Writing is my primary focus for a lot of my business.
How I communicate with client. How I market. How I create products.
But I couldn’t do any of that if I was afraid of writing or bad at writing.
If you’re starting to get into writing, here are a few lessons I learned.
Write in a plain format
Writing in a plain format makes it much easier to change how you work later. I mean plain as in plain text. Not Word. Not HTML.
With plain text you can copy and paste it into any program. You can leave it alone and email it directly. You can process it automatically into a richer format.
But always write in plain text.
You’ll probably want to use some basic formatting though. Stuff like headers, bold, or italics. For this you can use a plain text markup like Markdown or Textile. With these your writing is still in plain text so you get all of the benefits from that. But you can also easily define headers or similar basic formatting.
I wrote all of The Freelancer’s Guide to Long-Term Contracts and 30 Days to Become a Freelancer in Markdown. They’re converted automatically into HTML, PDF, and the mobile formats. But I can easily take them and use a different set of tools to convert it later on.
Get the words on the page
When writing it can be tempting to edit as you go. The idea is that if you can think of a better word or phrase while you’re writing, then taking a second or two to edit won’t hurt.
But in my experience any kind of editing while you’re writing prevents you from getting into the flow. You’re constantly jumping back and forth between writing a side of your brain and the editing side. This causes you to lose your train of thought more often which causes writers block.
Instead, if you can cultivate the habit of just writing you can really hammer though things. What I found that works best is a combination of free writing, and writing without looking at the screen.
When free writing your goal is to just keep writing. Even if you come to a stopping point or can’t think about what you should write next, keep writing. Even if it’s random things like what you want to cook for dinner or just typing ‘blah, blah, blah’ over and over again. The point is to keep your hands moving so when the ideas and words do come back to you can easily jump right back in.
When I free write I also try to avoid looking at my screen. I’ll leave it on but I’ll glance around my room or look at the keyboard every few seconds. This way I’m not re-reading what I just typed. Some people recommend turning your monitor off but I found lost a few sessions of free writing when a window would pop up and steal my focus from my editor. I’m considering doing more free writing on my ipad to get more into this distraction-free writing.
The most important thing to remember is that it’s the most important part of writing is to get the words on the page. Once they are there you can change or rearrange them. The faster you write, the faster you can move onto the next stage.
Make it a habit
The final tip and one that I’ve been working on is to make writing a habit. Set of goal to write daily, even if you have no intention of publishing it anywhere. The act of writing, putting your thoughts and ideas into words over and over again will make you a better writer. You’ll be more clear. You’ll learn what topics you have a passion about.
Years ago I started on a daily writing habit. At first it was 200 words per day (less than a printed page). Then I bumped it up to 300 and then 400 words per day. The exact word count wasn’t important. What was important was that having a fixed goal to strive for each day gave me a way to measure my progress.
When I need to produce a lot of writing, say for another book or a blog series, I shoot for 1,000 words per day. 1,000 words per day can fell like an extreme amount but with some focus and a solid block of time its doable. Using the 1,000 word goal I write The Freelancer’s Guide to Long-Term Contracts in 6 days and 30 Days to Become a Freelancer in 9 days. One day I wrote over 6,000 words in 3 hours. Sure this type of writing needs a lot of editing but as I explained earlier, once the first draft was written I had plenty of material to work with in my edits.
If you do nothing else from this article, start writing now. Build that habit today and you’ll thank yourself later.