I’m a full-time content director, a freelance writer, an adjunct college professor, and a blogger. These are most (I think) of the professional roles I fill. These diverse titles have at least one thing in common — writing. I write a lot.
I’ve always loved writing and, like you, rigorously practice my craft, even when I don’t feel like writing. Because, let’s be honest, being a writer means scheduling time to write, putting your butt in the chair, and writing. And if you’re going to be any type of professional writer — journalist, content marketer, blogger, novelist — you must learn how to write a lot.
Why is it Good to Write A Lot?
Stephen King said it best when he said:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
One reason it’s essential to write a lot is to become a better writer. There is no other way to improve your writing than to write, just like there’s no better way to become a three-point shooter than to get in the gym every day and shoot three-pointers. Practice builds muscle memory. You have to exercise your writing muscle — your mind — to become better at it.
In addition to becoming a better writer, writing a lot helps you generate more creative ideas and it makes you a more productive writer. Ask anyone who’s tried to write or is writing a book. They’ll tell you that you have to schedule time to write, then you have to stick with the schedule. It’s easier to sit down and write a thousand words a day (Notice that I said “easier,” not “easy.) then it is to sit down and focus on writing a book. Just like any other task, breaking it down in small pieces that you do, even when you aren’t motivated to do so, gets you to the finish line.
How to Write A Lot
While it’s helpful to know why it’s good to write a lot, many of us don’t have a choice. We have to write a lot, even when we don’t want to. My work requires that I write a ton. It always has, and it’s unlikely to change any time soon. So, I had to learn a long time ago how to be a productive writer. Here’s my advice for you.
Keep an Idea List
A lot of writers who need to produce regular shorter content like blog posts 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 document them in enough detail so you can remember what you meant when you refer to the list later.
Not thinking of any ideas? Listen to Stephen King and read something. Everything I read gives me ideas of things to write. Most things I write give me ideas for the next piece I want to tackle.
Eat the Frog
Brian Tracy, a motivational speaker and self-development author, has a best-selling book called Eat that Frog! The book’s title comes from an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re done with the worst thing you’ll have to do all day.
Tracy uses the saying to teach people to tackle their most difficult or important task first thing in the morning. That way they’ll have the biggest challenge out of the way first thing.
The concept also applies to writing. If there’s a piece of writing you really don’t want to do, you’ll claim you have “writer’s block.” Writer’s block is nonsense. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s a fancy way to say you’re uncertain or uninterested, so you’re procrastinating. Instead of making excuses, tackle that piece of writing or big problem in a bigger piece first thing. That way you can relax and move forward with the rest of your day without it hanging over your head.
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 writing. Now my days are spent editing, supervising writers, teaching, and then hopefully getting some writing done. I have to find certain days or specific times to write.
You’ll be a more productive writer if you follow a schedule. Determine when you can write and schedule the time on your calendar. Guard that time like you would an important appointment with someone else. 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.”
If you wait for writing time to appear in your schedule, it never will.
Choose Your Best Time
When you create your writing schedule, try to schedule your writing time when you’re most productive. For example, my head is clearest and I tend to write faster first thing in the morning. I know this from years of observing my own habits. So, I try not to schedule meetings first thing in my work day and write then.
If you identify your most productive writing time and use that time wisely, chances are you’ll get more writing done than you even imagined.
Alter Your Sleep Routine
Confession: 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 many 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 lunch 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. These apps don’t work for me because I often need to do quick research online while I write. 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
Some days you need to post, especially if you’re a blogger, but you’re having one of those days when writing feels like torture. Creating simple standing posts like round-ups or quote lists can help you knock out a post, even when you don’t feel like writing.
For example, I post a list of my favorite books of the month at the beginning of every month. It’s a post that I never have to spend much time considering. I know I’ll write and post it during the first week of each month.
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.
If you need to write more content than humanly possible, you also can consider hiring a freelance ghostwriter. But, let’s face it, most of us aren’t nearly that in demand.
Outline on Paper
We’ve all done it. You sit down at the computer and stare at the blank screen. You have no idea where to start, and you’re wasting time. Outlining your chapter or piece on paper first helps you organize your ideas and makes typing and editing faster.
There’s no such thing as perfect writing. Everything you write would be better with one more source and five more minutes. 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. The best piece of writing is a done one.
Write in Smaller Chunks
You don’t always need big blocks of time to write. Writing in a 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. The technique doesn’t work for me when writing because I don’t want to stop when I get into a flow state. But consider just finding 30 minutes here and there 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. It 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.
Writing every day helps create a habit. Find at least 15 minutes every day to write. It fuels your passion and moves your writing projects along.
Set Internal Deadlines
Set deadlines for yourself and keep them. 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 get 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 three hours of television a day. And we’re just talking about TV. That doesn’t include time online. Just imagine 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.
Want to take it a step further? It will seem like you’re making time when you eliminate tech distractions.
Sometimes you sit down to write, and it’s just painful. You labor on every word, and nothing seems to flow. On other days, writing just seems simple. The words pour onto the screen. This is called flow. Flow is the state in which you’re so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who discovered the concept. 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.
Training Yourself to Write A Lot
As a writer, you probably already do a lot of the things on this list. I hope you got some more ideas that will help you write a lot. 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 fill the time. If we want to write a lot, we have to be intentional about creating and saving writing time.