Fake it ’til you make it. ~Anonymous
On New Year’s Eve, I met a woman who had wanted to write a book all her life but could never get past a certain point. She hadn’t written for years because she was so frustrated by her failed attempts.
If you’ve ever had to write something by a certain date, chances are you’ve procrastinated. The bigger the assignment, the more people put it off.
Or perhaps you just wanted to write something, yet couldn’t get yourself to actually write.
Or, perhaps, like this woman, maybe you started many times but found yourself rewriting the same chapter until you killed it.
Next thing you know, you haven’t written in weeks, months, even years.
I’ve seen many a subject matter expert put off writing the lessons they needed to record until it would take a miracle to finish on time. Here are the steps to making that miracle happen.
First, accept that your first draft isn’t meant to be good. Its job is to release the words in your head so you can see what you’re really thinking about. Put a note above your writing spot that says, “Write a crappy first draft.”
I’ve given this advice many times, but until you pay attention to it, you won’t realize how liberating it is.
Trust me, it’s liberating enough to tear down many a writing block.
Second, set aside your inner editor who wants to criticize and revise every word you write. This is the creative phase, not the critical phase. There’s no rewriting.
I repeat: Revision is not allowed. Just write forward.
Third, decide how many days you will write before you stop. I make my clients commit to a minimum of 30 days, with a break for weekends. You must also write a minimum of five days a week.
This is manageable for anyone. Why? Because you only write for an hour a day. But you must write that one hour. Trust me, you can find the hour.
Any shorter (in total time or for each writing session), and you won’t have time to get into the writing habit.
You can be flexible about adding days, but you can’t subtract days. If you have a longer project, you can set aside more days. For a book I finished last year, I originally set aside 60 days but had to extend my time limit when I thought of more topics to include.
Put your writing days on your calendar: one hour, five days a week (or six or seven days).
Fourth, get an accountability partner. THIS IS ESSENTIAL!
This is the role I play with clients, but it works with a reliable friend. Every day that you write, you send your writing to the accountability partner. You have a strict deadline, by midnight, to send the day’s writing to your partner.
Well, you might say, what’s going to happen if you don’t write one day?
Loss of face. Embarrassment. Or, in some cases, loss of money. I am a big fan on laying some money on the table when you make this commitment. That’s why paying someone to be your accountability partner can work so well—but so can making a bet over the number of days. You don’t write 30 days, and you pay your accountability partner some painfully large sum.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t charge the woman I worked with recently, but the commitment of sending me her writing every day was enough to keep her going. That, and the method itself, which I’ll get to shortly.
Fifth, and this is a critical rule: The accountability partner does not read anything you send. The partner just acknowledges it and cheers you on. So make sure you trust your accountability partner.
Here’s how the process works:
- Set aside one hour a day to write. Put it on your schedule! You cannot break this time into shorter chunks, and you cannot write for any longer. The limit of one hour is enough to make headway on a topic but not enough to overwhelm you.
- Make a list of topics before you start your 30-day writing project.
- Review any relevant research before you start your hour.
- Start writing when it’s time regardless of whether you’ve done all the research you think you need. Endless research has strangled many a writing effort.
- Review the topics before you write for the day; pick one to focus on. You cannot look over your list once you have started writing.
- Turn off everything—clocks, phones, reminders, email—and set a timer for one hour. Lock your door if necessary, but keep out family, friends, dogs, cats, and pet goldfish. You get the picture.
- Start writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s lousy. It only matters that you don’t stop until the timer rings at the one-hour mark. You can type, “I don’t know what to say” for the whole hour. After a while, you won’t be able to help yourself—you’ll say something on topic.
- Stop writing when the timer goes off. No exceptions. I don’t care if you’re in the middle of the world’s most brilliant sentence. You’re cut off for the day.
- Don’t read what you have written. Send it to your accountability partner and set it aside.
- Start fresh the next day, on the next topic. Do not succumb to the temptation to read just a few paragraphs of the previous day’s writing. I’ll say it again since it’s hard to believe this is so important. It’s more than important; it’s critical: Don’t read what you have written.
- Repeat every day until you’ve finished your first draft.
Yes, there are a lot of rules. But this process only works if you follow them.
At a certain point, you will wade through the dreck in your head and start writing something salvageable. And your writer’s block will be a thing of the past.
How you move from this draft to the second is the subject of another post. I will say that my friend is now working on her book, and starting another 30 days of writing forward. If she could do it, so can you.
Marcy McDonald is an Online Course Producer. She helps Subject Matter Experts and Professors create online courses with better content, delivery, and production, for better teaching. She’s developed ~450 online courses for lifelong learners, worked in video and audio studios, and filmed in the field (literally).