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Why understanding genre is the best thing you can do to improve the writing for your coaching business.

If you don’t learn anything else about writing for your coaching business, then learn about genre.

You may have heard that you can produce a piece of long form content and then use it to recycle on all your media channels. This is absolutely true.

But without an understanding of genre, you might be left wondering why you don’t get engagement on your Instagram posts or why the emails you sent out about your blog don’t convert to reads.

Understanding genre — the foundation of all communication — will enable you to craft the right message for your audience in the places they are looking.

So what is genre?

You may have heard about genre in terms of literature or films.

 What type of films do you prefer? Be it romantic comedies or horror films, these are genres that we recognise through the story structure, the visuals, and the language used.

Genre helps us make sense of the world around us

Going back to the ancient Greeks and set out in Aristotle’s poetics, genre is a key way of helping us to make sense of the world around us. 

Humans categorise by nature and we understand best through patterns.

That’s why genre is important. If you’re someone who writes Instagram posts or text messages as if you’re writing a scientific journal article, then you haven’t nailed some of the crucial aspects of genre, and your message will likely fall flat with your audience.

Understand the three simple elements that make up genre and you’ll be able to recycle your content in a way that creates real impact.

If you’d like a bit of the geeky background, keep reading, but if you want to scroll down to the action at the bottom and you can  implement this in your writing today.

Genre in the real world (or why Applied Linguistics is awesome)

There are dozens of approaches to genre, but one I find makes real practical sense when working with writers is from the field of Applied Linguistics.

Australian linguist Michael Halliday describes genre as made up of the categories of field (your subject), tenor (your relationship with the audience),  and mode (the medium you’re using to convey the message — text message/ podcast/ book etc.).

These three factors combined will influence the structure of the communication and the language — specifically how the meaning is played out through text (in linguistics, text can mean spoken or written communication).  

Crucially, these patterns in text that we recognise as ‘a genre’ are created through recurring patterns of meaning.

Overlook any of the three elements of field, tenor or mode when crafting your message and it’s unlikely to resonate with anyone.

Questions you can ask yourself about your writing

What is the purpose of what you are writing?

Is the text to inform, to sell or to entertain? Or is it a combination of these?

Who is your text for and what’s your relationship with them?

Are you writing as a teacher, a friend or a guide, or will you have a different voice in different parts of your writing?

What is the mode and what are the characteristics of this mode? 

For example, if you’re writing a blog post, are you really using all the features of the web that you can (internal, external links, images), or are you simply using the web as a place to park your print article?

A blog post is not just an online print article

If you’re writing a self-published ebook from your blog posts, have you paid attention to signposting in the book between sections and chapters? Have you formatted your text as a book by using indented paragraphs rather than the white spaces you might have used online?

A few characteristics of different genres.

Characteristics and comparisons of different genres

The information above is a description of different genres of course — a description of what people tend to do. But genre patterns persist because people have found out that they work.

An understanding of genre does not mean learning a set of rules to be followed. Rather it involves being aware of your context and your reader and what works and why.

So be genre aware.

And once you are, then you can start to play with genre. And that’s a story for another day.

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Focus on being productive rather than ‘busy’ using the Pomodoro® technique.

I’m writing this on a day when I spent two and a half hours on the phone on hold with HMRC (for my international friends, the HMRC is the UK tax office).

The worst bit—the automated voice that kept saying ‘please bear with me’.. ARGGHHH

Anyway, that stupidly long phone call brings me to the point of this post—to focus on being productive, not busy.

See, I only had few hours left to focus after I eventually get through… That’s ok though, because who can do real DEEP work for longer than that anyway?

Who didn’t dream of a four-hour work week after reading Tim Ferriss back in the day?

While Tim’s four-hour work week might be unattainable for most of us, for me, a block of four short working sessions of 25 minutes each, plus 5 minute breaks can be so much more productive than an entire day spent being ‘busy’.

This technique is something that I’ve used successfully in my writing groups and courses for years and I find it great for working on my own too.

