Three Simple Things That Help Me Write More

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“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” – Stephen King

It’s kind of funny how training is expected in sports, and technical professions, but with writing and creative endeavors people seem to think there is almost no barrier to becoming good. At least one you can’t overcome with tricks or “techniques”.

There’s no real substitute for practice.

But sometimes writing a lot can be hard. Very hard. Sure, it might not be that physically demanding, but there’s something about a blank screen, or page, that’s downright intimidating at times. (Also, mental energy is very real, and it’s easy to spend most of it before you even get started on the writing itself.)

A few months ago, I would frequently blame “writer’s block” and throw in the towel, excusing myself from meeting my daily word goals. These days, it’s becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence. And though I’m far from the most prolific writer out there, I learned a thing or two along the way.

In particular, there are three simple things I do that help me put words down on a screen every day.

Writing Down At Least 3 Ideas (For Articles/Blog Posts) Every Day

One of the most recurring, and painful, barriers between me and writing, has been the simple of excuse of “I don’t have anything to write about.” This can come up an awful lot when you’re gunning for daily writing goals of 1000 words and upwards!

But if you practice thinking of more than one idea every single day, not only are you unlikely to run out of writing ideas when you sit down to write, you actually get better at thinking of ideas over time.

If you’re struggling to think of ideas to begin with, remember that the more constraints you set for yourself, the easier it will be. For example, it’s much easier to think of ideas when you have a general topic in mind already, and you look at some specific headline templates/the headlines of posts you’ve already written, than if you just tell yourself “Okay think of some cool ideas brain!”. The latter just doesn’t work all that well. When you’re looking at headline templates for ideas, sometimes it will feel your subconscious just autocompletes it. Almost like it helped you formulate an idea that you already had, but weren’t completely aware of. Sometimes restricting yourself to a specific audience or demographic can be helpful as well.

Another thing that helps with coming up with ideas is simply reading about related(and unrelated) things, and staying on top of what goes on in online communities covering whatever topic you write about. You might find yourself disagreeing with something to the point where it constitutes writing a whole post about it, or you’ll find some points you want to elaborate on. Of course you want to avoid stealing-by-paraphrasing. Just because it passes copyscape does not mean people won’t notice.

If you stay open to ideas, and you always have a way of writing them down, you will find yourself inspired by the weirdest things. Things that wouldn’t make you think twice, or take a second look, on any normal day. But somehow, today, an idea just came to you as you heard a cardoor slam shut outside your window. Sometimes the best ideas come from completely unexpected places. My first paid article that I got credit for came to me when I was procrastinating on Facebook, and a local news story stood out to me.

(Make sure you keep your ideas organized. After some failed attempts of organizing my ideas in one document, or one evernote note, I’ve found better luck with having separate Evernote notes for writing ideas for different topics/websites. I’m sure there are much better ways to do it, but I suspect they are also more work intensive, which makes it more likely for me to revert back to throwing everything into one big pile of ideas so big, and so unorganized, it’s easier to think of new ones rather than find relevant ones.)

Listening To This Playlist Of 60 BPM Baroque Music

Not only did at least one study prove that 60 bpm music is the best for doing work, but there are also quite a few studies that point to classical music as the best. With some people insisting on the superiority of Baroque in particular.

There’s also a fair amount of songs I hadn’t heard before. (This has also been observed to improve productivity) And somehow because I mostly listen when I work, I don’t get familiar with them in the same way that I usually would, which might help retain that effect.

Did I mention that Stephen King listens to music when he writes? (Although I think he prefers rock and roll.)

So even in the worst case scenario(that none of this is actually true), there’s a whole lot of potential for placebo effect going on, which is hardly a bad thing.

However the main reason it works well for me, is that there are no lyrics that I know (that will make me want to sing along/accidentally write the lyrics down because I’m so engaged in the song.)

Starting the playlist can also become a very painless trigger to signal the start of your writing session. Somehow it’s easier to put on a playlist than just open up a word processor, I don’t know why, but that’s just how it is for me.

