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.

Successful writers know that it’s not about the critics

It can be frightening to publish our writing. Putting something out into the world can make us feel exposed. And we worry about what the critics are going to say.

Do you get a chill when you hit publish or send an email to your list?

Watch this talk from Brené Brown, expert on courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, to understand why it’s not about winning, it’s not about losing, but it’s about showing up and being seen. It’s about stepping into the arena.

We can’t ensure that the critics won’t be in the arena when we step out into the world.

But we be sure there’ll be shame (I feel humiliated), scarcity (it’s not original), and comparison (she did it better).

We don’t need to stop caring what people think. But we do need to show up.

And we need to remember that the critics aren’t the ones who count.

Are you ready to step into the arena?

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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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