It helps me focus on what really needs to get done and on getting the hard stuff done first.

Oh, and it means I have time for a short nap in the afternoon.

In fact, I am a firm believer that an 8-hour working day is unnecessary and that nobody should work for more than 4 hours.

You may have heard of Francesco Cirillo and his Pomodoro technique (so named after the tomato timer Cirillo uses). He recommends working for 15-minute bursts with 5 minutes in between and a longer break after every four sessions.

The short video below shows how you can use the system to time block your entire day.

Try it out!

To try this technique out with your writing, set your timer for 25 minutes and just write. Don’t do anything else in this time (no checking your messages, ‘researching’ online..)

After 5 minutes take a short break and have a stretch. Then dive right back in. After four short writing bursts, take a longer break. Comment below and let me know how you get on!

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How to write good content quickly (and why you really do need to outline).

I’m a recovering perfectionist. I could spend days, weeks even, perfecting a post. Moving commas here and there and shifting paragraphs around.

Now I use strategies that allow me to consistently produce content that is useful for readers.

Whether it’s for your email list or for your blog, you can speed up the writing process and still create content that adds value and that your audience wants to read.

1. Write about what you know 

This may seem obvious, but one way you can ensure that your content will be engaging and useful is if you write about something you know well.

Don’t be afraid of sharing your own learning process. Readers don’t want to be intimidated by your knowledge; they will want to know the mistakes you have made and the steps you took to overcome your blocks.

2. Plan content in advance

One sure way to speed you the writing process is to know what you are going to write about before you sit down at your keyboard. You can plan out topics and working titles to suit your business goals or the action you want your readers to take.

Then when it comes time to sit down to write, the writing itself is so much easier because you’ll have already done the bulk of the thinking. 

If I’m working on a longer piece of work that I don’t finish in one sitting, then at the end of every session, I add to my ‘parking on a downhill’ document. This document tells me exactly where I finished in the previous session and what I’ll start writing the next day.

3. Write an outline

I used to have a romantic notion about waiting for inspiration to strike and then just letting the words flow. While this can be fun and freeing, I would spend so much time going back through what I had written to find ‘gems’ and then organising these into some sort of logical flow, that I never seemed to get anything out the door.

Now,  I prefer to start by writing a promise and a title. That way, I know what the point of the piece is, and what I want readers to learn or get from it.

I’ll then outline the points that will help my readers to get there with one or two word headings. These headings can be tweaked afterwards for subheadings for a chapter or a  blog posts.

For this post, I started with the following rough outline:

blogpost-outline
Outline your writing to speed up the writing process.

Once the outline is done, writing is so much easier. Having a clear outline also means that you can complete sections of writing in small pockets of time.

Planning to allow yourself these small wins will do wonders for your motivation!

4. Separate writing, editing and proofreading

Rather than spending the first 20 minutes of every session going back through what you wrote the day before and trying to perfect every sentence, get the content down first.

Leave the stylistic changes until the end. Once you’ve finished writing, look at editing the text. Do you need to move sections around?  Do you need to delete sections?

Once you’ve got the content in a logical order and deleted anything that’s irrelevant, you can go back through and make stylistic changes. 

Tweak the flow of the text on the sentence level, make sure you have the right words and check spelling, punctuation and grammar.

5. Set a timer

We concentrate best in small blocks of time. I like to set my timer for 25 minutes and write. During this time I will ignore all distractions where possible (the phone can wait, the emails, the research for a point I’m making and hopefully the kids).

It’s amazing what you can  achieve in 25 minutes if you concentrate fully. For me, four focused 25-minute blocks of work can be better than trying to concentrate for 8 hours.  

Stopwatch-write in short bursts
Why sit at the screen all day when you can just do two focused hours and get the same result?

So there you have itmy top tips for writing good content quickly.

Know your subject, plan and outline your content, focus, and remember—it doesn’t need to be perfect to add value, but it does need to be useful.

What are your tips for creating content quickly without compromising quality? I’d love to know. Leave a comment below.

