I used to loathe writing. I found it both daunting and painful — kind of like going to the dentist and having a root canal. Every day.
I delayed and procrastinated, putting off the dreaded task as long as humanly possible. Only the force of an inexorable deadline impelled me to push out any words. And when I finally had them written down, little time remained for editing.
Lots of writers — E.B. White, Stephen King and William Zinsser — provide useful rules about writing. But they tend to focus on the finished product — the words, sentences and paragraphs you produce.
Me? I learned the hard way that I need to focus on the process. So, I've created a list of my own rules for writing — a manifesto, really. These are the principles that have helped me transform writing from a task I dreaded into my favorite job of the day.
1. Always start early. One of the best ways to make writing less onerous is to begin it as quickly as possible. As soon as I have an assignment from a client or a boss, I start making some notes. Then I make a plan — allowing myself plenty of time for thinking (which must occur before writing) and even more time for editing (which is where the real improvement to writing occurs.)
2. Avoid the blank page. In my view, there is nothing worse than the blank page. It's damned intimidating and it taunts us with its relentless emptiness making us fear our own minds may be equally empty. I strive to get something — anything — written as soon as I can so I can always feel as though I'm improving something rather than simply starting it.
3. Don't awfulize. I was a born awfulizer — always seeing the worst in every possible situation. I used to imagine my writing to be horrible and inept. Finally, I realized that this attitude was self-defeating. Writing is just talking on paper. (I now do this as fast as I can and refuse to worry about spelling or grammar in my first draft. There’s plenty of time for editing, later.)
4. Start with a mindmap instead of an outline. Mindmapping allows me to tap into the creative part of my brain, uncovering stories, metaphors and connections that I would have never encountered with an outline. If you subscribe to my short Tuesday newsletter (it’s free), you will receive a free copy of my booklet on mindmapping. Just go to www.publicationcoach.com and enter your name and email in the box under my photo on the right.
5. Practice daily. Writing is like exercise: The more I do, the better I get at it. I ensure my writing muscles get a consistent workout by writing for an hour a day for five days per week.
6. Don’t edit while writing. This was a hard-fought battle for me but it revolutionized my work. Now I produce my first drafts ever so much faster and with minimal angst. It took a major effort to get to this place, but it was worth every single minute it took.
7. Write with a timer. When I write I have a timer that clicks in the background. I find the sound comforting and inspiring. It's also really effective at keeping me on task. When my clicker is operating I don't check email or Facebook; I feel as though I'm taking part in a race, and this is fun.
8. Make big goals smaller. Writing can seem overwhelming. For this reason, whenever I'm given a big job I immediately break it down into smaller tasks. Think about the assignment. Check. Research. Check. Prepare a mindmap. Check. Write a first draft. Check. Edit the first draft. Check. None of these tasks is big enough to freak me out so I just concentrate on collecting my check marks as quickly as possible.
9. Read voraciously. The best writers are indefatigable readers. I read widely and well and I get a wealth of tips from what the masters ahead of me have accomplished. When I’m not reading books (I read at least 52 per year) you can often find me lost in the pages of the New Yorker — one of my favorite sources of marvelously faceted, interesting writing.
10. Give yourself plenty of rewards. I am slowly learning how important it is to reward myself frequently and generously. Writing is not as hard as bricklaying but it means I must concentrate. Modest rewards — a book, a magazine, a box of a specialty tea I like — are good for modest accomplishments. Major accomplishments require something bigger. I have learned not to be stingy.