Journalist, blogger and PhD candidate are just a few of the diverse roles I fill. These titles have at least one thing in common—they belong to a person who writes a lot.
I’ve always loved writing and have rigorously practiced my craft. This means I make a lot of time in my schedule to write. I’d like to write even more. Here is the best advice I’ve found for how to write a lot.
Keep an idea list
A lot of writers have a terrible time finding topics to write about. I never have a problem finding ideas. My primary issue is that I have more ideas than I have time. Part of this is because, as a journalist and blogger, I’ve always kept a running list of ideas. I consult my list if I’m not sure what to write about. There’s always something there that I’m interested in.
The key to keeping a good idea list is to write things down as you think of them. You also have to be sure to document them in enough detail that you can remember what you meant when you refer to the list later.
Follow a schedule
Some of the most successful writers I know create writing schedules. It was easy when I was a journalist and most of my day was expected to be spent on writing. Now that I teach full time, I have to find certain days or certain times to write. It works best if you can keep these consistent and schedule them into your calendar. If you wait for writing time to appear in your schedule, it never will.
Alter your sleep routine
This is not how I find time to write. I need my sleep. You don’t even want to deal with me without it. But I know quite a few professional writers who rise early or stay up late to get their best writing done during quiet times. Augusto Pinaud is one such writer. He wrote a book about waking up at 4 a.m. to be productive. If this works for you, go for it!
Write during lunch
I often spent lunchtime at my desk when I was a full-time reporter. I got a lot of writing done during the lunch hour because it was one of the few times when the newsroom was quiet. Also, since you’re guaranteed at least an hour for lunch, you can guard this time easily. An hour a day will add up.
I’m admittedly not great at this one either, but you can’t focus on writing if you’re checking email, surfing online and updating your Facebook status. Some writers I know use apps that keep them from going online during writing time. This doesn’t really work for me, especially when I’m writing on my dissertation, because I have to log onto the university’s library site a lot. Instead, I use social time as a productivity reward. For example, I received two text messages while I was editing this blog post, but I’m not going to allow myself to read them until the editing is done. Dangling social media carrots, like checking Twitter for every two pages I write, works well for me.
Create standing posts
I blog a list of media jobs on Mondays and a list of media internships on Fridays. Having set posts for these two days helps me knock them out quickly and focus my writing efforts on the other three days a week that I post.
Accept guest posts
Filling in your blog with guest posts can give you a much-needed writing break. It also allows you to focus your time on writing other things.
Write on paper
Writing on paper first helps you organize your ideas and makes typing and editing the piece go more quickly.
There’s no such thing as perfect writing. If you shoot for perfection, you’ll never stop editing and revising. Know when a piece is good enough to submit and move on to the next one.
Guard your writing time
No one else will respect your writing time. You have to guard it yourself. Think of your writing time the same way you would any other important appointment. As Paul Silvia wrote in his book, How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing:
You must ruthlessly defend your writing time. Be forewarned that other people will not respect your commitment to your writing time. They’ll resent your inflexibility, call you rigid, and think that there’s some deeper reason why you won’t meet with them.”
Drop the ‘writer’s block’ excuse
Writer’s block is an excuse for procrastination. Just call it what it is, then erase it. As Silvia wrote:
I love writer’s block. I love it for the same reasons I love tree spirits and talking woodland creatures—they’re charming and they don’t exist. Writer’s block is nothing more than the behavior of not writing.”
Write in smaller chunks
You don’t always need big blocks of time to write. Writing in shorter time or smaller sections will add up. I hear people rave about using the Pomodoro Technique for writing, which requires that you write for 25 focused minutes, then take a three or four minute break. Consider using this method to find just 30 minutes for writing.
Write in your head
Think about what you’re going to write. Embrace your creative thinking place for sorting out your writing plan. This helps you write faster when you actually sit down in front of the computer. Also, if your piece begins to flow in your head, write it then if you can. I’ve been known to pull out my iPhone and peck out of a blog post in Notes just because the idea was well organized at the time. Don’t assume you’ll remember. You won’t.
Carry a notebook
Write whenever or where ever you can. These writing snippets help make the process faster and smoother when you sit down to write.
Find at least 15 minutes every day to write. This fuels your passion and moves your writing projects along.
Set internal deadlines
Deadlines motivate you and make you keep a writing schedule. They also help you avoid perfectionism by creating accountability to timelines.
Waiting for big chunks of time to write is a problem for academians. We think we can get a ton of writing done during university breaks, so we put it aside until then. The problem is that we need the break to catch up on course preparation, grading and other duties, so we never get as much writing done as we think we will. It’s an easy trap.
Don’t wait for chunks of free time to write. If they do come, they’ll sucked up by other tasks.
As Paul Silvia wrote:
If you think that writing time is lurking somewhere, hidden deep within your weekly schedule, you will never write a lot. Finding time is a destructive way of thinking about writing. Never say this again. Instead of finding time to write, allot time to write.”
Waiting for large chunks of writing time results in what Silvia calls “binge writing.”
Binge writers spend more time feeling guilty and anxious about not writing than schedule followers spend writing.”
Turn off the TV
The average American watches four to five hours of television a day. Just image how much writing you could do with even half of that time. And, I promise, you’ll feel much better about accomplishing your writing goals than watching the tube.
Sometimes you sit down to write and it’s just painful. You labor on every word and nothing seems to flow. Other days, writing just seems simple. The words pour onto the screen. Recognize when writing is flowing and write as much as you can during those times.
Separate writing and editing
You won’t get any writing done by editing while you’re writing. You’ll write a sentence and delete four. It’s better to just write and go back and edit afterward.
The best advice on this list is to make time to write and then guard that time. Too often we wait for writing time to somehow appear in our schedules and other things just fill the time. If we want to write a lot, we have to be intentional about creating and saving writing time.