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Successful writers know that grit is more important than talent

‘That’s it’, I told my husband. ‘I’m quitting’.

Sitting in the sunshine, sipping lattes and penning my thoughts. That’s what I’d thought it would be like to do a PhD.

Instead, here I was surrounded by discarded kids toys and a mountain of washing. I was ready to throw the whole damn 50,000 words out the window and my laptop with it. Just because I’d failed to save the last hour’s work and my husband (a computer programmer), hadn’t managed to make it magically reappear.

In fact, I lost count of the number of times I told my husband I was ready to quit in those dark days of writing up my PhD. Usually he’d just nod and wait for it to pass, but sometimes he’d rise to the bait.

‘You’ve spent four years doing this now, why are you going to throw it all away?’

For me, starting a new project is the easy part. I’m all fired up with ideas and raring to go.

But it’s getting up and starting everyday in the middle that’s like wading through mud.

There are two major differences between successful writers and those who just want to write.

The first is just getting started.

But the second is more important. And that’s getting started the next day. And the next day.

Not how ‘good’ a writer you are.

It’s grit.

Angela Duckworth talks about how the most successful people are not those with the greatest talent but the people who don’t give up.

Passion and perseverance for very long term goals. That means sticking with your goals for the long term. Not just for a day or a week but for months or years.

So it’s not just starting, but it’s getting up and starting everyday.

What can you start today that you’ll be able to follow through for the long term?

If the big project is too big, can you start with a smaller one? 📚

If you’re writing a book, can you agree to write for fifteen minutes a day?

And if you want to learn more about grit, watch this short TED talk by Angela Duckworth.

Grab my free guide to getting writing done

How to develop a daily writing practice


If you write, you’re a writer.

Simple as.

If you’ve heard before that you should be writing daily, but still find it a struggle, I hear you. 

This isn’t one of those hero’s journey stories where I say I never used to be able to write daily and now I’ve been writing every day without fail for the past two years blah blah blah… because well, that just wouldn’t be true.

Yes, I used to binge write before a deadline.

Yes, I had the stress and anxiety to prove it.

Yes, I’ve found out that writing better is better for my stress levels, relationships and writing.

But the truth is, it can still be a struggle to show up to the page everyday.

I have times when I write daily and times when I don’t.

Times when I wake up raring to get my words down and times when I’d rather scroll on my phone, take a bubble bath or clean out the cupboard under the stairs.

I’m still working to find out what keeps me on a writing streak, but I know I’m a happier person when I’m there.

What helps me write daily:

Scheduling sessions

 I find Sunday evening is a good time to schedule my sessions for the week ahead. 

Here’s what mine looks like for this week (I didn’t have my diary to hand and didn’t want to go in the office so just scrawled it in a notebook–it doesn’t need to be complicated).

What you can do:

Take out your planner now and block out writing sessions for the next five days.

 500 words a day or 90 minutes is a good start. I like to schedule my writing to be the first thing I do (and luckily this fits into our current arrangement with my husband dropping off the kids at school and me picking them up). 

Work out what’s best for you — both in terms of your bodyclock and your other commitments.

Then stick to your sessions unless there’s a VERY good reason not to.

Obviously, life gets in the way sometimes but if you’ve scheduled five sessions for the week and only manage to make three because your meeting ran over on Tuesday and your daughter got sent home from nursery sick on Friday, that’s still three more sessions and a lot more words than you may have done otherwise. And in fact, if you have writing scheduled in your diary, there’s less chance that your meeting will run over, because, well you have another appointment to get to…

Being accountable

If you’ve been in one of my writing groups before, you’ll know that I need them as much as the participants.

If I’ve pledged to others that I’m going to turn up and write, then I’m much more likely to do it.

That’s not just the writing during the session, but the writing that comes in between it as well. 

When I signed up for my first marathon, I made sure that I signed up with a friend. I knew that even on the days we weren’t running together, Jody was training anyway and that would help me get my running shoes on and out the door on those snowy Viennese evenings.

