A lot of quotes and people are saying that you’re are what you repeatedly do. If this is true, then I’m a writer. I love writing because it allows me to organize my thoughts in a vertical. It helps me describe a process; Share my thoughts with the world; Let go of something that I’m holding deep inside my soul. If you’re writing online, your content has the potential of reaching a lot of people which means that if what you share is practical, thoughtful, interesting it can help a lot of people improve in a way, also, it can potentially become your main source of income. However, writing is not easy. A single piece of content can take you weeks to produce. I know this because I used to write a single article once per week before. But not anymore…
I’m blogging for more than 6 years now, or 7, for the last couple of years I’ve started several sites and I’ve written more than 200 articles. Most of them are long gone because most of the sites I’ve started never endured for more than a year. Fortunately, there was something good about writing for so long and making shitting content in the first few years. I’ve cut the time I need to write a single article by half and more. I increased my productivity when writing by probably 500%. Exactly 3 years ago, back in 2015, I needed 5 days to write an article which is around 2000 words long. Now, I can do this in one day, sometimes even in less than 8 hours.
In this post, I will not, yet, explain how to become a writer, I will simply outline my writing process and the tools I use to produce a piece of content that’s detailed, grammatically correct, and interesting in less than 8 hours.
These are my simple techniques on how to improve your writing skills:
Set a Writing Space
First things first, you need a place to write.
Should I write in the kitchen or should I write in my bed today?
No, I don’t think about such things. When I bought my apartment, I wanted to have a designated place where I can sit down and write. A small desk where I lay my thoughts on paper. Nothing else.
I bought this desk from IKEA:
I also added this simple side table on the right side of my desk:
The second desk is super cheap. I bought it for less than 10$. The reason I got it was the following: I don’t want a lot of stuff laying on my main desk. Sometimes used books for reference and I don’t want them piling up on my big desk, in such cases I use my secondary table. I don’t want to clutter my writing space because this act is blocking my thoughts. It might sound stupid but when I have too much stuff laying around me I get really pissed and I can’t concentrate.
The equipment is irrelevant. I mean, it doesn’t quite matter what type of desk you’re going to buy or how much money you’re going to spend: 50$, 100$, 1000$, it doesn’t matter. Yes, it’s nice to have a sit-stand desk and write upright sometimes, but a simple desk won’t do the writing for you.1
The idea here is to have space which reminds you of your main task. That is, to write. When you have a designated place for writing, when you sit on the chair the actual place will whisper in your head, write. It’s like sitting behind the steering weal of your car, you sit there only when you’re supposed to drive to somewhere. You sit there for a reason. I don’t believe you will sit behind the driving seat to play sudoku. When you’re driving, you know that you need to do: to start the engine to turn left and right, push the pedal, shift gears. The same should apply when you have your own writing space. As soon as you’re behind the desk, your mind should start thinking about the writing process.
Know what you’re going to write about the day before
I’m writing blog posts regularly and sometimes it’s hard to come up with an idea, something interesting to write about. Before I woke up, and I then started thinking about what to write for. As you can imagine, this wasted bunch of my time. My mind was still sleeping and I was overloading it with creative decisions.
Nowadays, I do the following: I keep a journal in which I write/add ideas regularly. I will explain a bit about this later. In this journal, I have several topics that are already developed. I mean, I have more than only a title. I have several bullets added, a couple of links to resources that I can use to write my article. This way, I always have something to write for. I only need to decide which one I feel like writing.
Still, I don’t even make this decision in the morning. I consider what will be my next article the day before. After I prepare my desk for the following day, I write down the topic on a piece of paper. I take my time to think about it for a moment and I even prepare a draft with a few bullets and probably a few links to resources. This saves me a lot of time and prevents me from procrastinating in the morning. My only job the following day is to get up, make a coffee, exercise, sit down and start writing.
As you can see, half of the boost in productivity when writing is thanks to your efforts the day before. Around 30%. Don’t underestimate the power of the following quote:
Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today.” Claudio R. M. Costa
Depending on the content you’re going to write, you will need a couple of online or offline resources for reference.
There are rarely 100% unique articles. In most of the cases, the author is simply retelling the same story.
Some people will say that this is stealing. And yes, in some cases it is, but here I’m talking about finding valuable resources that you might use for reference, for inspiration, to quote. I’m not saying that you should copy paste what other people are saying. I’m only suggesting to read what others have written on the subject. This will surely give you ideas for your own content. It will at least, help you explain the topic in greater details.
Finding a couple of articles, even videos for reference might be the right cure for the stuck moments. Believe me, if you’re writing regularly you will often reach dead ends. You will often feel like you can’t write a single word more on that topic. Having a couple of outside resources to turn too when you don’t quite know how to proceed is gold. Nowadays is super easy to find such articles, you simply go to Google and you search.
