5 Ways to Improve Your Writing Productivity
Guest blog by Brad Shorr
A person can get distracted in any job, but writing is one of those professions where distractions lurk everywhere. The distance between your brain and your keyboard doesn’t look like much, but it’s full of detours — checking your Twitter stream, going for a run, answering emails, paying bills, changing a light bulb, etc., etc., etc.
How do you rope off those detours and focus on that thing that pays the bills — writing? Here are some techniques that help me stay productive. I hope they help you. And, please, if you have productivity suggestions that work for you, share them in the comments. Nobody can help a writer like another writer.
1. Write like a maniac in your peak hours.
Some writers are night owls. Others are early risers. Some do their best work after an intense workout, and others following an afternoon power nap. When are you at the top of your writing game? That’s the time to block out every distraction and WRITE, like your life depended on it.
I’m a morning person. I’m writing this at 6 a.m., and I’ve already been to the gym for an hour. In the next few hours I’ll complete at least three assignments. If I tried to do this in the evening, when my brain is oatmeal, the same work would take two or three times as long — and be half as good.
Once you establish the pattern and make your peak hours sacred writing time, you will hopefully see yourself working fast and working well — the ultimate definition of productivity.
2. Write quickly, edit slowly.
Hemingway supposedly said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” I tried it. The writing part didn’t work. However, there is something to be said for writing quickly and editing slowly. Nothing is more discouraging than staring at a blank Word document. So, put down some words, and keep them coming, not worrying too much about clarity or flow or grammatical precision. Once you get the ideas out of your head and onto the digital paper, edit at your leisure.
By “leisure” I mean editing in times other than your peak hours. For me, editing is an entirely different mindset from writing, and when I’m in a writing groove, it’s very difficult to shift into editing mode. I’ve learned, finally, not to try. Besides requiring a different mindset, editing is more effective when approached after you have stepped away from your writing for a while, so you can see it with a somewhat fresh set of eyes.
3. Be ready to ideate anywhere.
Sometimes I’ll come up with the perfect angle or outline for a complicated article at 3 a.m. or while I’m out to dinner. Inspiration can strike when you least expect it, so you have to be ready at all times. For me this means working out the ideas in my head no matter how long it takes, writing down the ideas on paper or on my cell phone, either as briefly or extensively as the situation dictates.
Although such haphazard work may not seem productive, I think it really is. If you delay thinking through your ideas and committing them to paper, you may forget them by the time you’re ready to do so. The quality of your work will suffer as a result, and you’ll probably spend more time trying to reconstruct your ideas than it would have taken to write them down in the first place.
4. Expand your screen real estate.
I like lots of elbow room when I write — elbow room on my computer monitor, that is. I’ve got a 27-inch monitor with 2560 x 1440 resolution connected to my MacBook, giving me two screens for viewing all of my resource documents as I write, if needed. If not needed, the view is an expanse of white space, which for me is quite relaxing and conducive to creative thinking.
Toggling between multiple documents on a pint-size screen is clumsy and not conducive to working quickly or skillfully. You might find that a “superficial” solution such as a bigger monitor solves a deep productivity problem.
5. Get help.
Writing needn’t be a solitary and sad profession. If your creative well has run dry, staring at a blank screen or pacing around the house is not only solitary and sad, but also quite unproductive. There are certain people who I can sit down with for an hour and come away with 10 terrific ideas I never would have thought of on my own.
Not only is this sort of collaboration a quick way to overcome writer’s block, it’s fun. If you don’t have creative collaborators, seek them out. They will help you enjoy your work, and loving what you do is always the best recipe for productivity.
Author Bio: Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy for Straight North, an SEO company in Chicago. His articles on marketing, sales and copywriting have appeared in many leading publications including Forbes, Salesforce, Moz and Smashing Magazine. Connect with Brad on Twitter at @Bradshorr and LinkedIn at /in/bradshorr.