Finding Time to Write
One of the things that I've always struggled with is finding the time to write. Over the years, I've managed to write quite a bit, first at my job as an academic, and then in my spare time when I moved on to different roles in my career.
The main reason I struggled with time is because writing is hard. Well, good writing is hard. I had the privilege of being able to publish my own work while at the same time helping my students with their own writing. From being the author to teaching other authors, I say without a doubt that writing is hard.
Because of this, I fell into the procrastinate/distract/avoidance trap. There always seemed to be something else to do other than write. But this blog is important to me, and it will only stick around with good content. And that good content relies on my ability to write.
But first, you have to make the time and space to do that writing. Here are the strategies that I use to get myself to write.
Seems obvious that the first thing to do in order to find time to write is ... to make time to write. In Paul Silva's How to Write a Lot, the main point he makes is that successful writers don't find time to write, they allot time to write. That is, successful writers make the time for writing with pre-planning and prioritizing that time, rather than leaving the time up to chance by hoping they find the time for it.
And this time does not have to be in huge blocks of time. Instead, how often you write is more important. A half hour everyday is far better than trying to find a three-hour chunk in the work week. Part of it is building your habit muscle for writing. A task formed as a habit is far easier to accomplish because part of you goes on autopilot. Another reason has to do with letting your ideas percolate. Some of your best ideas for your writing will come at times other than actively writing.
Make it easy: Setup your your workspace for simplicity
Over the years, I thought that I had to have my own dedicated space for writing. This meant an office with a computer, desk, and closed door. What I've learned is that I only need to things: my computer and a quiet spot. How simple is that?
Simplicity is key to finding that time to write because it removes excuses to writing. Office disorganized? Can't write because I should pick this up. Unanswered emails? Let's get those out of the way before writing. Co-workers stopping by to chat? Can't write because it's too noisy and distracting.
By removing any possible excuse, you increase the probability that the time set aside is used for writing.
There are different kinds of writing
No one ever sits down and writes a complete first draft. No one.
Writing is a process. It starts with idea generation, then those ideas are transformed into some sort of structure (outline, mindmap, a list), and then you can start writing some rough drafts. These first drafts were what I always aimed for in my early days of writing. I found, however, if I slowed down and worked through creating structure first with my ideas, the later stage of rough drafts came so much easier.
So now I acknowledge that creating an outline, brainstorming, or writing a very rough, rough draft counts as writing. And whatever I've done is quality writing. No more self-flagellation because I couldn't get coherent paragraphs together, or what I've written is objectively terrible, or I fell short of whatever goal I had set for that writing session.
Know that there are different kinds of writing and reward yourself for having written (and then get back at it again the next day).
Get a capture tool
This strategy is taken directly from my work in implementing Getting Things Done in my productivity system. A tenant of GTD is to have a way to collect all the stuff coming at you to process later. If you have lots of physical stuff (like papers), maybe this is an inbox tray. If you have a lot of idea stuff (like for writing), this might be a notebook or a scratch pad. The point is to be able to capture the things coming at you.
Ever have a fleeting idea? This is where you have a great idea for something, but instead of writing it down right away (capturing it), you rely on your memory to keep it. A few minutes later, it's gone and the only thing you have is remembering that you had this great idea.
I have two capture tools. The first is a moleskin notebook I've been using for regular journaling. I've gone back into my journal countless of times to pull out topics for this blog. I've also fleshed out ideas in that journal when I'm not quite ready to hit the keyboard (outline, mindmap, a list ... remember?).
The second tool is my phone. I always have that thing with me and there are some great apps out there for capturing notes. I primarily use Evernote now, but I have used the built-in notes app, Microsoft OneNote and on occasion an email to myself.
If you liked any of the strategies that you read, here are a few links to help you get started on a path for more productive writing.
- How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul J. Silva, PhD
- Softskin Moleskin notebook
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen
- Two mobile apps to check out: Evernote and Microsoft OneNote
- Mindmapping: SimpleMind
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