A Guest Post by David Turnbull of Adventures of a Barefoot Geek
I feel writing should be effortless. To some that may sound ridiculous, and a few months ago I may have agreed with you, because syphoning thoughts from your brain into a coherent structure is mighty difficult, but alas, I love writing too much for me to be content with its inherent difficulty.
This desire for effortless writing encourage me sit down one day, a green tea by my side and write everything down that I felt could make the process itself effortless. 2 hours later, with only a short 5-10 minute break because my fingers were tired, I’d written about 4000 words containing the most flowing, yet actionable set of ideas in a single piece of writing I’d ever written. There was no strain, or stress, or over thinking about how a particular sentence should be structured. It was writing bliss.
Of course, with any creative pursuit you can’t bottle up all the relevant advice in a single article, or without continual thought, so these are some of the ideas I wanted to expand upon and hadn’t isolated previously to make writing an effortless process.
1. Ease the pressure. One common tactic recommended by many veteran writers is to get up in the morning, sit at the computer at 9 o’clock and then not move until the clock strikes 5. The idea is that forcing yourself in to that situation will somehow release your creativity and let your words flow. And then there’s the twist on that exercise in conforming to a high word count, such as 1000-2000 words per day, no matter what.
But while these exercises may encourage you to write a high quantity of words, you’ll be sacrificing the fulfilment that can be released from your words, and the state of effortlessness which I feel is worthy of cultivation.
Therefore, instead of trying to attain high quotas each day, do the opposite. Lower your quotas to ease the pressure. Tell yourself before your fingers strike the keys:
After 10 minutes of solid writing I will be satisfied.
When I’ve written 200 words I will be satisfied.
This completely shifts your mood, from one of dread and uncertainty, to one of possibility and control. But what I feel the main draw of this practice is the way in which it helps you focus on the present moment, on what you’re writing now.
Looking ahead at large quotas and burdens distracts you from the current task at hand – the writing itself – and thus makes the process more difficult. When there’s less of a hurdle to jump over, your mind focus less on the chance of impending difficulty, and more on completing the point it’s currently tackling.
2. Write only what matters. One of the constant struggles I, and I expect many other writers face is the constant desire to make each paragraph better than the last, to be a beacon of continuous improvement and to say only what matters. In many ways this desire is a burden – in any craft there will always be plateaus that are reached – but in other, more important ways, this mindset is a gift, because when you feel your writing actually matters, that it will potentially make a difference in someone’s life, the words will flow effortlessly.
In the words of the Stoic philosopher Seneca:
“…do not go to listen to people who are more concerned about the quantity than the quality of what they say…”
And in that same way, do not be one of those people who are more concerned about quantity rather than quality. Writing less is a positive trait, embrace it, and don’t give into the allure of writing for the sake of writing.
Before writing anything, ask yourself, “Does this matter?” You can never truly be sure before a piece of writing is complete, but if there’s a slight pang of uncertainty then don’t attempt to work with that feeling. Take the time to polish the concept of what you plan to write, and then write.
3. Negate the need for will power. The act of writing often requires a considerable amount of will power. There are distractions on the internet, the sudden urge to procrastinate in the “real world” and a thousand and one other reasons why the timing isn’t write to put pen to paper or finger to keys. But while developing a high level of self discipline is certainly a noble cause, there’s little need of it if you take the time to shape your circumstances which, in turn, shapes your results.
Block distractions on the internet by using the fantastic LeechBlock extension for Firefox. If you’re not a Firefox user then it’s worth making the switch simply to use this extension (that’s exactly what I did). For the stubborn folk out there an app such as SelfControl will do fine, although it’s not automated and as feature rich. And if you have money to burn, or want access to fancy metrics, then check out the premium version of RescueTime.
Procrastination in general can be overcome with a few simple steps:
- Outline what you plan to write the day before you plan to write it, and don’t overwhelm this list with irrelevance. Never list more than 3 tasks, and stick with just 1 important task if possible. This appears to be an act of will power, to conform to your to do list, but you’ll be surprised about how psychologically powerful a simple plan is over your actions, especially if it’s carefully planned hours in advance.
- Write at a time conducive to being free from distractions. There’s no “right” time to write, but there are better times to write, and those specific times depend on the person. One increasingly popular method is to write late at night, often after midnight. This is something I’ve experimented with and it’s surprisingly powerful, yet I still shy away from it because I worry about the affects of being on the computer so close to sleep.
- Separate your writing environment from leisure. This is a change I made in the past few weeks and has resulted in an enormous change in the way I can either turn on or shut off the part of me that is focused on writing. With this, the times when you’re in your writing environment are heightened, undiluted by the activities of the day, allowing you to truly lose yourself in a flow of effortlessness.
Writing doesn’t need to be difficult. Or tedious. Or stressful. It can be effortless. And while I obviously haven’t covered every aspect of finding flow when writing, my intention with this article wasn’t to provide you with a definitive guide, but open you up to the possibility of what writing can be.
It’s easy to fall into the mindset that inducing insanity is simply an aspect of being a writer you need to deal with. Don’t let yourself believe that fallacy any longer though. Imagine what the state of perfect effortless writing would feel like, and then strive for that using both these suggestions and your own creativity.
A heads-up for WTD readers
Leo and Mary will run the next A-list Blogging Bootcamp, How to Create a Blog that Rocks from 13-17 February. Everyone had a blast last time! We’ll be emailing some great articles on blogging. Get yourself on the mailing list by clicking on Leo’s report in the sidebar.
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