Vienna in the snow

These days I’m looking for an accountability partner for the couch to 5k as I’m trying to do it on my own and it’s just not happening–but that’s another story.. .

Anyway, you get the point. Accountability is not just good for our goals, it’s also more fun. And the power of the writing group is not to be underestimated

What you can do:

Find yourself a writing accountability partner or a writing group (one that meets in real time, or a facebook group where you announce your goals in a post). Announce what your goals are and then stick to them. Report back!

Parking on a downhill

If I’m working on a longer piece of work that I won’t finish in one sitting, then I add to my ‘parking on a downhill’ Google doc.

This file tells me exactly where I finished the previous session, and what I’ll start writing the next day.

It saves me wasting hours reading through what I wrote the day before and tweaking words here and there.

It gives me that glorious feeling I have when I’ve put the coffee timer on the night before.

Don’t you love your yesterday self sometimes?

What you can do:

Start a ‘parking on a downhill’ doc. At the end of every session fill it out and use it at the start and end of every session to keep you on track and keep you writing rather than perfecting every sentence as you go along.

Kelly Notaras, in the The book you were born to write, recommends completing an entire first draft of a book before going back to edit. This is sage advice for all of us, no matter whether it’s a first draft of a book, a blog post, or a letter to our list.

Knowing it’s ok to not to be perfect

The best writers know that sh*tty first drafts are ok–thanks to Anne Lamott for reminding us!

If we can let go of thinking that everything we write has to be perfect, it becomes much easier to write in the first place. And the likelihood that we’ll produce something decent increase, well because we’re writing more.

What you can do:

Know that your writing doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. That you can go back and edit for content and style later. And realise that writing, editing and proofreading are three separate processes. 

Celebrating the small milestones

One of the reasons I love blogging is that it’s much easier to reach the small milestones. I can write and publish a blogpost in a morning and have a sense of accomplishment.

If I’m writing a much longer piece, then I still like to be able to celebrate the small milestones. So I’ll break down and make a google spreadsheet which tells me the word count for each chapter and each section neatly broken down. The spreadsheet kindly adds up the count for me as I write. How satisfying to be able to see that word count creep up day by day.

Celebrate the small wins. I change  the background colour for each section heading from red to orange and then to green when it’s ready to get out the door.

What you can do:

If you’re struggling to make progress on your book, because you’re looking at the big picture, are there smaller milestones you can celebrate? It may be that you try some shorter forms of writing (maybe an article or a blog post, to raise your author platform and get you into the writing habit). 

You might like to try using a spreadsheet to breakdown your outline into sections and word counts to make more achievable.

 Whatever you do, set yourself targets that are doable and start by taking the next small step to move you forwards on your writing journey.

If you write, you’re a writer.

Simple as.

Blog posts

Emails

Letters

Your book

In your journal..

Don’t worry about what you’re writing, but if you’d like to write a book or start a blog ‘one day’, it’s never too early to get into the habit of writing.

If you’re ready to take the challenge of writing daily for the next 5 days, comment below or drop me an email and let me know. I read every message and I will check up on you!

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How to write stories your readers will love (based on real conversation).

 

Did I ever tell you about how I got kicked out the school choir?

I was the only one of my group of friends who wasn’t allowed to keep warm inside on Wednesday lunchtimes because I sounded more like Kermit the frog than Shirley Bassey. Growing up in Wales in the 80s and not being able to sing meant that I had plenty of free time on my hands.

Maybe all those wet and windy lunchtimes gave me my love of the great outdoors.

Girl in the rain

Why am I telling you this?

Have you ever heard the advice that you should write as if you were chatting to a friend over coffee? And if so, have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to do that?

Pull up a chair and listen because I have to tell you about this easy story framework that Australian linguists Suzanne Eggins and Diana Slade came up with (it’s an oldie but a goodie).

Use this framework and you’ll soon be telling stories as if you were on your best friend’s couch with a big mug of builder’s tea and a stack of Digestives.

