At the core of any website, product, eBook, promotional campaign, or advertisement is a good writer. Someone who can spin a good yarn and create content that engages and encourages.
But writing takes time. Even if you style yourself a fantastic writer, it takes a long time to put together a quality piece of content, bottlenecking your marketing efforts. To help you get more done in less time, here are 23 writing tips that will make you more efficient at what you do:
1. Write Every Day
So many reasons this is important, but I’ll keep it simple. If you want to excel at something, you need to practice, and if you want your practice to be effective, you need it to be consistent – hence writing every day. Whether you have work to do or not, spend at least 30 minutes every day writing. It can be a blog post, an article, a chapter in your novel or whatever else you want to work on.
2. Pick a Favorite Spot
Everyone has their favorite work spot – the cozy little alcove where they get the most done and don’t have to worry about being interrupted by wild children, pets, spouses or coworkers. I have my basement lounge and an attic office. I used to have a coffee shop with a hidden table near the window – it’s up to you what serves this purpose.
3. Disconnect from the Internet
Get offline. The Internet is the single most distracting thing on your computer and it’s slowing you down – guaranteed. Even if you need it for research, consider writing while disconnected and simply making notes for anything you need to look up. You’ll be surprised how little you actually need to look up while writing.
4. Use RescueTime
One of my favorite tools, Rescue Time, is available for Mac or PC and will track everything you do when your computer is on. You can then review your efficiency level and aim to improve it in the future. There’s nothing like seeing you spent 12 hours on Facebook and 8 hours in Gmail last week to motivate you to write more.
5. Create a Blog
A personal blog is a fantastic way to encourage daily writing. When I started my career as a content writer, a blog was my first step and I wrote on it daily (sometimes more than once) for three months before I got my first real paying gig. It was a fantastic way to get into a daily writing routine and hone my skills, plus it helped me build a portfolio of content to share with prospective clients.
6. Reward Yourself
I find that the easiest way to ensure I keep working from day to day is to give myself a reward. Now I don’t believe that giving yourself a reward every time you get to the end of the day is okay. I’m not one of those people who runs to the mall every time I get done with one day’s work. But if you set a specific long term goal and you meet it or exceed it, find a way to treat yourself – even if it’s just an extra 30 minutes of mindless TV.
7. Don’t Re-read Anything
This is a tricky one, because eventually you’re going to have to edit your work. But when you first get started on an article, ebook or a report, don’t re-read what you’re writing. When the first thing you do in the morning is re-read the first 15 or 20 pages that you wrote, you’re not getting the book done any faster. You’re using up too much time. The best option here is to just write until you’re done. Otherwise it’ll take two years to finish the book. It’s the same for articles, ebooks, press releases, or whatever else you’re writing.
8. Take a Class
If you feel that you lack in certain areas, such as grammar, or formatting, or just the discipline needed to write every day or have a schedule, attending a community college course for $200 can be a fantastic way to develop discipline. If nothing else, it will force you to write for a set period of time every week that will help you build new habits.
9. Dictate Instead of Typing
When I’m short on time, I dictate into something like Dragon Dictate, or one of the $1 apps on the app store. It records my voice, and then I can send it off to a transcription service. Some people just think better when they’re talking out loud. I’m the opposite. I write and think better when I’m typing. But I find that dictation is an interesting way to get the words I need on the page.
10. Share a Story With Others
When writing in your blog, don’t just give people tips or news updates. Tell them about your life. Tell them about your kids, your dog, your job, or even what you watch on TV. Don’t be boring, but take a leap and share a bit of yourself with them – it will make writing a lot more fun.
Tell people a story; they’ll become invested in your life, and they’ll push you to continue. If you start a series of articles on how to build a doghouse, and you get to number 3 and don’t write anymore, you’ll start getting emails like “Hey, I want to read part 4 about how to build that stupid doghouse. Where is it?” That will motivate you. Having other people looking over your shoulder will almost always motivate you.
11. Public Speaking
Public speaking is tough for me, but the challenge itself is highly motivating, and a great way to practice expressing my thoughts and sharing what’s on my mind with the public. It’s essentially a way to gauge an audience – learn what words have the greatest impact, and perhaps most importantly, view the fruits of your labor. Public speaking is a great change of pace, and dealing with that level of excitement and stress can have a big impact on your writing ability.
12. Write About What You Love
Passion is something that can be hard to fake in writing. But when you write about what you love, then it’s coming from a place with loads of inspiration. You’ll get to the point very quickly, because you know exactly what you’re going to say. Think about any time you’ve seen someone defend their position over something they love.
They can list out things faster than anyone. “Empire Strikes Back is the greatest of the three Star Wars movies. Here’s why. Number 1…” Thanks to your passion, the words were able to flow and your writing became instantly more efficient.
