How I Get Writing Done

I’ve talked a lot about what tools I use to write, how I planned to write and things of that nature. This is an ongoing process for me, as priorities shift and new opportunities take hold. Still, it’s always fun – and a bit humbling – to go back and look at what I’ve said regarding writing habits and revisit them.

So I’m going to do that before I discuss how I get writing done as of today.

How I Don’t Get Writing Done

I don’t do what I said back in November of 2011.

Here’s what my schedule was back then:

  1. Sunday: Fresh, grade A material.
  2. Monday: More great new written work.
  3. Tuesday: Teaser quote and brief summary from the latest episode of ProductiVardy.
  4. Wednesday: Shiny words, straight from the presses…of my mind.
  5. Thursday: A teaser from the latest episode of Dyscultured, which I return to this coming week.
  6. Friday: Newness to start your weekend.
  7. Saturday: A quote to whet your appetite from Talking is Dead’s weekly exchange, a podcast where Anthony Marco and I simply talk.

I’ve switched to a more prolific writing pattern as of late, and I’ve actually stuck to it more than I ever did with the late 2011 approach. I no longer offer as many “teaser posts”, ProductiVardy no longer exists, and five days a week I’m serving up two posts per day as opposed to just one. All of this is a bit of an evolution, considering I’m doing more of what I intended to do now instead of back when I suggested I would.

I don’t write every single day.

I simply can’t keep up with that kind of schedule. I take at least one day per week and write absolutely nothing, and usually that’s a Saturday. I have a family that I love spending time with and I need at least one day per week to recharge the battery.

But I do read every day, which makes me a better writer.

I don’t stick to one app or platform for writing.

I use Evernote for ideas that are for my own use. I use nvALT for shared ideas for the Mikes on Mics podcast. I use Asana for shared ideas for Lifehack. I use Scrivener for long-form writing and Byword for weblog posts. I use Writing Kit on my iPad and iPhone. I use iThoughts HD for mindmapping.

One app doesn’t have to rule all, and I don’t believe it should (or can). I’m actually of the mindset that by using different apps for different types of writing (or for fostering your writing) you put yourself in a position to be better focused on what realm you’re writing in…or for.

How I Get Writing Done

I stick to a ritual.

I don’t start writing until about 10 am on most days. I read my RSS feeds, I take the time to wake up properly, I check my schedule and review Asana, I go over email (time permitting), and I wait for my son’s caregiver to arrive at 9:30 four days a week. I work from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and much of that work is actual writing (although some is editing and going through email and social media). But I always get some writing done off the top. I generally start with a post here, because I’m often raring to go with fewer barriers to worry about at the start of the day. On my personal weblog, I can write about almost anything. Elsewhere, there are limits to what I can write about – either by the restrictions of the website or project.

Lately I’ve been able to produce an average of 3500-5000 words per day by doing this. I write in 90 minute chunks, as follows:

  • 10 a.m. -11:30 a.m.: Weblog writing
  • 12:30 p.m. – 2 p.m.: Book writing
  • 3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.: Other writing

The “Other” writing I am referring to above usually consists of guest posts I’m preparing to pitch, articles for my regular portals and paying gigs (such as Lifehack), the developing of talks, and other writing that I want to work on that isn’t directly related to my work here (for example, Eventualism and other creative endeavours).

The best way to get disciplined about your writing is to put a framework in place. You may not have the freedom I have, but you certainly can create a framework that works for you that will allow you to get your writing done.

I write at night.

This isn’t really a part of any sort of ritual, but I do work at night after the kids go to bed when I’m not scheduled to do a podcast recording or I’ve had appointments that have occurred during my usual work day. I’m also a night owl, so I’m up fairly late most evenings in order to get writing done – along with the other things that need doing.

I get back to the grind most nights at around 9 p.m. and keep going until 1 a.m. or so. I usually sneak a break or two in there as well. Again, this isn’t something I do every single night. I try to avoid writing on Friday nights…and I never write on Saturday nights. And since we record Mikes on Mics on Monday nights and Dyscultured on Wednesday nights, I normally don’t write as much on those nights, either.

For many of you, the reality of “night writing” is your only option to get writing done. Just be sure to take time during your day to set up a plan for it and you’ll wind up getting writing done a lot more efficiently and effectively. I’d suggest taking my regular ritual and adapting it for your night writing so that you can get it done and not lose sleep over it. You’ll also be able to deliver the goods during the day when you’re working on the things you need to be working on without being weighed down by fatigue.

Here’s a template to consider for night writing, using the timeframe of 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. as a scheduled time block:

  • Night 1: Weblog writing
  • Night 2: No writing
  • Night 3: Other writing
  • Night 4: No writing
  • Night 5: Weblog writing
  • Night 6: No writing
  • Night 7: Other writing

On the nights where you are scheduled to do no writing whatseover, spend that time either catching up on emails, reading or spending it with friends and family. You’ll also notice I didn’t put particular days of the week in this template (Monday, Tuesday, etc.). That’s because everyone’s week works differently.

You can also start to shift this to where you write two days on and one day off, or simply switch the days where you don’t write with the days that you do in order to fit your time commitment. You can also do this in the early morning hours if that’s what you prefer, like during the time block from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. or similar.

The bottom line: Stick to the 90 minutes per night and you’ll get writing done – no matter how many days a week you plan to do so.

I write about what I love to write about.

“Write what you know” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Thanks to the Internet, you can know a lot more than ever before. However, writing what you love to write about isn’t something the Internet can bestow upon you – at least not on an emotional level.

I love to write about productivity tools, ideas, processes and the like. I happen to know a lot about this stuff as well, mainly because I sought out the information. Why did I seek it out? Because I really love the stuff.

Whether you write online or offline, write about what you love to write about. Without having that love at your side, all the knowledge and rituals in the world won’t fuel your writing.

Some Final Thoughts

  1. I write a lot on my iPad. The platform is conducive to focused writing, since it can’t display more than window on its screen. If you think that the iPad is all about consumption, try creating your written work on it. You’ll change your mind pretty quickly.
  2. If you’re going to make a real go of writing as your work/career/side job, then take it seriously. Read up on tools, pick one and use it. Spell check. Grammar check. Proofread. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t do this all the time, but I’m taking steps to make it more the rule than the exception.
  3. If you’re facing a writer’s block of any type, try putting your thoughts and words down on actual paper. I find that by moving from a digital medium to an analog one has been the quickest way for me to break free of writer’s block.

I’m always looking for ways to right my writing. The Resistance is one of the biggest battles I face – as do others in this field. My methods allow me go to war against The Resistance and get writing done.

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Photo credit: xlibber (CC BY 2.0)