If you want to skip straight to the action, scroll down to the framework and exercise at the bottom of the post — but if you want a bit of juicy background, then keep reading.

 The reasearchy bit

Looking at casual conversations in different contexts, Eggins and Slade realised there were patterns that kept coming up. Now, we all know that story patterns exist (think about the brothers Grimm, with once upon a time fairy tales, or the Disney films that we all know and love to hate after our kid demands to watch Frozen for the umpteenth time). 

What is different about the Eggins and Slade frameworks is that they are based on patterns in casual conversations rather than on folk tales. A modern day story collection of story frameworks if you will (and by the way, if you write fiction, these different story frameworks can help the ‘chat’ in your books sound more convincing).

It’s a collection of frameworks rather than just one, as Eggins and Slade noticed that there were different types of story depending on function and that these different kinds of stories (like a narrative or an anecdote) have a different structure.

One key feature of casual conversation is that its function is social — it focuses on building relationships and bonds. If we know that  business is about building our relationships, then why wouldn’t we want the stories we tell in our business to follow a conversational pattern?

A transformational narrative

One of the patterns Eggins and Slade identified, the narrative, follows a problem/ solution pattern. It’s perfect for when, as business owners, we are talking about our own transformations or the transformations of our clients.

The basic moves are:

Abstract (telling the listeners what the story will be about and why they should listen — e.g. becoming a great vocalist after being kicked out the school choir).

Orientation (who the story is about, where and when — e.g. me in a wet and windy Welsh town, my group of buddies,  and the bald choirmaster, Mr Morris).

Complication (‘a problem culminating in a crisis’, or in other words, the lightbulb moment — e.g. another lunchtime of being bullied by the mean kids in the yard made me realise I should probably learn to sing).

Resolution (closing the plot or how was the problem resolved? E.g. finding out that singing more loudly rather than more quietly actually helped me to hold a tune and finding a foolproof method for learning to sing).

Evaluation (What was the point of this story? What is different for you now? E.g. I now know that singing is not a natural ability, but a skill that can be learned).

Coda or Call to Action –how does this relate to your business and what steps can the reader take now to learn more/ work with you or get to know you better? E.g. if you’d like to learn my secret method that can teach you to sing like Taylor Swift then sign up for my course here**.

**DISCLAIMER **

Ok, well I’m not a singing teacher and the last two sections above are wishful thinking, but you get the picture… You could be writing about helping women to get fit in their 40’s (if that’s you then please let me know!), or you could be writing about how you overcame your public speaking fear. Any story where you want to talk about a transformation that you or a client have overcome is ideal.

Where can you tell these stories? It could be an email to your list, a blog post, or a story in your book. Each of these genres will have a slightly different style (that’s a tale for another day), but the pattern and the message will be the same. 

Your turn

If you’re game, I’ve got a quick writing exercise for you to try which shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. 

Step one: Freewriting (10 minutes)

To have a go at writing your own story, think of a story you are telling about your business already, or one that you could tell. Either a story about yourself or one of your clients that shows the same kind of transformation that you deliver to your clients. Now just brain dump your story. Don’t worry about the structure or the style or using the framework just yet, just get the story down.

Step two. Story organisation (10 minutes)

Now have a go at organising your story under the headings.

Your story template

Abstract:

Why are you telling the story? How does it relate to the reader/ your ideal client avatar?

Orientation/ Setting the scene:

Who, what, when and where? What were the problems? What were you doing? What results were you getting?

Complication:

What happened to make you realise you needed to change? What was your lightbulb moment?

Resolution:

Closing the plot — what changed/ how did you change things? What new techniques did you learn?

Evaluation:

What was the point of this story? What is different for you now? What does your life look like now? How do you feel? What are you able to do with ease?

Closing/ CTA (okay, so in the original it was called a ‘coda’ but that’s a bit of a fancy pants linguist term and what we actually want is a call to action for our ideal client):

How does this relate to your business and what steps can the reader take now to learn more/ work with you/ get to know you better?

