Image from Flickr by jorge.correa
How much do you write every week?
It’s probably not as much as you’d like.
A few years ago, I had all day, every day to write – but I’d still end up spending the whole of Monday writing a couple of pages for my critique group. My novel of the time was progressing at a snail’s pace.
Nowadays, if I still wrote at that rate, I’d be broke. (And the blogosphere would be a little emptier.) I write thousands of words every week – sometimes more than ten thousand.
Here’s how I do it – and how you can too.
#1: Write on Topics Which Interest You
It’s no coincidence that my blog posts are nearly always about writing, blogging or personal development. There are plenty of things I don’t write about (even though I could probably make good money doing so) – like fashion and celebrities.
It’s much easier to produce thousands of words if you really enjoy writing them.
What interests you? It might be:
- Particular themes, settings and character types for fiction – hint: start with what you love to read
- Topics which you’re a little bit obsessed with for blogging – don’t just pick something which you think will be popular, unless you really do love it
- A specific audience (e.g. you love writing for artists, or for new mothers, or for teenagers)
Don’t be afraid to turn down assignments or ignore ideas which just don’t work for you. Don’t be afraid to admit what your interests are – however geeky or weird or boring they might seem to other people. My fiction writing finally started to take off once I stopped trying to write cute stories for women’s magazines and started on a novel about a group of online roleplayers who summon an evil demon…
Write a list of things which interest you – and give yourself permission to be totally honest! What would you love to write about?
#2: Plan Before You Start
This is what this post looked like before I began writing:
(I don’t normally create such neat mindmaps. I usually scribble on bits of paper, or type notes into a Word document, but this was an illustration for a new ecourse I’m working on.)
You need to plan before you start – otherwise, it’s so easy to lose your way or your enthusiasm, and then you’ll stop writing altogether. A plan is like a map: it reassures you that you’re in the right place, and shows you where to go next. It’s also the first essential stage of writing.
You can plan however you like: you don’t need to write a linear outline. For a short piece, like a blog post, your plan might be a list of subheadings or key points. For something long, like a novel, you might not have all the pieces yet – but you should know the direction you’ll be taking, and where you’ll end up.
Having a plan means you don’t have to keep stopping and thinking about where you’ll go next. As I type this, I’ve still got six more points to cover in this post – but because I already know what they are, it’s easy to keep going.
Spend five minutes planning something: your next blog post, the next big scene in your novel, the ebook you keep meaning to get started on…
#3: “I’ll Just Do Five Minutes”
Maybe you’re good at setting aside time to write – but somehow, that writing time ends up as doing-the-dishes time or chewing-a-pen time.
All writers feel a bit reluctant to get started (though many will keep this a secret). This reluctance to create is often called “resistance” – and there are plenty of ways to deal with it.
My favourite method is to tell myself I’ll just do five minutes. Even if I’m in a bad mood, or tired, or anxious about where to start, I can write for five minutes. It’s such a laughably short time that there really are no excuses.
Next time you want to write but can’t get motivated, just write for five minutes. As soon as you start, you’ll find that resistance melting away – and chances are, you’ll keep on going.
And if “write for five minutes” is too much, try “I’ll just open the document.” (This works best if you’re part-way through a project.) Seeing your work-in-progress on screen can often be enough to get you going again.
Open up a document and – either right now or as soon as you’ve finished reading this post – write for five minutes, on any topic you like.
#4: Set a Timer
This is one of my absolute favourite tips for writing more: set a timer.
This works well when you’re doing the “write for five minutes” trick, but it’s also a great way to push yourself to stay focused. When you’ve got a timer ticking away, you’ll be more motivated to keep writing – instead of checking emails every few minutes.
It’s also useful to have a timer running if you know you’ve only got a short time before you need to stop and do something else. Rather than checking the time every few minutes, you can get into the writing zone and let the timer alert you when you need to stop.
Usually, it’s easier and more efficient to write in short bursts than to write for hours at a time. Try setting a timer for 30 minutes (anything between 15 and 60 works well) – and push yourself to just write for the full length of time. You’ll be surprised how much you can get done.