Prepare Your Space The Day Before
In short, this means to remove all the shit from your desk before you go to bed.
I personally leave only my laptop along with my mouse on my desk. I don’t use an additional screen, nor have a typewriter keyboard that costs 100+ dollars. I write on my laptop using the keyboard coming along with my laptop. I don’t leave any of my books on my desk. If I use something, a book for example, I quickly put in back to its own place. I have two coasters: one for a glass of water and one for a cup of coffee. That’s it.
One my side table I have my headphones inside their case:
That’s all I need to write. A common mistake that is taking a lot of your time and is costing you precious inspiration is a cluttered desk. If you need to clean your working space each morning before you start working, you will start procrastinating, lose focus. Your mind won’t concentrate on the content that it needs to be written. It will start drifting and thining about the dirty dishes.
Block The Noise
The best thing I’ve spent money this year was for those headphones:
These bluetooth headphones by Sony block all the outside noise thanks to the huge speakers. You literally don’t hear anything when you wear these. My future wife doesn’t quite love me wearing those, mostly because I’m not hearing what she’s saying, but they are perfect for staying focused in this busy world. You never know what type of noise can disturb your peace: traffic, neighbors knocking on your door, your phone ringing, your wife watching Oprah right beside you. Thanks to these headphones I am able to put the world on mute and focus on my writing.
I usually play classical music or background music tracks. You can find a lot of both in YouTube.2
One more thing, don’t forget to turn off the sound of your phone. You can try putting in on airplane mode while you’re writing. This will surely resolve most of the distraction issues.
Block The Internet
Even though I use the net to write my articles – I write my draft online in my WordPress admin dashboard – I sometimes find myself with more than 20 tabs opened and watching video on YouTube. Even worse, sometimes my body is taking on autopilot and it’s scrolling through social media searching for something, I don’t know exactly what.
I often recommend the tool you will see below but I rarely use it. Mostly because I forget to use it, to be absolutely honest.
There is a cool piece of software called Cold Turkey distraction blocker that will allow you to block specific pages/sites online. You simply install the application and you set for how long you want to block Facebook, for instance.
Separate your copy to different sections
It’s quite hard to write 2000 words all at once. But it’s easy to write five sections of 400 words each.
Once I know what I’m going to write for, the cardinal idea, I start outlining the main points that I will have included in my new post.
Let’s take this article for example: Why I became a minimalist?
I wanted to share my story and like every story, there are chapters. In my case, the headings I use in my articles are like separators. The content below each heading doesn’t necessarily continue the flow I have so far. In some of the cases, it adds to the story or it shares a different view.
In this process, you don’t write one big piece of content, you write 4, 5, 6, sections of text that are like short stories instead.
I do this – and a lot of famous writers also – for two main reasons:
- It’s a lot easier to write a couple of short texts instead of trying to write one long one.
- It helps your mindset. Your brain doesn’t want to write a 3000 words piece of essay. It will do everything possible to procrastinate. But if you sit down with the idea that you will write 300, 500 words for now, it’s ok.
Set a timer
I’ve adopted this technique from other creative people who were also struggling to stay focused. I don’t exactly remember who mention this for the first time. The important thing is that it works. You probably read about this time management technique online before, it’s called Pomodoro Technique.3
The idea here is to set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes. It also can be 40 minutes. During this time the only thing you do is to write. You don’t check your phone. You don’t check other websites. You don’t go to the restroom, or at least try to avoid this for the set timeframe. Once the time is up, you can take 5-10 minutes break and repeat the same process. Do 3, 4 sessions and you will see that within 2 hours you will have at least 1000 words written for your next post, page or whatever.
If after reading this you’re like: “Yes, I’ve read about this before but I don’t have a cool little timer that I can use.” You don’t need a fancy timer. You can use your phone. I’m sure that your phone has a timer included as a feature. In most of the cases, you won’t need to use your phone either. You can track time on your laptop’s clock.
Write, write, write
Once everything is ready, I start writing and I never look back – at least for the next 20, 30 minutes, depending on my timer as I mentioned.
Stop your autocorrect and the other similar spelling checking services. They will only distract you and distant you from your end goal – to have a good piece of content for a relatively short period of time.
Start writing and worry about editing later. You first need to lay the foundations and put some filling. The words you will initially write are often removed from the original copy. That’s why it’s better to have 3000 words written and then edit them, instead of constantly writing and correcting. If you edit while you write your first draft, it will probably take you one full day to have 500 words written. Mainly because you will constantly interrupt your writing flow, your thoughts. Worry about these details later. The important thing first is to have something produced, something that you can edit later. Most of what you write can be a complete crap but you will later change that.