Now that we have the content of the story or the the ‘message’. The next thing would be to work on the style of the writing. That’s for another post.

Have a go at using the story framework and send me your story. I’d love to see!

Let’s get writing!

What I read so you don’t need to:

Eggins, S., & Slade, D. (1997). Analysing casual conversation. London: Cassell.

Useful books on telling your stories as a business owner:

Donald Miller, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen

Jessica Zweig, Be: A No-Bullsh*t Guide to Increasing Your Self Worth and Net Worth by Simply Being Yourself

*If you decide to buy books from the links in this post, then I get a small percentage of the price. I only recommend books I love and that I think will help you :-). 

Want writing tips, tricks straight to your inbox and to be the first to know about my coaching offers and programmes? Just pop your deets below.

Why starting a blog will save you time in your biz

I recently made a series of videos for social media.

If you know me, you’ll know this is a massive step for me and way out of my comfort zone.

This time last year, I’d have used any excuse not to appear on camera–haven’t washed my hair… urgently need to alphabetise my clothing or wash out the compost bin.

Cleaning out the compost bin is more fun than videos..

But you know what? The videos weren’t that difficult to make. And here’s the thing, I surprised myself by actually enjoying the process.

It’s because of this blog. Because I have spent the time building up a bank of meaty content (that’s that pinnacle stuff people talk about that has nothing to do with mountains). I am confident that this content is of real value to my audience.

So when I wanted to create my video series, I could just dip into the content I have already planned and written, pick a few topics and make them into videos. BOOM!

This is yet another proof to me that writing a blog actually saves me time in my business. I already knew that blogging gives me enough content for my emails, for my social media posts and for my workshops, and here’s yet another way to recycle that content.

If you’ve been thinking about blogging, do it! Your future self will thank you my friend.

Want to take a peek at my first video? Here it is! Watch out for some more videos in my easy peasy blogging series over the next few weeks by following me on Instagram @lizzytanguay.

If you’re ready to start your blog or get more eyeballs on more of your posts, grab my free guide to clickable post titles here.

Want writing tips, tricks straight to your inbox and to be the first to know about my coaching offers and programmes? Just pop your deets below.

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Why a vision board isn’t the answer to finishing your book (or why systems trump goals).

When was your last writing date?⁠

When is your next?⁠

If your answer to either of those questions is ‘I don’t know’, then it’s time to put writing on your calendar my friend.

A regular writing habit—one thing that the most prolific, most published and most contented writers have in common (it’s true, they’ve actually done studies on this stuff).⁠

⁠It doesn’t need to be every day and of course, everyone is different, but the it’s obvious really—the more often you write, the more you’ll have written.

So, don’t wait for inspiration to strike—write. Put writing on your calendar. Let others in your life know you have an appointment. And then keep it.⁠

Over and again.⁠

Little by little.⁠

Or, as Anne Lamott would say, bird by bird*.⁠

Give your writing the status it deserves

Next time someone needs to do an emergency run to the shops as it’s world book day and your son needs a Dog Man outfit before 9am, you’ll be safe. You’ll have a work appointment in the calendar. Someone else can go, or he can get creative and make a pirate patch.

For many of us who work flexibly in our businesses, it’s all to easy to put non ‘client-facing’ time at the back of the queue and fit our creative projects around the our billable hours (and every other has-to-be-done-right-now-or-the-world-is-going to-end piddling little errand). Not surprisingly, our creative projects are then the first to go. Why not try flipping it? Block out your creative projects first and fit the client-facing time around this.

Just because your writing isn’t billable in the short term, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be the real needle mover for your business in the long term.

What value can you put on long form blog content, an ebook or an article on Medium?

What you can do today:

Take out your calendar and schedule writing times for the next week. Start with 15 minutes, then each day, increase the time by 2 minutes.

Make sure you know what you’re going to be writing each day before you sit down to write. This will stop you frittering away the time reading through what you wrote the day before.

