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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.
Use Tick Tock Timer or E.gg.Timer to keep you on track during your next writing session. While that timer’s ticking, write – no stopping to tweet or update Facebook!
#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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This is great, practical advice. I agree it’s much easier to reach a goal by looking at how far you’ve come. If you look ahead to how far you have to go, it becomes overwhelming.
Patricia GW’s last blog post ..100 Things or How to Strip Down to What Really Matters
Thanks Patricia, glad you found it helpful!
I love the timer idea! I stop what I’m doing every day at 11:30 am and type whatever is in my brain. I don’t worry about sentence structure, spelling or even making sense. If I’m stumped for ideas later, I go back to my random thoughts log. I’ve been stopping when I have at least 500 words on paper but I like the idea of writing until the buzzer rings. Thanks!
I love the “stop at 11.30am” idea — I used to aim for 500 words at the start of the day, before I did anything else, but I found that was getting a bit constraining. Good luck trying a timer!
I like your point 5 about writing, not editing. I think our best writing comes when it simply flows through us, when you know it is coming from within, when you’re in your zone. With that said, who the hell has time to worry about grammar structure or punctuation at that moment, in fact it would be quite counterproductive. I think your point 5 leads well into your point 6, write fast. If you are generating the ideas faster than you can type them, having one of those creative bursts, then by all means don’t stop. Milk the moment. Get your ideas out on paper and then you can go back and clean up your writing and fill in the holes later.
Also, your “I’ll just do five minutes” advice is great, I think I need to start trying that.
Thanks for the excellent post and useful advice.
Kwan’s last blog post ..The Cure for Perfection Paralysis
Thanks Kwan! I personally find that grammar and punctuation come pretty naturally when I’m drafting — though I certainly agree it’s not the time to stress over them.
The “I’ll just do five minutes” trick really does work … I managed to get a thousand words of fiction drafted this morning after starting like that!
Writers tend to have short attention spans. Therefore, keeping a timer is a good idea. Anywhere from 15 minutes to 60 minutes can work if you find it difficult to sit in one place. I know this would probably work for me.
However, all writers are not the same. In fact, writers tend to be quirky. I know of a famous, Czech writer who stayed up all night to write novels. He was a huge man and would smoke and drink and write until the wee hours of the morning. Again, this is not a daily routine I would follow, but this writer made a name for himself.
Another writer maintains farmer’s hours. He is a lawyer by profession and wakes up very early to write only for an hour or so before going to work. He has done this religiously for many years and is a best-selling author. He has numerous books to his credit. I can’t remember his name, but he lives in the Southern part of the States.
It’s sort of like: different strokes for different folks and one size does not fit all. Writers tend to be quite eccentric. One man’s nectar is another woman’s poison and so on.
No matter your tastes and preferences, however, what is important is to be productive and get your work done. A writer has to produce words that sell and capture the imagination of readers no matter how talented or quirky.
The daily routine may vary from writer to writer, but ultimately you will be judged based on what you contribute.
I absolutely agree that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing. What matters is what you produce over the course of a year — not the exact routine you keep to each day.
I’d hate to write late into the night, but I know plenty of writers (like your Czech writer) thrive on it!
I work in spurts of flow. I can go hours at a time without blinking an eye. Other times I can’t make myself move forward. Over the years I’ve embraced the flow and just ride it like a wave until it peters out. If dread sets in, I still move forward determined to write 500 coherent words editing on the fly. Most of the time, if I’ve moved past 500 words – then I can likely go much further. Rarely do I crank out 500 words and stop. I suppose it’s like dieting…you gotta find what works for you! Bottom line is, work! Thanks for the insights on what works for you though. I’m always open for new, good ideas.
Randy Cantrell’s last blog post ..Episode 83 – Get Busy And Do The Work!
I think you definitely need to ride the wave when you’ve got it!
Different writers do indeed work in very different ways — and what matters is finding a method which works for you. I think 500 is a great goal: small enough to be achievable on even the worst days, easy to surpass on the good days, and large enough to add up day by day to a whole novel in a year!
Good points Ali. I found one that’s really worked for me that could be useful for those who don’t have a lot of ‘time’ to parcel out for writing. I use every email I send, in which I get to ‘talk story’, as a writing exercise. Over the years I think this has really helped to keep me in the groove even when I wasn’t able to dedicate specific time for writing practice.
I have to admit that it is difficult for me to not edit. When I am really serious about putting pen to paper, I do just that. I dont’ use the computer, I use a notebook and a pen (a fast writting pen that Natalie would approve of:) For some reason it just doesn’t occur to me to edit (as much) when I’m not on the computer. Problem is that my mind moves so much faster than my pen that I do sometimes loose a piece here and there. However, I find that when I write in longhand and then go to the computer, I’ve at least gotten the top layer out and am more often than not ready to sink my teeth into the ‘bottom line’ of what it is I am wanting to express, be that in a blog post or through a character.
