Whether it’s a long school essay, final thesis, the yearly report for work or even that book you’ve always been meaning to write, few people can escape the beautiful but maddening art of putting fingers to keyboard (pen to paper is so twentieth century).
For some, writing a volume of words is difficult, for others it’s a breeze – but why is it easy for some and torture for others? Well there are a few essential things that people do differently which helps them write easier, faster and more enjoyably: things that are often overlooked, especially when you are in a rush.
The following seven tips will set you up for successful writing and make that dreaded writing assignment disappear in no time.
Plan it out
Set yourself a deadline for completion and plan backwards from there. For some, a submission deadline will be imposed, but for others (for example, those writing a soon to be best selling novel) it will have to be self-imposed. Be strict with yourself. If your deadline is Friday the 15th, make sure your work is done by the 14th, don’t be lax and give yourself the weekend to finish your writing. Once you know your deadline you can see how many weeks (or days) away it is. Then divide the work into smaller manageable chunks, e.g. 10 Chapters = 1 chapter a week. What will each chapter include?
Also, decide when to do what. For example, if you are writing a report don’t put the most difficult research off till week 10 and do the easiest thing first. Try to make your plan flow so that your work progresses naturally. Finally, write the plan down and have it somewhere handy. That way you can always refer to where you should be if you get confused.
Decide on time
The easiest way to write is to schedule it into your day. Think of it as a job: you go from 9-5 everyday and can’t turn up late without an excuse. Luckily writing can be much nicer than working because you can choose your hours (unless your writing is part of your day job).
Ask yourself this essential question –When are you most productive? Are you a morning person or does it take time for you to wake up? Are you a night owl or get sleepy after 9pm? How about afternoons where you work with the last rays of the sun? If you know when you work best that’s when you should schedule your writing.
I personally cannot write a thing after a protein-packed lunch and therefore schedule blocks of time in the morning to write, leaving my afternoon free for errands or catching butterflies. Write your times into your mental diary and stick to them. And if someone asks you to do something during your writing time, say no or rearrange it. The movie will still be in the cinema on the weekend, unless it features Johnny Depp.
Find a work space
Having a good workspace is essential. Writing on the bus on the way to work is not going to get you anywhere. Writing in bed will make you sleepy or give you a backache. Writing in Starbucks puts you at the mercy of tourists, teenagers taking selfies and terrible coffee. Having a quiet, comfortable space for your computer is a great way to set the writing mood. Clear the desk of scrap paper, close the window or doors to reduce sound and sit on a comfortable chair. Add a bottle of water or cup of coffee to the desk and you are set!
All this is a signal to your brain that you are focusing on work and writing, so hopefully your brain will cooperate and the words will flow. Finally don’t listen to music, it’s more distracting than you realise, especially Nickleback and their Crimes Against Sound. If you must have ear candy then choose classical music or nature sounds to relax you.
Set small daily goals
Before you start writing take a minute or two to decide on your smaller goals. If you have to write one chapter then decide to write 1,000 words and take a break. Usually by the time you’ve written 1,000 words you will be in full swing of writing and don’t need the break.
Unless essential don’t stop writing until you’ve completed your daily goal. Once you have take a minute to decide if you want to continue writing and start on tomorrow’s work (meaning you have less to do tomorrow). Sometimes you really focus on writing and so keeping that momentum going is really useful and productive. If you don’t feel like writing any more, pat yourself on the back (if you’re unusually flexible) and feel content that you’ve completed your daily writing!
Tell people about it
Tell your friends about what you are writing. Firstly, this is useful because it forces you to explain simply what you have to write – “A 10,000 word report on future marketing strategies”. Your friend will usually ask follow up questions which help you further develop your ideas – “I have 5 good examples of marketing strategies to use”.
If your friends know about the writing you have to do then they will understand when you say you cannot go to the movies, or ask to rearrange a meeting. If you tell your work colleagues about it they might be less likely to ask you for help or distract you as they know you have a big project, someone else will help them fix the photocopier or go on a late night romp.
Also, telling someone about it makes it more concrete in your mind and allows you to tackle it sooner. Instead of thinking about it tomorrow, you have voiced it and made it a real priority which will be able to help you tackle it today.
When you are sitting down to work switch off your mobile phone, Facebook, Whats App and anything else with instant notifications. These are the biggest distractors of our time and can in no way help you to get your writing done. The messages will still be there in two hours time and I doubt any emergencies will occur during those precious writing hours you have scheduled.
Close all browsers on your computer and maximise Word to full screen so you only have one thing to look at. If possible don’t check your emails until after you’ve completed your daily writing goal as emails often have other distracting contents that will push you further from your writing goals. If you are a morning person then try to get up even earlier (like at 6am) and take the first two hours of the morning to write distraction free – everyone else is still sleeping. Waking early to write is one of the most common techniques famous writers use – there really is nothing else to do except write at 4.30am (TV is terrible and the Internet is asleep).
Finally don’t forget to schedule time to review your work. Try not to leave this to the hour before the deadline or do it just after you’ve finished the last chapter. You need some time to forget what you wrote and if possible go back to it after a day or two with fresh eyes. Sometimes it helps to print off your writing and read it on paper – the change from screen to paper lets your brain read it differently.
And consider getting someone with an objective set of eyes to review your writing, such as a friend or professional editor. This can be a valuable exercise in picking up errors and inconsistencies which are easy for an author to overlook when proofing their own work, whether it’s a manuscript or business document. Spelling and grammar errors will undermine any piece of writing.
With anything you write, try to plan it into your day. Don’t look at it as an awful chore, rather something that is either enjoyable or needs to be done (like bathing). Carving time out for writing and making a plan will allow you to meet your deadlines effortlessly and it will show in the quality of your writing.
Laura Gibbs is author of Becoming an Expat: Thailand – a comprehensive guide to helping you move to the land of smiles and good weather. When writing the book she followed her seven tips to make the writing experience easy and enjoyable.