Set your timer for your session, and don’t do anything but write in that time. If you want to keep writing after the timer goes off, then do. Often the hardest part is getting started.

Systems first, not goals

As James Clear notes in Atomic Habits*, it’s not the goals that get us there, but the systems. So instead of thinking, ‘I really need to finish my book’, identify the one small step you can take today, and tomorrow, and the next day to move you closer to your goal.

And if you’re already writing regularly, then give yourself a high five! You’ve nailed one of the key mindset fundamentals for writers.

What’s your best tip to keep writing?⁠

Comment below and let me know.

If you’re ready to get serious and smash those writing goals, I have still have a limited number of 1:1 Power Hour sessions available for April/May.

At the end of our session, you’ll be flowing with ideas to move your writing forward and you’ll know the EXACT next right steps to take.

*If you decide to buy books from the links in this post, then I get a small percentage of the price. I only recommend books I love and that I think will help you 🙂

Why you should stop proofreading your work right now! (Or why writing for content, editing, and proofreading should be three separate steps.)

Do you ever find that you open your work-in-progress document and keep reading back over what you wrote in the last session? Perfecting every sentence and making sure the flow is just right?

I’ve been there, done that, and got the T-shirt. I’d win the prize for perfect prose every time, but it’d take me an age to get there. In fact,  I’d be lucky if I got the writing out the door in time for the competition deadline.

I’d like to share this process I use to get writing done more quickly and to make sure it’s good enough too:

  1. Write an outline (or if you’re firmly in the anti-outline camp, then skip straight to step 2).
  2. Get the content down. Don’t worry about getting the perfect flow at this stage, or stopping to find the perfect reference to back up what you are saying. Just get the IDEAS down.
  3. Edit for structure. At this stage, you’re editing for the macro-level, or ‘big picture’ structure. Are the ideas in the right place? Does the argument/ storyline follow logically?
  4. Edit for style. This is where you can edit on the paragraph and sentence level. Make sure the paragraphs flow from one to the next as well as internally, and make sure your writing flows between and within sentences. Now’s also the time to find that perfect word or metaphor to explain a concept.
  5. Leave your writing to sit. Preferably leave your writing to sit for 48 hours and go and do something totally different. Take a walk, go for a swim or catch up with an old friend. 
  6. Proofread your final piece. Now is the time for proofreading. This is where you catch all those pesky little typos and punctuation errors. If you can, get someone else to help with this stage. The best writers don’t proofread their own work — thanks mum/ CPO*

For tips on proofreading your final draft, grab your free download here.

What motherhood taught me about writing

Should I tell my PhD supervisor I’m trying to get pregnant?

This question – posted anonymously on Twitter recently by a third-year PhD student – really got me thinking about my own PhD journey.

I had my first baby in my second year of my PhD and my second two years later, but it wasn’t in spite of these ‘blips’ that I finally managed to finish writing my PhD (too many years later), but because of them.

Macmillan Higher Education Study Skills Blog: What Motherhood taught me about writing.

As I learned to stop chasing perfection, embrace small pockets of time and surround myself with writing friends, motherhood taught to be a better, faster and happier writer.

Read my full post on the Macmillan Higher Education blog.

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Detox your to-do list

Who doesn’t love the feeling of ticking things off the ‘to-do’ list? 

Get the kids to school. Tick.

Hang the washing up. Tick.

Answer emails. Tick.

Ring the library. Tick.

Write the article. This one will probably go on tomorrow’s ‘to do’ list.

Sound familiar?

The truth is that long ‘to-do’ lists don’t necessarily get us closer to the big goals. It was only when I ditched the painfully detailed ‘to-do’ list that I finally finished my 80, 000 word thesis, published a number of articles, successfully pitched my first book and got commissioned to write blog posts. 

What if the secret to productivity isn’t doing more, but doing less?

What if ditching your ‘to do’ list might bring you closer to your goal?

