I’m having trouble believing it myself: Not only did I write a book in three months, I’ve also taken a holiday in that time, worked on other projects and done a serious amount of blogging. This means I actually wrote the book in twenty writing days, writing only before lunch.
So how’d I do it? Well the answer is obvious isn’t it? Clear goals, hard work, perseverance, sticking to it, eliminating distractions and writing no matter what, right?
Wrong, wrong, wrong. I tried that. Didn’t work. So I tried the exact opposite and that worked.
Here are my top 10 tips for fun, creative and productive writing, which can be applied to blogging, writing a book, an article, a report at work, a thesis, a term paper or any other major writing project.
1: Go out and write
On writing days (ie. days where I feel like writing and have nothing else to do before lunch) I get up whenever I wake up (typically around 7:30 or 8) then make my way down to a local café with free wifi. I set up my laptop, order coffee and breakfast and start writing.
My desk at MJ Coffee
2: Leave the laptop charger at home
This may be the most important tip. This way the battery life of my computer sets an upper limit to how long I can write. I can’t sit there all day – I have 3 1/2 hours at the most. This means I spend zero time surfing the web, checking up on news, etc…
Also, I could never write for a whole day. I have about 2-3 good writing hours in me per day before the creativity, productivity and qualityof my writing starts to plummet.
3: Decide on the structure first
I start by lining up all the chapters, so I know what sections the book has and which order they will come in. I don’t write the chapters in that order, and I also change this outline as I write.
But I do know where each chapter will fit, and approximately what it will contain. This saves me from moving a lot of text around and it also makes it easier to write the chapters without always having to refer to something that’s coming later in the book, something I find sloppy and indicative of a messy structure.
4: Write what you want to write
Every morning, I work on the chapter that interests me the most that day. Because I have the overall structure in mind, I don’t need to tackle the chapters in sequence. If I feel like writing about why happiness at work is important to you and me I do that. If the question what is happiness at work is on my mind, I write about that.
This helps make the writing process fun and less of a chore.
There’s a corollary: If you don’t want to write, don’t. Writing is rarely fun, productive or good when you’re not in the mood. Instead of forcing yourself to write, consider if there’s something you can do to change that (like going out to write) or if maybe it’s just time for a day off from writing.
5: Work on it in your head before writing
One reason the writing can go so fast is that I know what I want to say. I have spent a lot of time thinking, taking notes, talking to people and gathering stories and business cases about happiness at work.
Writing while at the same time finding out what to say takes a lot more time. So find out what to write first. Talk it over with other people. Then write it.
6: Work on two chapters in parallel
I always write on two chapters at the same time. Well not at the exact same time, but on the same day. One of these is almost finished and just needs a rewrite and some polish. The other one I’m just starting on, and this is where most of the actual writing happens.
The good thing about this approach is that I don’t aim to finish a chapter the same day I start it – I can fill out most of it, but leave open questions or difficult sections to another day.
This also means that each writing session contains both “original” writing and re-writes, so the process is more varied. Spending a whole morning just re-writing chapters is way too boring.
And finally this eliminates the practice of writing the whole thing and then doing reviews and rewrites – which only serves to make reviewing intensely unpleasant.
7: Write alone
Even if you’re working on a project together with someone else, do the actual writing alone. Two (or more) people sitting at a computer arguing over each sentence is not a good use of people’s time.
If you’re collaborating with others then:
- Decide on a structure for the whole project
- Decide who does what
- Do the actual writing alone
- Then get together and compare notes
Never, ever do the actual writing together :o)
8: Get feedback as you go
Because I post chapters straight to the blog, people are reading what I write right away, not in some distant future where the book may have been published and people may have bought it. This gives the process an immediate pay-off that motivates me.
Also I get great feedback in the comments. I have already gone back to previous chapters and updated them, based on the comments people leave. Also, I get encouragement. I’m a sucker for praise, and the fact that people leave encouraging comments motivates me a lot.
9: No deadlines or goals
I have had no specific targets or goals. I did not set out to write half the book in 8 mornings – that would’ve been serious hubris. I have no deadline, no goal to write so many words per day.
I could never write to a specific deadline, because writing is a creative process. I can do it when I’m in the mood. Trying to write when I’m not, is a frustrating exercise in futility.
But having no deadlines does not mean I’m slacking – I’m actually looking forward to getting up in the morning to write. This attitude is the basis for good writing. To me, good writing can never be a chore. To quote The Laziest Man in North America: “If it feels like work, you’re not doing it right.”
The sci-fi author Lois McMaster Bujold tried this approach and to her great surprise found that she wrote more than twice as fast as when she was writing to a deadline. She also had a lot more fun.
10: Make it fast
While I have no fixed deadline I did decide to write the book quickly. I could’ve given myself half a year to write, but I prefer to immerse myself in the project for a short period of time as opposed to having it on the backburner for monhts on end.
This keeps the structure, content, tone and feel of the book consistent in my mind and makes the process easier and ultimately more efficient.
The thing is, I’ve started on a book before but had to stop again because I just couldn’t focus on the writing or because I lost steam somehwere along the way. But this time I’ve found a process that works very well for me and this has made writing:
- Fun – I just can’t wait to write, it’s that much fun
- Productive – I mean a book in 20 days…
- Creative – I’m taking some chances and trying a lot of things I haven’t tried before
- Good – I like what I’m writing, and it’s really high quality for what is essentially a first draft
And the very best thing is coming out of the café with the really, really great feeling that “MAN, this is fun and MAN I’m proud of my work”. That is what writing should feel like!
I don’t know if these tips could work for you. They’re very different from traditional writing tips, which focus mostly on setting goals, concentrating, eliminating distractions and generally sticking to it no matter how unpleasant it gets. Unsurprisingly, I focus more on trying to make the process natural and fun – after all, the book I’m writing is about being happy at work – writing it has to be fun or it just won’t work.
Try some of these tips out on your next writing assignment or project. Be sure to experiment and find out what works for you. Done right, it transforms writing from a chore to something you actively enjoy and look forward to. And that is guaranteed to result in better writing.
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