Strim and Edit
Once your draft is ready, it’s now time to go through the content in more details and actually connect the sentences with each other. Often you will have completely useless paragraphs but if you’ve done the above task correctly, you will have a lot of those to spare.
The first task is mainly for speed, to keep the flow going and to write as long as you can. The second, however, is to prove your point. To focus on the outcome and to leave the reader with what you want. Edit generously and make sure your content makes sense.
Take a break
How often you like something the current day, and you hate it tomorrow?
Really often, right? Our perception changes and we often regret our own decisions even if these decisions are made only a couple of hours ago. The book Fast and Slow mind explains it all, there are two main systems that we use to think and solve problems. The first system acts fast and it helps us in extreme situations but it can often take dump decisions. The second one is slower and it relies on logic. That’s why people sit, think, meet, talk, so they can come up with a good decision. That’s why it’s a good idea to avoid making impulsive decisions and to lead your slow mind think about all the details.
Once you’re ready with your content, take a longer break – for example, 1 hour. During this one hour, do something unrelated to what you just did. Grab something to eat, call a friend, check your Facebook if you still have. Distant your mind from what you did for the past few hours. Then, once you’re well rested sit down and read your whole copy once again. There is a good chance that you will hate some sections and a greater chance to really loathe others. With your mind now clear and focused, make a final edit to your post.
It’s a good practice to leave the final edit for the next day. This way your mind will be well rested and it will surely notice all the flaws in your text.
Online tools and Resources I use
The net is flooded with apps, software, extensions that can improve your writing. I personally use a few when I write. Here’s a list:
- Google Keep: I use Google Keep to keep notes, obviously. This is an app that you need to install on your phone and on your browser. Once this is done, and when you add a note it will be synced throughout all of your devices. It’s a type of tool that I use every day. I often start writing my new post on my Google Keep app and I later copy paste it into my draft.
- Cold Turkey distraction blocker: This tool allows you to block sites for a certain period of time. As I mentioned earlier, I rarely used it but that’s totally my problem. I really recommend it if you can’t control your clicking habits.
- Grammarly: This extension makes sure everything you type is clear, effective, and mistake-free. You add it like an extension on your browser and it checks your text everywhere. This tool is awesome.
- Convertcase: If you copy a text that is all caps and you want to use it inside your text, it’s quite frustrating if you need to type it once again. Fortunately, there are tools like Convert Case. Paste your text and transform it the way you like.
- WordPress: The software I use to write. WordPress is a complete solution for building websites and it has a really powerful content editor. This site, and many other sites around the world, wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for WordPress.
- Google Translate: Thanks to Google a person who is not a native speaker can write long articles in English. Even though I know the English language very well, sometimes I need a bit of help to figure out how something translates from my language to English.
- Thesaurus: I always admire writers who use interesting words in their books, posts, or whatever. To make my content really shine and to avoid repetition of the same words, I go to thesaurus.com.
- Noisli: If I’m not playing background music from YouTube while I write I go to noisli.com and play a combination of noises. It’s really relaxing and it helps me focus while I write. I’ve also created my own YouTube channel with background music. It’s called BaseWaves.
- Timer: I don’t own a fancy clock to track time. I use my phone. I’m sure you have a timer that you can use on your phone.
- Notebook: I keep a notebook where I add ideas. It’s my physical Google keep. I can’t quite explain this but I often want to write by hand instead of using my keyboard.
My Writing Process in short
Here’s again the process I follow which is helping me be more productive while writing:
The day before:
- Figure out what I’m going to write for;
- Serch online for similar content that I can use for ideas;
- Add a few bullets in my draft;
- Arrange my desk;
The writing day:
- Pour a glass of water;
- Make a coffee;
- Sit on my desk, turn on my headphones and play background music;
- Set the timer for 25 minutes;
- Take a 5 min break;
- Repeat the last two steps for a couple of times till my text is ready.
- Make my first edit;
- Take a longer break;
- Read the whole text and make my final edit.
Writing is the primary basis upon which communication, history, record keeping, and art is begun. Writing is the framework of our communication and if you know what you’re doing, you can help millions of people. Whether it be an office memo, an email, a love letter, a social media post, you can impress people with your words.
If you don’t consider yourself as a person who is good with words, but you want to change that, start by following these two simple steps:
- Write regularly;
- Block all distractions so you can be focused.
With practice comes perfection, as people say. But of course, you first need to start and you need to write a lot. I really hope the steps I shared above on becoming more productive while writing can help you.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below:
- Recently I found these guys and they’ve produced a sick sit-stand desk – LINK.
- You can check my own YouTube channel, I’ve created a couple of tracks that I play while I sit behind my laptop.
- This time management method was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Previously he used a kitchen timer but we all now have a simple timer on our smartphones.