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.
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.
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.
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.