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5 Hacks Just For Writers

5 Hacks Just For Writers

    It seems like all of us have intensive writing projects going on at any given time. Considering how much creative power such a project can require, it just makes sense to minimize the efforts we have to make for any part of our projects other than the actual writing. In that spirit, these hacks can help you keep your writing on track, and I’ve included a few of the technical resources I use to simplify these hacks.

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    1. Put the end in sight.

    Outlining is a dirty word for a lot of people. But having some method of planning the end result of your writing is absolutely necessary, and outlining can be an easy approach. Personally, I got away from outlining anything shorter than 1,500 words a long time ago. Instead, when I add a new writing project to my task list, I make a couple of notes about it:

    • Expected word length
    • Exact topic
    • Who I might need to interview
    • Style (such as blog post or letter)
    • Due date

    I’ve gone to some effort to make this note-taking process easy to manage. Since I already use Remember the Milk to manage a lot of my tasks, I’ve just taken to keeping these notes with the task themselves. I’ve made it a matter of key strokes to add a form to my notes that I can just fill in: since I use Firefox, I use the plugin Text Complete to allow me to just dump in the form quickly.

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    2. Keep your notes organized.

    The fastest way to stop my work entirely is to not be able to find a note that I made for a given project. Maybe I made a note about how to proceed, or maybe it’s the contact information for an interview subject. Either way, I’ve been known to spend hours looking for a note when I really ought to be writing.

    How you manage your note-taking can be very personal: recently I’ve become fond of Evernote. But you don’t have to go with a fancy web app — the important factor is whether you can make sure all your notes wind up in the same place with minimal effort. I know plenty of people who actually rely on two note-taking systems. One is technical and relies on the computer, while the other is some combination of pen and paper for those ideas that strike when the computer is nowhere near.

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    3. Create a pattern.

    There is a certain mindset that goes along with writing well. It isn’t a talent that you are either born with or must cultivate; instead, the writing mindset is a question of being able to focus on the task at hand. The easiest way I’ve found for getting into the writing mindset is to create a pattern: if I sit down to write every day at the same time, I can focus on my writing faster.

    Especially if you have a large or long-term project, setting aside the same block of time regularly can get you in the habit of writing. And just like any habit, it becomes easier to do after you’ve been doing for a while. I rely on a timer to get me in the writing mindset. I set it for however many minutes I plan to write and then just don’t leave my desk — or my word processing program — until the timer dings. I’ve noticed that not only can I start writing with less time necessary to get my mind in gear, but I also write more in a given time period than I ever thought possible. I want to get all those words down before the timer goes off.

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    4. Delegate the things you don’t really need to do.

    In general, you can’t delegate writing — sure, you can hire a writer for a project, but it can be much harder to get a writer going in the style that you want than a bookkeeper. But there are plenty of writing-related tasks that you can easily delegate. Editing is a task I prefer to delegate, for instance. I find it difficult to edit something I wrote. After all, I already know what I want the article or story or whatever to say.

    Transcription is another example: if you record an interview, you’ll wind up spending a lot of time transcribing it — at least as long as the original interview was. You can hire a transcriptionist relatively inexpensively and spend your time more productively.

    There are tons of smaller tasks that go into writing, but the writer doesn’t actually have to do all of them. It’s not unreasonable to assume that your time is worth money. Pay for someone else to do transcription, editing or whatever — they’ll do it faster (and maybe even better) than you will and you can get back to writing.

    5. Concentrate on productivity.

    Writing is a little different from most of the other tasks that can wind up on your to-do list: it can take varying amounts of time and, despite the fact that you’re technically just sitting there, it can take amazing amounts of energy. Despite those differences, you can make sure your writing time is just as productive as the hours you block off for other things. You can outsource a few tasks and make the process smoother by preparing a bit in advance. It’s just a matter of applying the same ideas about productivity to your writing as you do for any other task.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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