentence or choice of words is wrong. The Censor slows down your writing by urging you to go back and correct every single word, typo or mistake you might make as you write. You have to overcome this urge if you ever hope to write faster.
The Censor is a built-in survival mechanism; a remnant of human evolution that’s trying to protect you from harm. Imagine human life millions of years ago. There you were, standing at the edge of the forest looking out upon the open plain wondering how you might make it to the other side without being killed. The Censor cautions. Do you dare leave the protection of the forest and expose yourself to potential predators? Will you be eaten by a saber-toothed tiger if you venture out?
For many, writing is a similar, risky proposition. The Censor cautions. Do I dare leave the protection of literary obscurity, and expose myself to potential ridicule? Will I be eaten alive?
There are several ways to master the Censor. I’ve written about my experience writing morning pages, and that would be a great place for you to start. Ultimately, you need to practice writing without correcting yourself as you write. You need to take the Censor out of the picture altogether until you get into the editing phase.
Another method is something called “writing blind.” If you’re writing online, you simply turn you monitor off just before you start writing your first draft. It sounds odd I know, but because you can’t see what you just wrote, you’re much less likely to go back and correct it as you’re writing.
11. Edit Ruthlessly.
So, your first draft is done, and if you did as I suggested above, it’s likely a mess. It may be downright illegible. But don’t panic. Now you move into the editing phase.
The first thing I do here is correct any typos. After that, I’ll add in any styling I want, such as subtitles like you see in this article. If I want to use photos or links, I put them in as well.
Beyond that, I make sure the article flows well. That may entail moving some paragraphs around or it may mean just changing a word or two.
Then I view the article onscreen and read it closely. I look for words that should be cut, tweaked or changed. The idea is to write tight; to say what you want to say with as few words as possible. No doubt you’ve heard of the Gettysburgh Address. It’s one of the most famous speeches in American history. But did you know it’s less than 300 words?
12. Find Your Most Productive Writing Time.
If you’re like me, there are times of the day where your energy is better for writing. Lately, it seems I’m much more productive and alert early in the morning when I first get out of bed. I love to get up at 4:00 am, grab a coffee and sit down to write. If I try to write later in the day or evening, my energy level usually isn’t there.
If you have children to care for and/or a significant other who deserves your attention, make a firm commitment to carve out your own space to write. Make that time sacred, and barring emergencies, don’t let anything get in the way. Eliminate all distractions, and just write.