You’re in front of your computer, happily pecking away at the keyboard, slowly and steadily making progress through your first article of the day (or week). And then it hits you: you only have one idea, and you're not going to be able to finish this article by the end of the time you have here before you have to head in to work, or take your kids to school, or catch that episode of "Person of Interest." Help!
Don't worry; there's plenty of hope for you! Here are five terrific tips I use on a regular basis (some weeks I use all five of them, no exaggeration) that can help you write a whole lot more articles on a weekly basis.
Isolate yourselfCredit: Self
It is generally considered amongst productivity gurus like Tim Ferris (of The 4 Hour Work Week fame) to be the absolute height of productive sophistication to eliminate distractions. As such, it is really important that you put your phone away while writing! If you absolutely must be on call for something, turn your phone over so you won’t look at the screen at all until the phone rings (trust me, the temptation will be overwhelming otherwise).
One of my favorite tricks in order to get away from the phone assault is to put my phone underneath my bed while I'm writing away on my laptop on the bed above. This means that if a text comes in (likely not urgent), I can easily ignore it. If a phone call comes in, I'll hear the phone buzzing away and can answer if it's important.
You might want to consider simply going into a different room and closing your door, too. Even if you're not legitimately more isolated, your brain will automatically go into "solitary mode" and start to churn over its thoughts more productively. I've experienced this from a simple change of scenery to a more isolated one. Ideas begin flowing and my fingers struggle to catch up with them, typing away nearly as fast as they're coming!
Strand yourself from the Internet
Make sure that you not only don’t have any distractions, like people bugging you and so forth, but – this one’s huge – strand yourself from the internet. This means doing most of your writing in Microsoft Word or on another word processing program, not online! Although I love the interfaces with various different websites’ WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors, and I even sometimes allow this unique interface to influence the content of my articles so that each article gets the flavor of that writing format, if I’m seriously interested in focusing and writing many more articles per day or per week, I’m going to draft them first in MS Word. Don’t worry- they’re just drafts! You’ll be able to make stylistic edits, including adding links, font changes, and spacing, as you edit within the WYSIWYG editor for the site.
If you're an absolute internet junkie and must be online when writing, just close all tabs that are unrelated to writing. You can have one tab (or window) open for writing (the aforementioned online editor) and one or two tabs open for research, but avoid having too many tabs open at once, as you are going to be exponentially more likely to be distracted!
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Write fragments in batches, then fill them in later
Ever have a moment of inspiration when you least expect it?
If an idea comes in and you have a place to save it on your laptop, go ahead and jot the main idea down in an ideas file. If you aren’t near your laptop, you can email yourself, or, alternatively, just jot the idea down on paper (or, preferably, on the dry erase board you keep on just about every wall at your house or workplace!). Sketch out as many as a dozen articles at a time, even if they’re just idea fragments right now. It’s amazing what you can make happen with an extremely rough framework, as opposed to trying to ping them out one at a time.
Also: this really allows true inspiration to strike, and for you to record the gist of said inspiration, and then to move on to another idea very rapidly. Since you may have several very good ideas in quick succession, often times related to one another in ways that your brain unexpectedly connects.
If you're doing your writing offline, as suggested in the previous step, consider doing all of the research later when you get online! You can generally formulate the main ideas of an article and then fill in the specific facts later. Don't stop to do specific research on a particular fact and lose all of the momentum you likely have build up previously. Do the research later when you get online!
Use these article tricks
I'm all for high quality content, and I think that every article you write, ever, should always be about having a great idea and then explaining it to people. However, sometimes you need a little bit of inspiration, and I found out long ago (while in art school in college, in fact) that sometimes your best ideas come when you start out with very specific constraints (the art school example might be a monochromatic painting with a tree in it; check out the great ideas your brain is already cycling through!).
Five quick ways you can come up with ideas that will be really useful to people (and entertaining and interesting to boot):
- Write about something that was bothering you, but either you fixed or someone else fixed for you (how was the problem solved? This is one of the basic human desires- to solve problems and to find out how they're solved).
- Every picture tells a story. Start with a great photograph you've taken, and form an article around that image.
- Review an amazing, life changing book you've read recently! I've had new thought paradigms arise nearly every month thanks to various different books I've read, and I love sharing these game-changing ideas with everyone whenever possible.
- Talk about your own personal writing story. What made you want to write? Are there others out there with the same struggles as you? Maybe that's interesting.
- Make a list. It could be "five things I know how to do better than you" or "seven ways to improve your TV reception with a 'rabbit ears' antenna", but whatever it is, you're an expert in something, and people love lists.
Seem counterintuitive? My own personal experience has shown that some of my best ideas for articles can come from the least expected times, including when my thinking is completely distracted (I’m focusing all of my energy on solving another problem and just a tiny bit of my mind starts to wander), and when I am about to fall asleep.
Sometimes I'll actually just go wash the dishes. This rather mundane, routine action allows my mind to wander freely. Other times I'll walk one of our foster dogs while listening to an audio book. The change of mental scenery, as I like to think of it, allows my brain to tackle a problem with the back of my mind, or my subconscious, which comes about things in a sneaky sort of way that my conscious mind might not be capable of doing.
Change your scenery, physically or mentally, and see what you can come up with.
Ultimately, life is all about balance, so not writing right this particular second might be an extremely useful tool, because your brain has a funny way of hitting its own “reset button” periodically. Inspiration often comes in short, intense bursts. Use these short bursts of amazing thinking power to the best of your ability by following these tips:
- Isolate yourself physically
- Isolate yourself from the internet
- Jot down fragments, and fill them in later
- Use "dirty tricks" to get started
- Distract yourself
If you're able to use these tips to get started or finish more articles, let me know! You may have found other things that work better for you as well, and I'd love to hear about that. I'm off to write more articles myself now!