A lot of readers have asked me to explain further my writing process. I have decided to include five tips for writing productivity in this blog post. Hope they’re useful to you.
It is easy to fetishize writing, as though it is some sort of mystical or spiritual activity. That means considering it “special” or requiring “unique inspiration.” While this might be a romantic idea, and might boost our egos as people who write for a living, the fact is that taking on the attitude that “writing is special” means taking the high road to low and unpredictable productivity.
I find this in my own life. I have several hats that I often wear: university professor, academic and professional writer, academic planner and creator of programs, public relations/communications management consultant, and political consultant. These roles keep me very busy, and they are certainly extremely diverse. What is similar in all of them, however, is the fact that all of them demand a high level of writing productivity.
So what does writing productivity mean for me?
- Being “quickly critical” about things I am asked to read or view. Whether it is a student’s essay, photo journal or videography – I need to be able to get through it quickly and efficiently, construct my opinion and then write my comments.
- Being “an empathic reader”when it comes to reading and viewing work. As a consultant, I am often asked to comment on documents or PR literature that will be distributed to hundreds of thousands or even millions of readers/viewers. Often these projects come with a serious deadline. This means being able to put aside my personal perfectionism and understand what my readers/viewers will actually look for, hear and see when they look at the comms product we are putting in front of them. This can lead to faster choices and better choices. Follow your intuitions and your inner voice. They will rarely lead you astray.
- Being “happy with good enough” when it comes to the quality of my own output. No one expects your writing to be perfect, especially not when you are putting in a first draft. I have learned, both as an academic and as a PR pro, that perfectionism is the sworn enemy of productivity.
- Being able to “rely on your proof-reading circle.” It is much better to rely on a group of proofers with whom you go back and forth with a document, than to try and perfect the product yourself. People like Marcel Proust or Samuel Becker might have agonized about every word they put down, but that is death for the academic and professional writer. My philosophy: “When you have all your ideas down, and it is readable to another – get it out the door to a proof-reader.” Of course, never send half-baked writing out to the public! That would be crazy. But have a circle of proofers who will help you kick your writing into shape. Offer those people the same service back when they are writing.
- Knowing that “writing is just a craft, it’s not a mystical experience.” I learned early on that fetishizing writing as an art form will lead to paralysis and failure. If you are writing a speech, some advert copy, an academic article or a news release – you aren’t doing mystical. You are using the skills you learned through school and practice to give shape to ideas – whether they are your ideas or those of another. That’s it. You’re a craftsperson, not an artiste. Forget the artiste – you’ll only cause yourself useless drama and frustration.
- Set aside a space where you will write. Keep it clean and unencumbered by too much clutter. Set yourself a writing target and then achieve it. Do not stare a blank page, start filling it.
Focusing in on a writing project is hard enough without creating a psychological drama around the writing process.