Here we are in a brand new year. A question: is your writing process effective—and stress-free? If you’re stressed and panic regularly, chances are your process needs a little fine-tuning.
Several days into the new year, a writing student called me in a panic. She queried a website last October, with an idea she thought might work for them.
Their response? Crickets.
So she forgot about them. Now the site wanted the piece she’d proposed—within a week. “I can’t do it!” She wailed. “They take three months to get back to me, then they want 3,000 words in a week?! I can’t do it.”
Tempted as she was to ignore the site because she was on deadline for a couple of projects, she wanted the writing credit. So, we looked at her writing process. I knew she could take on the one-week project, and meet her deadlines too.
Writing process: ACT! Start writing immediately (seriously)
The key: she needed to focus on action— on writing, rather than studiously researching, and thinking.
“I can’t just write,” she told me. Her tone was horrified. She comes to freelancing from an academic background, so you’d think I’d asked her to perform an indecent act.
“You can,” I promised.
Apropos of “just write,” I’ve been rereading Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven, and highlighted this quote.
“If you wait for the feeling in order to act, you’ll never act, but if you act, the feeling will follow.”
I suggested she try it. “Start writing. It will take just over ten minutes for you to drop into a writing mind state.”
Writing, rather than thinking, worked for her. However, she had to remember to do it. I sent her a daily email that week to remind her. Not only did she complete all her projects, she had time to spare.
She said that four other strategies helped too.
Here they are.
1. After you write, you can fix it: cultivate a “so what” stance
When you begin the “just write” process, some of the material will be rough. This is a good thing, believe it or not. It means that there’s material there—tell yourself that you’ll write it, then fix it.
I’m fond of saying that writing isn’t typing. But sometimes it is; when you need to get something onto the page/ computer screen. Oddly, it doesn’t matter what that “something” is. As long as you sit down, and start writing anything at all, your writer-mind will wake up. As Louis L’Amour said:
“Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.”
If you try to make your words good words while you’re writing, you’ll choke off your creativity. Have the courage to accept whatever words you write, without complaining.
Write. If you wince at something, tell yourself “so what!” and keep writing. You can fix whatever you write, after you take a break from it.
2. Grow your writing: write organically
This second strategy follows on from the first. It’s a natural process, you don’t have to struggle.
When you write without worrying, you’ll find that when you come back to this early first draft material, additional ideas and insights have developed.
Before you know it, you’re steaming through the piece, and your writing improves. You’re writing organically, and you’ll write without stress.
3. Meanwhile, back at the ranch: switch projects
Luckily, the student had several projects on deadline. (She didn’t think she was “lucky”, until the week was over.)
Those projects meant that she learned the benefits of project switching.
Here’s how it works:
- Write intensely on a project. You can write for a set period—half an hour or more—or until you run out of ideas; then…
- Take a break for five or ten minutes; and…
- Switch to another project and repeat the process.
When you’re on deadline, and you switch projects, you maintain your inspiration. Your subconscious mind works on one project while you’re working on another.
Avoid struggling; write what you write. You can always fix it.
4. Cultivate the fine art of sitting and relaxing
Switching projects helps you to clear your mind.
Try writing in the same place until you develop a writing habit—write in your home office, or a coffee shop, anywhere you feel relaxed.
When you sit down to write, turn off your phone. Put on headphones if you’re in a noisy environment.
Consciously relax. Smooth the area between your eyebrows and lower your shoulders. Smile. Then get into the project: read what you’ve written previously, reread any research you’ve done.
Spend no longer than five minutes on this. Then write.
Alternatively, if you think, rather than act, use the “so what” stance, and write anything as soon as you sit in your writing space.
Your own writing process starts with writing
Thinking isn’t writing. Research isn’t writing. Reading email isn’t writing. Schedule your writing time. Then when it’s time to write, write.
You’ll develop your own writing process over time.
Updated: January 7, 2023
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.