#5: Write – Don’t Edit
One of the worst habits that slow writers have is that they constantly edit.
Now, editing is A Good Thing. But not if it stops you from making any forwards progress. When you’re getting a first draft done, your key goal is to keep moving. Sure, you don’t want to type at such breakneck speed that you hit the wrong keys – but you don’t want to spend half an hour trying to get the first sentence right, either.
Your first draft is allowed to be flabby and weak: you can whip it into shape later.
If you find yourself spending far too much time staring at the screen instead of writing, try Write or Die, an online program (with a desktop version) where you can write into a box. If you stop writing for too long, the background starts turning red, and then makes an “evil sound” (a really annoying beep). You can even set it to “kamikaze mode” so that it starts eating your words if you stop typing. If that doesn’t motivate you to keep your fingers moving on the keyboard — nothing will.
Give “write or die” a try, and see whether or not it helps! If you find it’s too easy, tweak the settings to give yourself a shorter “grace” period. If it’s too scary, make it easier.
#6: Write Fast
Even if you write without editing every sentence along the way, it can take a long time to get to the end of a page. If you want to write thousands of words every week, you’re probably going to have to increase your writing speed.
That may well mean learning how to type faster. I can touch-type (type without looking at the keyboard) – a hugely useful skill, because I’m limited by how fast I can think, not how fast my fingers can move! If you’re interested in learning to touch-type, there are plenty of programs to help you, though you’ll probably find that your typing speed naturally improves as you write more.
Writing fast also means carrying on moving forwards, without stopping to worry too much about your exact choice of words (during the first draft, at least) and without pausing to look up facts. If there’s something you need to come back to, put a [note to self] in the text to remind you.
You might think that writing fast will mean sacrificing quality. Surprisingly, it often doesn’t: your sentences and paragraphs will often flow better, and you might find new ideas or unusual turns of phrase popping up.
Set a timer for five – ten minutes (or use Write or Die) and write as fast as you can.
#7: Don’t Write Every Day
I’m going break with conventional writing advice here and tell you not to write every day.
Why? Because if you have “write every day” as a goal, it’s all too easy to miss a day – because you’re busy, or ill, or demotivated – and then give up altogether. Trust me, I’ve been there and done that far too many times.
It’s important to write regularly, but it’s up to you to decide what that means. My usual routine is to write every weekday morning. Sometimes I write during afternoons and weekends too (particularly when I’m working on fiction), sometimes I don’t. If I miss a morning because I’m busy or ill, it’s no big deal.
Different writers thrive on different routines, so experiment and find out what works for you. That might be:
- Writing for 30 minutes first thing every morning
- Writing for three hours on Saturday afternoons and Wednesday evenings
- Writing during your lunch break, weekdays only
- Writing at least every other day
You can write 500 words a day for seven days, or 3,500 words on a single day: the end result is the same.
Experiment with your writing routine. Depending on your schedule and other commitments, you might want to start by either writing every weekday or writing on both Saturday and Sunday.
#8: Track Your Progress
In almost any area of life, it’s easier to reach a goal when you can see how far you’ve already come. If you’re trying to lose weight, watching the number on the scales decrease each week can be really motivating – and can make all the difference when you’re trying to resist that extra cookie.
Some types of writing come with built-in tracking: if you’re a blogger, for instance, you can see the record of all your past posts. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to tell how much progress you’re making – or you might know, but the world doesn’t.
Tracking your progress might mean:
- Marking completed writing sessions on your calendar – use little gold stars if they help you stay motivated…
- Keeping a word count widget on your blog or on Facebook – so you can let everyone know how your novel is progressing
- Recording how many words you wrote each week – aim to gradually increase this number over time
The method you use doesn’t really matter: what’s important is that you can see how far you’ve already come.
Find some way to keep track of the word count on your current project – ideally, a method which lets you share your progress with family/friends.
Producing lots of words isn’t, in itself, going to make you a great writer. But it’s an important step along the way: if you don’t write, you can’t get any better. So – which of the ideas above are you going to try? And do you have any of your own tips on writing more each week?
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