Writing In “Zen-Mode” (Complete Full Screen)

Props to Rich Soni for introducing me to the concept. I personally use “Write Monkey” and I like it a lot. While there are actually 2 possible distractions, in the form of showing the time and word count(that I find helpful more than distracting myself), it is much, much better than having a visible menu at the bottom of the screen, showing you all the things you could be doing instead of writing. There are also no distracting sidebars, or options, or ways to change your font, or whatever else could posess you to take a break from stringing sentences together. (I just found out that it supports markup as well, which is another thing that can probably help me cut down the time it takes from start -> publishing a post in WordPress significantly.)

It doesn’t need any installation, you simply download it, extract the folder, and open the file. Very simple stuff.

If I was more of a scientist, I would have started with one thing at a time, but because I had some general idea that the different things would work, so I simply implemented it all at once, and I’ve been reaping the results since.

But of course, these are just tools to help you do the actual writing. You have to make it a priority, and actually sit down to do it. Words will not appear magically on a screen(despite how it might feel when you’re “in the zone).

So I leave you with another quote from Stephen King’s very enjoyable book on writing; On Writing(see what I did there?):

“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” 

You have permission from Stephen King to write your heart out, so what’s stopping you?

Original photo credit: Erin Kohlenberg

5 Responses

  1. Dragos bernat June 17, 2014 / 1:00 pm

    Hey Ragnar, this is a timely post as I’ve been taking a break from writing on my website.

    “There’s no real substitute for practice.”

    I completely 100% agree with you on this post, which is one of the reasons I’m getting back into it (soon enough).

    Another great application you might like is called “Freedom” -Link: https://macfreedom.com/

    Your suggestion for “Writing Down At Least 3 Ideas (For Articles/Blog Posts) Every Day”.

    I have been doing this ever since I started my website, and by now I have well over 120+ blog posts of ideas, and some with written drafts, and all I can say is that it’s overwhelming. So many ideas, and choices that it becomes too much. So I’ve made a complete stop to doing this and am slowly working on building, editing and refining my posts all together to clean up my thoughts, and publish them all together.

    • Ragnar Miljeteig June 18, 2014 / 4:29 pm

      Hey Dragos,

      It’s funny how there’s two sides to everything. Too many ideas can be just as much of a hurdle as too few. It can become overwhelming for sure. I have a .txt file somewhere with over 200 ideas that I will probably never get around to sorting through. I think a trick is to start discarding the ones you feel are sub-par (which should be surprisingly many, but hey if you’ve turned into an idea genius, maybe you can start selling a service! On fivver or somewhere else, haha.) I have started to write my initial ideas down in a notepad document, then I move the keepers into Evernote.

      • Dragos bernat June 19, 2014 / 8:10 pm

        Haha, that’s duality for you. It applies to everything, and as many times as we hear it moderation seems to always be the missing ingredient. Most of my ideas are in a folder, and the ones I’m soley working on now are for guest posts/and solid, detailed and backed by research articles I am posting to my website so I can turn that into a book.

        I just put them all into a folder for “later” and will deal with that if it’s even needed. Looking forward to your next articles!

  2. Micah June 18, 2014 / 2:06 pm

    I think I’m gonna have to check out this Write Monkey. I’m on a mission to get more productive and it’s going well at the moment but I want to introduce as many practices and tools as possible to make it sustainable. I like the idea of setting targets for new blogpost ideas. I literally decided to start doing that very thing just this morning, though with an admittedly less ambitious target. I’ll be eager to read and learn about any new tools you pick up.

    • Ragnar Miljeteig June 18, 2014 / 4:35 pm

      Micah,

      Write Monkey is quite awesome. I think a good way for you to start will be to start out using a few tools at a time, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t. Also, ambition is not that great and starting at small is usually the way to go, so consider yourself on the right track.

      I think the next step for me is to simply gradually increase the time I spend on writing, and developing ideas, each day, rather than testing out tools for writing output. I might experiment with to-do-lists again, as I feel like that’s the one habit that has the power to completely transform my daily routine.

      After a certain point, if you can churn out let’s say 4-5 hours (less if you have a full-time job) of just writing consistently every day, increasing your physical writing speed by utilizing a learning tool to teach you a better way of writing could be a great idea. But this is down the line. I’m still somewhat in a transitional stage, although today might have proved itself to be a minor breakthrough. Hope you will share your own tools and lessons along the way!

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