A guest post by Mridu Khullar Relph
On my to-do list this week are the following items: assignment for national magazine, revisions for piece submitted to international newspaper, guest posts for three blogs for writers, blog posts for my own blog, a blog post for a magazine blog, tweets and status updates for a promotional campaign I’m running on Facebook and Twitter, and two chapters for my novel-in-progress.
Modern writers today don’t have the luxury of spending eight years penning a literary novel (not if they don’t have a day job, anyway) and if you’re a freelance writer, you already know how important it is to diversify and keep those articles, blog posts, and tweets coming, not only because they’re going to bring in the moolah, but because they’re going to help promote the books and products that bring in the moolah.
However, if you’re anything like me, you’re ready and raring to go on all these things, the excitement palpable as you shut the office doors, put on the noise-cancelling headphones and open up that white blank page with all its potential. And that’s when you come to a screeching halt.
As a modern writer with many irons in the fire, you’re going to have to learn to write frequently and write it fast. Here’s what’s worked for me.
1. Write. Then revise.
Perfection is a beast most of us will have to grapple with and I’m no exception. Even though I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words and should, by now, know better, I still expect perfection to flow from my fingertips each time I sit down to write. It never happens and for me, it helps to know that there’s a revision in my future. So instead of spending an hour making that first paragraph brilliant, just write what comes to mind (my opening for this blog entry is still unwritten as I type this; I’ll come back to it later) and worry about the quality of the words in later revisions. Vomit out all the information from your brain to the paper and then spend the next phase of the process revising it.
2. Use the TK marker.
One of my most time-consuming habits is the need to look up things while I’m writing. If there’s a hole in my research, off I’ll go into Internet-land, to find what I need. And while I’m there, I might as well quickly take a peek at Facebook as well, right? And read that article my friend posted. And the “suggested read” just below that one. Before I know it, I’ve lost precious minutes (okay, hours) derailing myself from the task at hand. Even if I haven’t procrastinated on social networks, it’s likely I’ve done far more research than I’ve needed because to convince a writer that they’re working all you need to do is give them something to research. I’ve learned over the years, howeer, to simply leave that bit of information out, put TK where it’s supposed to go, and do that extra research all together after I’ve finished that first draft.
3. Tell that internal editor to get out of your face.
It’s easy to focus on the tiny little details (is it “p’s and q’s” or “ps and qs”?) and forget the big picture when you’re writing. It’s not you, it’s that bugger internal editor who can’t help him or herself. Just ask it, not too politely, to shut up for now and return when it’s time for you to edit spellings, grammar, and sentence structures. For now, just focus on the thought.
4. Organize the piece. Then fill in the blanks.
This won’t work for everyone, but sometimes, it really helps to structure the piece and make a skeleton of your article by noting down the points that need to be made and the structure in which you’ll make them. Then, once you’ve got a list of things you need to say, fill in the blanks.
5. Set a fixed writing time.
As a new-ish mom, I’ve realized that if I don’t hunker down and do the work in the time I’ve allotted for it, there’s a good chance that I’m not going to be able to finish it at all, that I’ll end up missing deadlines, or worse, having a nervous breakdown, because that’s what missing deadlines does to me. My current writing schedule includes a two-hour stint from midnight to 2 a.m. when the whole world is asleep around me and because I know that I won’t get this time again for another 24 hours, I just sit down and bang the words out. You know what? It works. (It’s 12.30 a.m. now.)
6. Race against the clock.
Because I’m easily distracted, I tend to write in 25-minute bursts. I use MyTomatoes.com, a tool I’ve recommended to hundreds of writers by now and who first scoff and then come thank me for helping them discover how productive they can be. If you have the clock ticking for 25 minutes and you’re accountable at the end of those 25 minutes, trust me, you’ll be getting right back to your writing instead of checking e-mail or reading yet another blog. And if the work is really boring, well, it’s only 25 minutes, right?
7. Keep those fingers moving.
Once you’ve started writing, don’t stop! Don’t stop to check e-mail, don’t stop for a break. For those 25 minutes (or however long you’ve decided to go), just challenge yourself to keep on going. It’s a bit like running. Starting is hard, and there will be times when you’ll have to slow down because it seems like your legs can’t hold your weight any longer, but just keep pushing. The End is in sight.
How do you stay productive?
Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, Time magazine, The International Herald Tribune, Marie Claire, Ms., Elle, and hundreds of other national and international publications. Check out her tips for writers on her blog (http://www.mridukhullar.com/journal) and connect with her on Twitter (@mridukhullar) or Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/MriduKhullarRelph). She’d love to hear from you.