I have exactly one hour to write this blog post. I mean it: Today is my last day working as an in-house Content Architect for AKHIA, and there are (too) many things I need to accomplish between now and the end of the day. This day is probably much like each of your work days, which is to say, you have a ton to do in very little time.
Whether you’re in the marketing communications biz or not, if you’re reading this post, writing things—reports, papers, proposals, speeches, articles—is probably part of the work you do every day. For many of us, writing is the hard(est) part of our jobs. Writing takes time and requires serious focus.
Heap on top of that the habits we’ve developed from the short-form writing we do nonstop on most social media. Don’t get me wrong: I love that tweeting encourages the art of summary, and Facebook has turned us all into amateur memoirists. But creating longer content is different. The process is different and perhaps a little more daunting than composing a quick email or a pithy status update.
But fear not! There are as many tips about how to get writing done as there are unfinished novel manuscripts on the hard drives of laptops across America. Here are four:
…which of course stands for “Butt in Chair.” Author and social critic Mary Heaton Vorse once quipped, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of a chair.” It’s that easy—and that difficult. Block off time on your calendar to work on your writing projects, and then keep your commitment to the task at hand. Settling in to start a writing task can be the hardest part, but when you finally do it, you’re golden.
You will get more done faster if you accept that multitasking is a myth and drop off the grid for a while. Silence your phone and put it out of sight. Disable your wireless connection (gasp!), unless you need it for research purposes. If you can’t easily disable your connection and web surfing is too tempting, employ an app like Self Control to block access to certain websites for a prescribed amount of time.
Another strategy: I like to leave my desk and work elsewhere in the office (at an empty desk or in a conference room) to reduce interruptions. A change of scenery can be inspiring, too.
3. The Timer Trick
Inertia can be a real…bear. If the dread of doing a particular writing task is totally overwhelming you, trick yourself into starting: Tell yourself you will work on the task for just 15 minutes. Set a timer (preferably not the one on your phone, for obvious reasons), and when the 15 minutes is up, you will have gotten past the discomfort of starting and you won’t want to stop. So keep going. This trick is also great for re-starting a project when you have stalled.
4. Keep Calm and Write On
Much of the fear and loathing that often accompanies writing stems from focusing on the outcome instead of the process. Being anxious about the quality of your work (worrying that your piece of writing will be a piece of crap) can severely cramp your productivity. According to Hugo Lindgren, “Pixar’s in-house theory is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process, so get right down to it and start making them.” (The rest of Lindgren’s essay on creativity and writing for The New York Times Magazine is worth the read, too.)
When you’re composing a first draft, just write. If you can silence your inner critic, you will write more freely and quickly, leaving more time for revision, editing and proofreading—the part of the process where the real fun begins.
How do you get writing done? What are your never-fail tips and tricks?