13. Write About What You Hate
Passion comes from more than just love. Sometimes it comes from what you hate. When you’re adamant about your opposition or you have the drive to argue something strongly, words flow more easily. You shouldn’t disrespect anyone that disagrees with you, but you can and should state your opinion.
14. Stand Up and Write
A standing desk can provide a big boost to your productivity. There are several reasons for this. First, it’s important to stand up regularly if you’re sitting for a long period of time, and every time you stand you’re losing time in which you could be writing. Second, standing is better for your circulation, and that extra blood flow can help you type faster or at least think more clearly and therefore write more easily. If not a standing desk, try standing at a table every once in a while with a laptop and see if you notice the difference.
15. Work in Predefined Chunks
One thing I noticed is that it’s not just about scheduling the time – it’s about chunking the time. For example, when I used to freelance many years ago, if I have a 10 article project and four hours in which to do it, I would plan to do 5 articles in 1 hour, 5 articles in another hour, 1 hour of editing, and then set aside the remaining hour to use as I pleased.
I also respond to emails in that fourth hour. I find that if I keep my email open throughout the day, or if I check my email in the morning when I start writing, I get distracted. Setting aside chunks of time will ensure you have clear goals.
16. Wake Up Early
I noticed this trick by accident. When he was little, my son would wake me up in the middle of the night, and eventually my internal clock changed so that I was waking up at 4 or 5 am every day. Changing my schedule to something other than the typical 9 to 5 made it possible to zero in and focus on my work while the rest of the world slept.
17. Stop Checking Email
Email is easily the most distracting part of anyone’s day. Your clients can wait. Your friends can wait. Every time you see a new email, you break your rhythm, and every time you get into an email conversation time starts to disappear. Close your email account, turn your iPhone email alerts off, and do your best to avoid any type of email access while you are writing. You’ll quickly find that the world is still standing if you put off email until set times each day. If you do it right, you can maintain inbox zero without those messages eating into your day so much.
18. Practice Writing How-To Guides
Pick something you know and write a how-to guide about it. Many people do this for money, and that’s fine – put the “how to” on Kindle and see what happens. Teaching someone else a task is one of the most effective ways to learn the task yourself.
As a writer, you learn how to talk about anything. So even if you’re writing about a more complex topic like IT systems or medical equipment, you’ll get better at writing it for a specific audience.
19. Rewrite the Same Sentence 10 Times
One of my greatest writing challenges is coming up with a new way to say something I’ve said before quickly. This exercise helps. I even gave this type of challenge to a friend that wrote sentences that were simply too long. Take a sentence that you’ve written, and then see if you can rewrite it 3-10 times.
This will teach you to write in a way that delivers more value to the reader. Short, to the point, and unique – that’s what you want from your copy.
20. Read What You Write Aloud
Often something can read acceptably on the screen but sound terrible when read aloud. To ensure this isn’t the case, read your draft loud and proud, as though giving a speech. Everything you write that sounds silly is going to clearly stand out, and in the end you’ll learn much more quickly what “sounds” good. If something sounds good, it will read well.
21. Create Shorthand for Keywords
Text expanders are powerful tools that can greatly increase productivity, especially if you write the same type of content over and over again. Technical copy, programming code, marketing headlines – whatever it is, if you’re using and reusing the same phrases, terms, or words multiple times, software such as what’s included in the Mac OS X will allow you to define shortcuts for your text and speed up the process.
22. Use Mindmapping or Vizual Einstein
I use tools like iMindmap or Vizual Einstein to layout intrinsically visual ideas in a visual way. You don’t have to use these specific tools either. Pick up “Back of the Napkin” by Dan Roam or any of his followup books, and learn how he grew his business and brand with a visual form of note taking and brainstorming.
23. Blackout Mode
One of my favorite strategies for improving efficiency for a short period of time is to blackout everything around me. It doesn’t work in the long term because I get a little claustrophobic, but most dips in efficiency are due to distractions and a good blackout will wipe them away.
A blackout is more than just disconnecting from the Internet. You should also close browser tabs and windows, maximize the window you’re working on, put on headphones, turn off the TV, radio or podcast you’re listening to, and find an empty room in which to work. Set a timer for 45 minutes and force yourself to work the entire time. It’s not easy, but by the time you’re done, you’ll be thinking clearer about your task and probably writing much more efficiently.
Writing is an art form, a work task, a marketing necessity, and a whole lot of fun when it doesn’t get in your way. Use the 23 tips above to clear your mind and write more efficiently, or if you want to dig even deeper, download the full eBook on Amazon – 101 Ways to Write More Efficiently.