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If you want to flourish as a writer, take some simple steps that will make the act of writing less painful and more fun….
As the pandemic starts to fade — in the developed world, at least — I’m noticing lots of talk about languishing and flourishing, two sides of the same coin.
When we languish, we lack focus or energy and we feel a certain sense of ennui. Surrounded by restrictions and fear, we’ve become indifferent to what the world has to offer. As a result, we have a hard time dragging ourselves up from the couch to do anything productive.
When we flourish, however, we feel joy and enthusiasm. We have a strong sense of fulfillment, purpose and happiness. It’s not that nothing ever goes wrong, of course. But if we face problems, we’re confident we’ll be resilient enough to come up with solutions.
As I read a story about (general) flourishing in the New York Times (see it, here) I started to wonder about flourishing with respect to writing. What are the characteristics or tricks that will help a writing practice flourish, as opposed to being something you do out of dread or obligation?
After years of unhappiness with my own writing, I am finally in a position to say that my writing practice makes me happy. It’s something I’m proud of and confident with. If you want to learn how to flourish as a writer, here are nine steps you can take:
1-Read a lot: Just as chefs taste and musicians listen to music, writers read. Usually voraciously. But they’re not just checking for information (or plot); they are also reading for style. They learn the tricks and techniques used by other writers, and, then, they copy them. This is not plagiarism because it doesn’t involve the theft of ideas. Instead it involves the appropriation of sentence styles and rhythm and syntax. The best way to learn how to write is to become a copycat. Just as new art students will sit in galleries and copy the work of the masters, so, too, writers can learn by copying the works of other great writers, and learning from them.
2-Give yourself enough time for thinking, first: Many people make the mistake of starting to write too soon. But how can you write if you don’t know what you want to say? My advice is to get yourself away from your desk for some good, solid thinking time before starting to write. I’m lucky enough to have a treadmill desk, so I can write while I walk. But I also make time to go outside and walk in my neighbourhood as there are discernible benefits from walking outdoors in nature. When I suggest this strategy to clients, they often tell me they’re worried about forgetting important ideas or realizations. Easy fix: take your cellphone with you and dictate yourself some notes if you need to. Thinking is hard, important work and I’ve recently implemented my own Schultz hour for the task. It’s paying me big dividends already.
3-Stop editing while you write: I write about this tip all the time and I can tell you it’s the single principle that has revolutionized my writing life. Instead of fretting about each sentence after I’ve written it, I make myself write until I’ve finished the piece (or chapter, or whatever) and then I take a good long break before editing. Now, writing is fun and enjoyable and not a terrible burden. (If you’ve been able to break the habit of editing while you write, please encourage other writers by describing, here, the difference it made for you.)
4-Mindmap more: When I talk about mindmapping, I sometimes feel like a broken record. But it works. It really works. I mindmapped this post just as I mindmap every day before writing. Note that this process is not just different from outlining, it’s the veritable opposite of it. The purpose of mindmapping is not to plan or to organize. Instead, it’s to inspire. Check out all the blog posts and videos I’ve done on the topic. (There is also a more detailed video reserved for members of my Get It Done group.)
5-Tell more stories: Writing is about so much more than simply conveying information to your readers; it’s also about keeping them involved and interested. One of the best and easiest ways to do that is to tell plenty of stories. If you’ve ever listened to a TED talk and wondered why it was so engaging, think about how many stories the talk included. TED speakers are trained to understand that stories are both sticky and engaging. Work hard to get more stories into your writing.
6-Don’t multi-task: Most work is miserable if we’re trying to do more than one thing at a time. We make more mistakes, we take longer to accomplish anything and we suffer from more stress. My biggest tip to you is to turn off ALL your notifications (including texts and email) while you are writing. Allow yourself to do only one thing at a time.
7-Look after your body: Most people see writing as a 100% mental job. The words come out of our brain after thinking. But never forget there is a huge physical component, too. If you’re spending many hours hunched over a keyboard in a terrible position, paying no attention to your breathing, your body is going to ache when you’re done. First, give yourself some limits so you don’t wear yourself out. (I take a brief stretch break every 25 mins.) Second, watch your posture and your breathing so that you’re protecting that precious asset — your body — that helps you to write. And take extra care to make sure you don’t suffer from writing apnea.
8-Keep yourself happy: Many writers tell me they’ll be happy if they’re able to write something like 500 words per day. Usually, I blow their minds when I tell them the whole system works in reverse: They’ll be able to write more if they are happier. Sean Achor has made a career promoting this somewhat counter-intuitive principle. And with years of experience working with thousands of writers, I can verify that it’s true. The happier you are, the more you’ll be able to write.
9-Set goals for improvement: Writing is not just about writing. It’s also about improving. And, here, no one gets off scot free. Some people have problems researching, others writing, still others editing. Figure out what your biggest challenge is and take steps to improve it. Many people make confessions to me like, “I’m a terrible speller,” but, honestly, spelling is a minor issue when it comes to writing. The bigger challenges are usually way more sophisticated and important — and harder to fix — than spelling. Read books on writing. Get yourself a coach. Find an editor. Join a writing program. Do whatever it takes to help yourself improve.
Learning how to flourish as a writer takes planning and persistence. But it also offers an enormous payback. If writing is important to you, take these steps to make it more fun and rewarding.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week addressed how to deal with perfectionism in editing. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
How do you flourish as a writer? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Mariya Khrushchak, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a May 19/21 comment on my blog. (Please send me your email address, Mariya!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by June 30/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!