The opposite of busy is not relaxed but focused

Tony Crabbe, in Busy: How to thrive in a world of too much, writes about how the “The opposite of busy in today’s world is sustained, focused attention. It is deep engagement in activities that really matter to us, or in conversations with those we care about.”

The problem with ‘busy’ is that it gives us the illusion of being productive. We cram every spare moment with commitments but none of these bring us closer to our big dreams.

Workout first thing. Breakfast meeting at 8am. Four different clubs to take the kids to during the week. Add to that every meeting that arrives on our calendar. Spanish lessons on a Thursday. Park run at the weekend. Drop the washing at the dry cleaner. Pick up supplies for the weekend outing. Post the birthday cards. Phone the window cleaner. Phew, I’m exhausted just reading that. Can you relate?

When we are constantly switching from one task to the next, we never really give ourselves the time to be truly immersed in one task.

In Deep work, Cal Newport writes about the importance of focusing on one task for a longer stretch of time. Specifically, deep work refers to “activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limits.”

Some isolated long periods of  time to work on these deep tasks are good for us.

Deep work is in contrast to non-cognitively intensive tasks which are low-value and easy to replicate. Think responding to emails, scanning websites, and using social media.

Practicing a minimal ‘to-do’ list can give us space to practice focussing on the activities that really matter.

If we don’t put the small things on the list, they will get done anyway (if they need to get done)

What if you don’t need to bake cakes for your sister’s  birthday party and bought cakes will be just as good? What if you don’t need to take the car for a valet every six months or ever?

Do you really need to dust the pictures (actually, this is something I’ve never done, and I’ve got passed worrying what the in-laws think when they come to visit).

You may need to negotiate with someone in your life to lower expectations about what really needs to be done or what needs to be done by you. This may be your boss, it may be a spouse or parent, but it could actually be you.

Do you know what can be more exhilarating than crossing things off the ‘to-do list? Realising that they don’t actually belong there in the first place. 

The truth is we can’t do everything. If writing is a priority, we need to decide what we are going to cut from our ‘to do’ list in order to give ourselves the time to write.

A year from now,the small things on the ‘to-do’ list won’t matter, but the big things will

Let me get this clear here. When I’m talking about the small things here, I really am talking about the small things. Not the small things that are really the big  things (like having an extra cuddle with your kid/ dog/ in the morning before you get up), but the small things that really are trivial—ironing the sheets—does anyone actually do  this anyway?

Picture yourself a year from now. What would you like to have achieved by then?

 Will it have been taking the car for a valet three times? To have sorted through your 50,000 digital photos? Organised your inbox into folders (my friend, there’s a search function on the email for a reason—and don’t even get me started on inbox zero). 

Or are your goals more likely to be:

Sent off your proposal to an agent? Written three articles for publication? Finished the first draft of your ebook?

These last three are all TOTALLY doable. Wherever we are now. If we prioritise them and take the small things off the list. 

If you don’t have a ‘to-do’ list, you will do the big stuff first

While I find it helps me to have a list of smaller things to do so that I don’t waste brain power thinking about them, I find that if I don’t look at my small things ‘to-do’ list first thing in the morning, it’s easy for me to get started on the important things first.

If it’s important enough then you won’t forget it. 

You will remember to do the big stuff first.

The truth is we can’t do everything. If writing is a priority, we need to decide what we are going to cut off our ‘to do’ list in order to give ourselves the time to write.

So while you might not like to ditch your ‘to do’ list entirely, you might like to think very carefully about what makes it onto the ‘to-do’ list. 

If something is important enough anyway, you’ll remember to do it.

 Today, I decided to try not using any to do list. And do you know what happened before breakfast? I wrote this post.

In sum, we achieve more by doing less. Focus more. Work less. Get more done.

Try it: just for a day. I dare you. Ditch the ‘to-do’ list.

Grab your free get writing done download for more tips and tricks on how to integrate writing into your busy life.

Leave a comment. What have you found you can live without putting on the ‘to do’ list?

Please note, I will get a small percentage of the price at no extra cost to you if you decide to buy books using the links in this post.