Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Emergency! Seven Ways to Avert a Writing Crisis

A few months ago, I ended up in Emergency for 15 hours. (Long story; it was nothing serious.) But the debacle caused me to miss a deadline. The client was the picture of understanding but for me, a former daily newspaper editor, it was deeply embarrassing.

I've always believed that writers, like performers, need to operate by the code "the show must go on" -- illness, broken limbs, mechanical failure notwithstanding. I may be late for lunch, but I typically never miss a writing deadline. Here are seven ways you can do the same:

1) Divide your writing job into small parts and do a little bit at a time. We delay and procrastinate because writing jobs frequently overwhelm. Instead, divide the job into smaller pieces. Researching is one task, thinking is another, producing a mindmap is yet a third. Broken up in this manner, any writing job will seem less intimidating and you will be more likely to get started sooner. Furthermore, once you start putting fingers to the keyboard, don't feel you have to devote great gobs of time to it. Write in dribs and drabs, here and there. Eventually those words will add up and your work will be complete.

2) Always build extra time in to your schedule. Never ever leave writing to the last minute. Instead, give yourself a schedule that builds in lots of "wiggle room." When working with freelancers, I always give firm but fake deadlines -- a few days before I really need the work, just in case the writer runs into a problem. But don't depend on your boss or editor to do that for you -- do it yourself.

3) Back into your writing. Instead of starting with the "point" you want to make, start with a story or anecdote. This will almost always make the job of writing faster and easier -- allowing you to meet your deadline with greater ease.

4) Find a framework into which you can "pour" your writing. When I had the concept for this column, for example, I didn't start with seven ideas and count them up -- I started with the goal of identifying seven and then rose to meet that challenge. Having a framework will make your writing faster and you'll be more likely to finish ahead of schedule.

5) Keep an "idea" file and a "slush pile." The best writers are always pack rats. But organized ones. An idea file is a list of topics that you want to write about; a slush pile is material that you've deleted from other pieces of writing. Both are extremely useful tools as you're working to meet a deadline. Look to software to help you organize this stuff. OneNote from Microsoft is a good PC solution; I'm told that Notebook by Circus Ponies is slick for Mac, although I'm currently busy testing ShoveBox.  

6) Understand that writing is a "formula." With the possible exception of experimental fiction, writing follows well-established conventions. Whether you are producing reports, sales letters or e-zines, select some examples of "excellent writing" in your genre and re-read them regularly -- particularly just before writing. Imitation is not only flattery -- it's also a smart way to help you write faster.

7) Always have some "evergreen" material on hand. This last tip is especially useful for anyone who produces an e-zine or newsletter. Of course you want to be timely but recognize that you might get stuck and have some "timeless" material as a backup. Perhaps it's a book review, maybe it's a "how-to" list, but if you keep something with a long shelf-life at hand, you'll always be ready for any emergency.


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday December 17th 2008, 11:56 AM
Comment by: Lyn P.
Currently overwhelmed by the huge number of documents that must be written or updated by year's end, I've been at a loss as to where to begin: most urgent, toughest, most reseached, easiest (even that needs reseach *sigh*)? Daphne's tips are sure to help: research, think, mindmap, small chunks/paragraphs, writing bite-size bits instead of jotting notes to myself. Hurrah...practical tips I can use as soon as I close this browser window. Thanx Daphne!
Wednesday December 17th 2008, 1:19 PM
Comment by: Maria C.
These are wonderful suggestions that can be used even if one is not a writer.

I have found that not completing a task as assigned always leads to disaster! Something equally important comes up with the same deadline as the previous task and I spend much of my time stressing over having so much to do in a small window of time!

Thank you Daphne for reminding me set and stick to a plan of action.
Thursday December 18th 2008, 6:39 AM
Comment by: bluefade (Chagrin Falls, OH)
The seven points Daphne listed are very valuable to me. So valuable in fact, I printed the article and it is now pinned to the cork board in front of me where I usually settle in with my laptop when writing.

I especially liked 5) Keep an "idea" file and a "slush pile."
and 6) Understand that writing is a "formula."

This really will help me from time to time.

Nice article Daphne. Thank you.
Thursday December 18th 2008, 5:36 PM
Comment by: Beryl S. (Schroeder, MN)
As always, your advice is timely and effective. Thanks Daphne for these posts, your newsletter and your excellent book!!
Friday December 19th 2008, 11:09 AM
Comment by: William A.
Years ago, I got a useful tip from a great writer of expository short essays: "Create your opening and your conclusion after you have drafted the body of the piece. Then you will know exactly what you are introducing and concluding." It's a fine cure for writer's block, too.
Monday December 22nd 2008, 4:25 AM
Comment by: Curt E. (Skarpnack Sweden)
Inspiring piece - should be in your weekly newsletter.

Or did I miss that issue?

:o)
Wednesday January 7th 2009, 12:58 PM
Comment by: Mountainsage (CA)
Thank you for more great advice.

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