This blog post has seven tips for you on how I try to be a productive writer. I hope you find them useful.
I am in the midst of writing a book with Martin Waxman on how public relations, marketing and the other strategic creative professions can take charge in the emerging new world of immersive technologies — Web3, the metaverse, AI, AR/VR. We’ve got a full rough draft done, now it is time to put it together in a full first finished draft. I love the project, but I am still working on the best way to get the writing done daily!
While I love writing and am quite good at it, I find it difficult. There is a whole list of things that stop me in my tracks, even when I am on a good writing run:
- Internal psychological noise: the emotional ups and downs (e.g., disappointment, self-doubt, self-anger, guilt, shame, etc.) that come out of living in the world, surrounded by humans. The feeling of letting others down, or feeling let down by others is the worst for me. I find that sort of disappointment throws me into a three-day writing dry spell.
- External Influences: when work is challenging or emotionally difficult (e.g., someone is not performing, things are not going as planned, targets are not being met, etc.). I find this sort of set-back keeps me up at night and then I wake up anxious and worried, not rested, which means I can’t write.
- External noise: the endless stream of email newsletters, bills to pay, chores to do, etc.. I find that these things fragment my time, breaking my day up into tiny pieces, which means I can’t settle down to write that day.
What I have learned works for me:
- Keep the house clean and orderly. To do this, I have found calendarizing is necessary. Without a calendar for chores (e.g., cleaning, watering plants, kitty’s litter box, etc.), anxieties mount!
- Calendarize everything. People are often surprised when they receive a calendar invite from me reminding them that they are even supposed to think about something related to me (e.g., submit your manuscript draft Sunday night!).
- Find ways of off-loading things to people who can do them faster, better than me. I am involved in a lot things where I have colleagues. I keep having to tell myself that I don’t have to do and plan everything! I can ask other people to help me accomplish things.
- Take time to talk to people who inspire me, make me feel good or help me generate new ideas. This is ok to do on the phone or Zoom, but it is best done in person. In fact, I find the best way to connect with folks is to go on a walk with them. Better that, than sitting at a table sipping coffee or a drink. I find capping off a forest walk with a little amount of sitting and chatting is better than hours seated.
- Don’t wallow in fatigue, lethargy and down-moods. People who know me a little know that while I am very even-keeled in terms of mood, it is actually pretty easy to throw me off. Then I spin into a short cycle of fatigue, lethargy and worry. I know myself, so I try to apply the cures I know work for this: exercise, achieving a small goal, talking to someone who lifts my spirits up.
- Eat well and be fit, everyday. I am vegan and quite fit. I find that if I stray from this path, I temporarily lose my creativity and productivity. Drinking a glass too many of alcohol, eating something too greasy, oily or heavy or not getting enough nutrition changes my mood, so I am careful about meal planning. Same thing for fitness – when I am at my best, I am daily doing modest weight-lifting, some HIIT cardio (I love the treadmill) and endurance (long walks and long swims are my faves!).
- Finally, I am at my best when I do things slowly. People often ask: “Alex, how have you accomplished so many things in your 48 years?” My answer is very simple: “It’s because I do everything slowly.” Going slow is the best way to finish fast. I know it sounds like a non-sequitur, but it isn’t — going slowly works!
Great insights and practical tips Alex.
It also reminds me of the writer’s quote I share with students: “Writing is easy; you just stare at the page until the blood drops from your forehead.”
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