My writing manifesto

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Karl Marx wasn’t the only person with a manifesto! We all have principles or writing tips that keep us grounded, organized and enthused. Here is my writing manifesto.

I used to loathe writing. I found it both daunting and painful – kind of like going to the dentist and having a root canal. Every day.

I delayed and procrastinated, putting off the dreaded task as long as humanly possible. Only the force of an inexorable deadline inspired me to push out any words. And when I finally had them written down, little time remained for editing.

Lots of writers – E.B. White, Stephen King and William Zinsser — provide useful rules for writing. But they tend to focus on the finished product – the words, sentences and paragraphs we produce.

Me? I learned the hard way that I need to focus on the process. So, this week I’ve been listing my own rules for writing – a manifesto, really. These are the principles that have helped me transform writing from a task I dreaded to my favourite job of the day.

1. Always start early. One of the best ways to make writing less onerous is to begin it as quickly as possible. As soon as I have an assignment from a client or a boss, I start making some notes. Then I make a plan – allowing myself plenty of time for thinking (which must occur before writing) and even more time for editing (which is where the real improvement to writing occurs.)

2. Avoid the blank page. In my view, there is nothing worse than the blank page. It’s damned intimidating and it taunts us with its relentless emptiness making us fear our own minds may be equally empty.  I strive to get something – anything – written on the page as soon as I can so I can always feel as though I’m improving something rather than simply starting it.

3. Don’t awfulize. I was a born awfulizer – always seeing the worst in every possible situation. I used to imagine my writing to be horrible and inept. Finally, I realized that this attitude was self-defeating. Writing is just talking on paper. (I now do this as fast as I can and refuse to worry about spelling or grammar in my first draft.)

4. Start with a mindmap instead of an outline. Mindmapping allows me to tap into the creative part of my brain, uncovering stories, metaphors and connections that I would have never encountered with an outline. If you’re a subscriber to my Tuesday newsletter, you will have received a fr/ee copy of my booklet on mindmapping when you signed up. (Read it again. )

5. Practice daily. Writing is like exercise: The more I do, the better I get at it. I ensure my writing muscles get a consistent workout by writing for an hour a day at least five days per week.

6. Don’t edit while writing. This was a hard-fought battle for me but it revolutionized my writing. Now I produce my first drafts ever so much faster and with minimal angst. It was hard work to get to this place, but well worth the effort.

7. Write with a timer. When I write I have a timer that clicks in the background. I find the sound comforting and inspiring. It’s also really effective at keeping me on task. When my clicker is operating I don’t check email or Facebook; I feel as though I’m taking part in a race, and this is fun.

8. Make big goals smaller. Writing can seem overwhelming. For this reason, whenever I’m given a big job I immediately break it down into smaller tasks. Think about the assignment. Check. Do some research. Check. Prepare a mindmap. Check. Write a first draft. Check. Edit the first draft. Check. None of these tasks is big enough to freak me out so I just concentrate on collecting my check marks as quickly as possible.

9. Read voraciously. The best writers are indefatigable readers. I read widely and well and I get a wealth of tips from what the masters ahead of me have accomplished. (Check out my word of the week and sentence of the week postings in my blog.)

10. Give yourself plenty of rewards. I am slowly learning how important it is to reward myself frequently and generously. Writing is not as hard as bricklaying but it means I must concentrate and apply myself. Modest rewards – a book, a magazine, a box of a specialty tea I like – are good for modest accomplishments. Major accomplishments require something bigger. I have learned not to be stingy.

What items are on YOUR writing manifesto?

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