I write a lot, which isn’t so much a declaration of my ability to work hard as it is an acknowledgment that I often need to use some strategies to keep myself afloat when I have multiple writing projects to complete at any given time. I started freelance writing a few years ago when I needed to make some extra income in addition to my full-time job. Then I started teaching high school English Language Arts and writing for fun when I wasn’t freelancing.
It’s a lot to juggle, but, fortunately, I’ve developed some habits that help me to stay productive when writing projects pile up:
1. Start With a Blueprint
Writing is like building the Millennium Falcon with Legos. I can sit down with a bucket full of bricks and a lot of determination, but if I go into building it blindly, it’s never going to happen. That’s why Lego sets come with instructions. They’re blueprints to guide the process of creation.
Writers often come in two different camps. Some writers prefer to start with a blank page and write without a plan. They prefer to let their ideas emerge as they write. Other writers prefer to spend some time on the front end creating a blueprint of what they plan to write. This allows them to develop ideas and organize them so the writing process isn’t so much about coming up with ideas as it is fleshing out the ideas they’ve already outlined.
I often have a foot in each camp because approaching each writing project in the same way can feel monotonous. Plus, each approach has its advantages and disadvantages.
When I want the process to go more quickly, outlining is almost always the way to go. When I’m writing a fictional story that I know is going to be relatively short, I dive in without a plan and write until the end because I find it more enjoyable. When I recently decided to write a feature-length screenplay, however, I developed a scene-by-scene outline before I began writing. When I’m writing articles, I often fluctuate between each approach, but even with this particular article, I outlined what three areas I wanted to write about before I began writing.
A blueprint can make the creation process of writing both easier and faster.
2. Forget the Backspace
There’s nothing that slows me down more as a writer than the pressing need to get something perfect the first time. It’s not uncommon for me to labor over a sentence for several minutes, changing it several times, before feeling like it’s good enough for me to move on to the next one.
When you’re writing a long narrative or an essay, the only way to get to the end of the piece is to keep writing, but what I’ve described above won’t get you there quickly. When you’re on a deadline and you have multiple projects to complete, trying to get it perfect the first time is a recipe for frustration and burnout. Who hasn’t labored over a piece only to discover you need to make several changes anyway?
When I need to get a lot written in a short amount of time but I also want it to be quality writing, I force myself to avoid the backspace. The first draft of anything should be terrible. It’s your first attempt at creating something new, and first attempts are always plagued with flaws. Just look at a baby trying to walk for the first time.
The first draft is about getting the words and ideas out of your head and onto paper. Don’t expect it to be perfect. It won’t be. But it gives you something very important to work with that you didn’t have when you began.
Speeding through a first draft guarantees that I get my initial words and ideas out and gives me a sense of completion even before I move on to revision.
3. Embrace the Freedom to Revise Later
When I sit down on the floor with my three kids to build cars, houses, trains, and anything else our minds can come up with out of Legos, it doesn’t matter what we want to build if we don’t have the Lego bricks to make it happen. Whatever we decide to build, the individual Lego bricks are the raw material we use to make our creations a reality. All the words and ideas you pour into your first draft are the raw material you form into something incredible.
Writing the first draft is the act of creating the raw material out of which your best writing will emerge. Whether I’m writing a story or an essay, I always find that when I go back through my initial writing with an eye for revision, new and better ideas always come to mind. I might discover a sentence in one paragraph fits better in another or that a whole paragraph needs to be moved somewhere else. Maybe an idea for new content to add comes to mind or perhaps I’ll see that some of the content I originally included needs to be cut.
When I write, I always aim for clarity, but it’s often in the second or third draft that the most clarity is achieved.
If you’re like me and juggle writing with a number of other responsibilities, you know the pressure of getting the work finished and finished well. These strategies help me to stay productive and produce the best work I can.