Alison Elliot’s last blog post ..Could Your Drinking Water Be Causing Brain Tumors
I’ve heard some writers (particularly of non-fiction) say that they write their pieces as emails to specific people, because it’s easier to get over the resistance barrier that way!
I edit less when I write by hand, too — I suppose because it’s so easy to delete things on the computer, whereas I don’t like to have scribblings-out all over the place. I used to draft everything longhand then type second drafts, though now I find my writing “flows” better when I draft straight onto the computer.
I like your ideas for writing. I have no problem writing about something that interests me as well. I do have the habit of editing as I go along which definitely affects my writing.
Justin | Mazzastick’s last blog post ..The Sandbox
Thanks Justin! I think it takes time to get into the habit of writing without editing (and a little bit of tidying up as you go along isn’t a big problem) — I’ve found that using a timer helps, and being willing to leave gaps in the text!
Great tips on writing. I like the idea of just writing to get words out there and flow a bit, grammar be damned.
You’re welcome! 🙂
I sometimes do all of the above. Sometimes I’ll edit every single sentence as I go, sometimes I’ll write faster than a hyper jackrabbit, sometimes I just won’t feel like writing for days, sometimes I’ll sit and shove out 10,000 words in one evening. I’m just an unpredictable pantser.
McKenzie McCann’s last blog post ..Teen history- Causes of Civil War
It sounds like you’re great at going with the writing flow! I find that I have days when I can write lots, and days when I just don’t want to write at all … and I don’t think that’s a problem. It’s what I get done over a week/month/year which matters…
Great points 🙂
I’ll add here that the above points should apply to blogs reading and commenting too. I spent most of the last 10 days, just reading, commenting and retweeting the interesting sites I’ve been to. It takes a lot of time.
Thank you for a very interesting post 🙂
Irene Vernardis’s last blog post ..Whose fault is it
I can imagine it does! Though there’s a lot of reward to be had from reading and engaging with great blog content. Make sure you get some time to write, too (if that’s what you want to do). 🙂
The best piece of advice I came across during last year’s NaNoWriMo was to have a calendar on which you mark each day on which you’ve done some writing with a big red cross: it becomes crazily important to keep that chain of red crosses going. It really worked for me!
Great one! I’ve seen that advice, too; must actually give it a try…
I love this advice for a number of reasons. The first being you don’t have to write everyday. I do think it’s important for new writers however to get use to writing daily ( I mean like new freelance writers ) but not everyone needs to write everyday. It’s all about getting into a routine and sticking to it. I make sure ( like you ) that I write every week day and when the weekend comes along I still might write but it really depends on the day.
I also love the advice of tracking the progress. I am a huge fan of keeping a daily writing journal. It is so important to keep daily/weekly or even monthly goals to check the progress as you make them. Without my writing journal I would go mad, it keeps me on track and in focus with every kind of writing I do. I however don’t really share my progress with my friends ( they could care less ) its more so for me to keep me moving forward to my goals.
I myself have to write at least 5,000 words a week if not 20,000 some weeks. Some words on things that I could care less about other words are fun things. I think the best way I do that is by taking breaks in between the dull crap ( I should be writing right now 🙂 ) I think what helps the most for me is to make all writing fun, no matter how dull the topic is.
Again great posting.
Chimica’s last blog post ..You as a writer need a writing journal
I agree with you that if writing’s going to be your profession (like freelancing) then you need to be able to sit down and get on with it — if not every day, close to it. Like you, I tend to write on weekdays but not necessarily at weekends.
It sounds like you’re getting tons written every week — and I agree that making it fun is vital! It’s so much easier to write on a topic that you love (or even hate) than one which you feel indifferent about.
I love the tips but I think writing everyday actually helps me improve my english and helps me get more post out. At the moment I write for 3 blogs weekly including mine and I write 5 blog post a week. I do write everyday although its 250 words or just the title. I like to write the ideas down first like how you use a mind map.
One thing I notice, this week I had an exam, that means I didn’t write at all. I notice I got lazy and really didn’t feel like writing. Maybe because I stopped and I felt lazy or maybe I was too tired from the exams, when I tried to write again, I had got “stucked” for a while trying to gain back momentum.
Anyway I started writing again though, feels so much better to get ideas down.
Love this post
Aaron’s last blog post ..What is twitter all about… to me
If it’s working for you, Aaron, then definitely keep it up!
I think the big advantage of writing every day is that it becomes a habit. Like Lorna mentioned above, you don’t want to miss a day because you’re building a chain of successes.
On the other hand, if you get *too* focused on writing every single day, it’s easy to get “stuck” when you have to stop (for an exam or whatever reason).
