Over the last few years, I’ve had folks ask me how I write so much.
Some of them are just being polite by showing an interest. I like it when people do that.
But some have genuinely wanted to know – they’re the folks I love.
And it’s fair enough to wonder. As of this writing, I publish at least ten articles a week. In 2019, I total around 240,000 words across my websites. That doesn’t include the ten (and counting) books I have through my sites and Amazon, or my other projects.
(I don’t know how many words went into Monster Mind Edukaré – my premium mind training product. But given it has 19 modules, some of which contain multiple books, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s hundreds of thousands more.)
Nor does it include any freelance writing gigs I do.
And I didn’t used to be like this. In my younger years – probably my early 20s or so – I tried writing a novel. I think it took me two years to write 40,000 of the worst words you can imagine.
That was the peak of my writing output, too – a delightful combination of free time, naiveté and pure inspiration.
I write 40,000 engaging and interesting words every couple of months or so.
I learned how to make writing work for me.
Notice that I emphasise “work for me”. This is not the only writing system out there. Plenty of folks break all the guidelines I lay out here. If that works for them, that’s fine. But what I have here is a reliable, robust system that takes a lot of the stress out.
If writing is a hassle for you, give my system a go.
Let me share part of what I discovered, more or less by accident, that makes writing hundreds or thousands of words a day easy.
Imagine sitting down at your desk and getting straight into your writing. No goofing around, no bullying your brain into coming up with something – you immediately know enough to begin.
And beginning is always the hardest part.
So let’s take a look at the first of the three steps:
Step 1: Brainstorm & Research
A common rookie mistake is sitting down and your desk and trying to think of something to write.
It’s a mistake for a few reasons:
One, thinking up ideas requires a different state of mind to writing. Writing requires a long, interrupted flow. Dreaming up ideas works best when your thoughts can jump around from one notion to the next.
Two, if you stop writing to look up a fact or quote, you’re only making it hard for yourself.
Three, the actual writing phase is the hard part. You want it to be as easy as possible – so easy, in fact, you sit down and start typing immediately.
What this means is you come up with your ideas beforehand, do all the research you need… then you walk away.
What this will look like for you is up to you.
For my short articles, my notes are usually no more than a few keywords. Maybe the article’s title.
For longer articles (like this one) or book chapters, I make more notes. Anything from a list of the subheadings to a bullet list of relevant facts and ideas.
You might find too much structure kills the spontaneity – or just the opposite – so I invite you to experiment.
The key is to make the next step as easy and seamless as possible.
Step 2: Write
Thanks to your earlier work, you’re free to sit down and start writing.
This, more than any step, depends on your personal style.
Some folks need to “warm up” or “get in the zone”. If so, I recommend writing in long blocks of time. I know it’s not always possible, but an hour or two free of interruptions will do wonders for your productivity.
Then again, some of you are like me – you can sit down and start smashing out words straight away.
If you lose yourself in the flow of writing, great! You’ll get a lot done and it’ll probably be pretty good.
If you have to force yourself, though? That’s where the Pomodoro technique comes in handy. Unlike the first group, you want to be interrupted – so set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes, and vow to do nothing but write until it goes off.
No reading emails.
You can save all those distractions for your breaks. Take five or ten minutes to goof off, stretch your legs and refill your water. Then reset the timer and go again.
Step 3: Edit & Rewrite
Another classic error:
You write a sentence, feeling pretty good. Then you read over it and realise it’s garbage, so you delete it and start over.
After an hour of this, you have nothing to show except for – maybe – two overcooked paragraphs.
In step 2, I said all you can do is write. That doesn’t mean you can rewrite. Rewriting involves reading, which is a bad idea.
Because editing requires critical analysis. Writing requires creative flow. If you switch back and forth between the two styles of thinking, your brain will struggle to do either.
Besides, it’s bad for morale. Not every sentence (or paragraph) you write will be gold. That’s fine because writing is a numbers game. Write enough words and some of them will be good.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t spot typos or fix clumsy wording as you’re writing. If you notice a quick fix, go for it. The trick is to not look for them. And to avoid wasting too much time fixing them.
The whole point of step 2 is to create something to edit. If you’ve struggled to write in the past, this could be why.
The Meta-step: Experiment & Innovate
Give this process a whirl.
See how it works for you.
Sometimes you have a bad day, so stick with it and really see how it works.
Then start designing your own system.
Maybe you can compress the steps – you stumble out of bed with an idea forming in your groggy mind, pour a coffee, then start writing.
Or maybe you need weeks on the research phase.
Perhaps music helps you focus… or not.
You might write better in the mornings or in the evenings.
With a cup of coffee or a TEA:
I don’t know what system will work for you. And I doubt any one system is the only answer. Your tastes and lifestyle will change over time, meaning your system will change with it.
(You’re doing well to keep the same writing system after you have a child as you did before it.)
And who knows – maybe you’ll do away with a “system” entirely. You’ll reach the stage where, if you want to write, you write.