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“Ugh! This is terrible writing. This is so boring. My boss is really going to hate this.”
If an evil writing gremlin whispers such discouragements in your ear as you craft a story, borrow a page from writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant.
That evil inner voice is one of five commonplace roadblocks to writing well, she says in a Ragan Training session, “How to write twice as fast and havethree times as much fun.”
To boost your writing speed—and your enjoyment of the task—follow this advice:
1. Don’t edit while you write.
Do you write a sentence and immediately start fiddling with it? Just write, says Gray-Grant. Get the words on the page. Separate the writing task from the editing task.
She recommends a few tricks for doing this:
- Turn off your monitor or hang a dishtowel over it. Now, write without seeing what you’ve produced. Pound it out. Later you can edit.
- Use a noisy timer. If you’re not surrounded by colleagues, this can be a physical clock. Alternatively, there are websites and apps. I found a 12-hour YouTube video of a clicking clock that can be played on a headset or (in my case) streamed into hearing aids as you write. It works.
You might think it would drive you nuts, but Gray-Grant says it makes writing feel like a game and that it drowns out those negative voices.
- Try Write or Die, a website that forces you to write a set amount in a given time.
Use hashtags. No, not as social media markers. If you need to check a fact or spelling, drop in a hashtag—or any other symbol or abbreviation that you wouldn’t normally use in your copy—and keep writing. Just don’t break your rhythm.
2. Stop outlining.
“I tell everyone I work with that they shouldn’t be outlining,” Gray-Grant says, “and this usually gets under some people’s skin.”
The brain, she says, is like a car: Only one person can drive. If your logical part that (editing) is at the wheel, the creative part (writing) is snoozing in the back seat.
Alternative: Draw up a “mind map.” Turn the page sideways (this step is important—it makes the page look spacious). Write your central idea in a balloon in the center. Add bubbles around it for everything that occurs to you, connecting them to the hub with lines.
For example, Gray-Grant jotted “first day of school” in the center. Branching off is “Grade 1” and off that, “Bee sting,” which reminds Gray-Grant of the time she was stung on the lips one day as school opened. Other bubbles represented university and high school.
Just remember: Write down everything. Don’t be critical. Include stories (like the bee sting) from yourself or sources. Keep your hand moving. Draw pictures if you like. And remember, you don’t have to finish the map.
3. Don’t ask the wrong questions.
Too many corporate communicators ask questions based solely on facts, Gray-Grant says. Don’t forget to ask about feelings as well. Consider the sports reporter.
“They shove the microphones in front of the guys after they’ve just lost the game and say, ‘How did you feel?'” she says. “But that’s what you should be asking your CEO or your VP of marketing. ‘How did you feel when this product launched badly?’ ‘How did you feel when this went really well?'”
Also, ask “when” questions. (“When did you first…?”) It takes people back in time to a specific moment. Pull specifics out of interviewees, and “don’t let people go until they give you a good story.”
4. Don’t forget to budget your time.
Writing has three stages: preparation, writing, and revision or editing. Most writers don’t spend enough time on preparation, Gray-Grant says. She says it should break down this way: 40 percent on preparation, 20 percent on writing, and 40 percent on editing and revising.
Do your interviews and other prep work, then just slam out the words, and you’ll write in much less time.
“Now you still have to spend significant time editing or rewriting,” Gray-Grant says. “I don’t know about you, but I find that a lot more fun than writing a first draft.”
5. Stop talking to yourself.
This gets to the voice of the writing gremlin above. When you—or that evil companion who keeps scoffing, “This is boring”—starts dismissing your work, you lose heart.
“Are any of those comments remotely helpful?” she says.
Getting outdoors helps, too. “Rather than sitting at a computer screen beating yourself up, go for a walk,” Gray-Grant says.
Now, get going. Tick, tick, tick, tick…