Good luck with your writing and blogging!
Some great tips there for bloggers and writers.
I think the most important one for writers is that they split the tasks of writing and editing. These two tasks are different activities that use different hemispheres of the brain. For most bloggers and writers this is the single biggest problem – and it’s also an insidious form of resistance.
Freewriting is one way to learn to do this. Or just turn the monitor off – don’t go back to correct spelling or punctuation or changing words. Just write. And you can tidy up at editing stage.
paul wolfe’s last blog post ..Is It Time For ‘Comment Love-Ins’ To Stop
Thanks Paul! Great point about freewriting — I definitely agree that splitting the writing and the editing is vital. I don’t think it needs to be taken to extremes (if I make a typo or find that I’ve messed up half a sentence, I’ll edit it as I’m going along) — but there definitely needs to be a focus on just getting through the first draft before trying to polish up each sentence.
gr8 post as usual 🙂
i always set a time when i write and that helps alot, the only problem is when i dont find ideas
I struggle for ideas sometimes — I’ve found that it helps to have a specific brainstorming time where I come up with a bunch of ideas. Then when I’m ready to write, I just have to pick one and get going!
great hints for blogging I especially liked Write don’t edit as editing is so much time consuming
Thanks Vlad! I think editing can actually be pretty fast, but only when writers don’t agonise over it too much…
I love your advice. Especially the part about about writing for five minutes. I don’t need this advice so much for my novel as blogging. I’m of the mind of, better to get something posted that’s just ok, than nothing at all. Plus your comment about everyday writing are spot on.
When it comes to blogging, I try to make each post *good* but I don’t worry too much about *perfect*! I actually get more comments when posts allow a bit of space for disagreement, alternative points of view and reader suggestions…
I just ‘discoverd’ your blog (thanks to Stumble upon) and read only 2 posts, but already you’ve eased my mind.
Awesome! Glad you stumbled across it… 🙂
This are great tips Ali. I also remember a time when I could sit in front of the computer and write two thousand words in no time. But lately, I’ve been working more slowly. Probably because I’m trying to think as I write, making my process and routine more cumbersome and slow. Gotta try tweaking my writing routine. 🙂 thanks
Sometimes small tweaks can make a huge difference! Try out some of the tips and see how you get on… 🙂
Really a true and good article for all newbies and also for copycats
they can easily write own article in a day or in a hour… or less
but i still continue reading your blog
OOh, thanks so much! I’m using an online timer for this, hmm…this is so cool! Now I know I can get into NaNoWriMo in high school!!! I love writing, thanks for the tips. What’s really funny is that I never need help getting started, I need help stopping, cuz my mum’s constantly trying to get me to practice violin and piano. I’m a fiction writer, sorta, and while I’m not writing novels, I’m working on a fanfic. Does that count as publishing? Btw, I’m SO following this blog. Oh I just love Daily Writing Tips…
Definitely give NaNo a go … it’s a lot of fun! 🙂
I think online publication definitely counts — whether it’s of original fiction, fanfiction, blog posts … or whatever else you can come up with. 😉
Great Article! I’ve tried free writing every morning for about a month and I have to admit that I now write much faster. I worry less about grammar and structure and just concentrate on getting down my ideas on paper. Thanks for the great tips.
Roy De Souza’s last blog post ..When to Write – Morning or Night
So wow. This post is exactly what I needed. I have been putting off revisions from my agent for TOO long and have gotten myself totally psyched out about tackling my manuscript again. I have actually been saying for three days, “Tomorrow…” so NOW I’m going to say, “Just five minutes.” LOVE you blog! Thanks for the encouragement!
Wow, this is so packed with great info and inspiration! Thanks for posting this. I know that I will be back here often!
This winter I have decided to take the time to stay home more and focus on my creativity and actually bringing things through. I have had so many wonderful ideas these past few months, but getting them writen down has been hard. Continuing even harder… finishing is more of a dream than a reality. In an attempt to rescue a passion that feels like it’s run head first into a brick wall, slumped over and given up, I stumbled upon your blog. 6 years ago I took a creative writing course, we started each class with the whole “write for 5 minutes” to a timer. We didn’t have a topic, we just wrote whatever came into our heads as it came into our heads. It always got the creative juices flowing, it inspired me, motivated me, and got me going and kept me going. I completely forgot about that until reading your blog. I’m going to start that excercise again. Thank you Ali!
Hurrah, so glad to help remind you, Yolanda! Hope you get back into the rhythm of writing — best of luck!
Thank you for splicing these ideas out to the rest of the world. I am a budding writer, looking for ideas and or programs to help me increase my quality and quantity of writing. Your information and ideas were very helpful! Thanks!
Thanks Anna, glad to help! Hope your writing goes well. 🙂