Writing is hard. Let’s not mince words about it. But you have the skills. You know what you’re doing. So why the difficulty? What’s getting in your way?
If you’re anything like…I don’t know, every writer I’ve ever met, you are getting in your way because of your fear of writing poorly or having your work criticized. Especially if you’re a fiction writer, you worry that you’ll be judged forever based on the first book you ever publish.
If you have the writing chops, and the overwhelming majority of writers do, then you are unlikely to produce terrible copy. But here’s the unfortunate truth: you will be criticized, and someone will judge your first book and decide whether or not to ever read your work again based on their experience.
You are putting your words out into the world. Do you expect not to be criticized? Someone is bound to hate your work, but if an equal number of people love it, you win. Those who love it will sign up for your email list and become true fans, of which you only need a thousand to make a living.
And the fear of being judged on your first book? Even if it were your tenth book, someone would judge you for it. People are always judging, but more people in the world could love your book, and possibly even appreciate the criticism of a loud-mouthed critic — any publicity is good publicity.
That’s not enough, though. I haven’t told you anything you don’t already know. It still doesn’t help. When you sit down to write, those same fears crop up and threaten to tank your efforts.
So let’s get your mind out of the way.
Why writing is hard
You know you’re going to rewrite your first draft — even if you edit on the spot, you’re not going to keep all of the first words you write. It shouldn’t be hard to put those words down, but it is. The reason is simple.
Writing a first draft makes the idea real.Tweet
What was once a mere consideration, a pleasant thought, is now thrown into the arena to prove its worth. That’s scary. What if it’s not ready?
The problem is you can’t get past this without therapy — any maybe not even then. The fear of the blank page is real, even for the most prolific and successful authors.
What you need is a method to circumvent this problem.
How to write effortlessly
This productivity hack (unfortunately, that phrase applies) wasn’t available to previous generations. Hemingway couldn’t use it, even King or Patterson would only be able to call it a recent addition to their toolbox — if Patterson used digital tools. Nevertheless, it is useful.
If writing your first draft is hard, we need a method that isn’t difficult, doesn’t have a chance of being judged, and has already become habitually noncommittal for you. I’m talking about texting.
When you text someone, you are conveying information. Nothing more. It’s easy and doesn’t cause stress.
Ever notice how you can open the notepad on your phone and write about your article or book idea at length, but when you crack open your computer, it’s like you’ve stepped into an octagon? Writing on your notepad feels like texting — any writing on your phone feels like texting. Texting is manageable; it doesn’t scare us.
Whatever you write on — Scrivener, Pages, Word, or even Medium (where I’m writing this) — has a cellphone app. Use that to your advantage to become more prolific.
Writing your first draft on your phone feels so easy I’ll bet you can pump out 200 words while standing in line at the grocery store, or 500 while on the bus. I regularly have three or four entirely written articles in my drafts because I write the first draft on the phone. Every morning, it’s the easiest thing in the world to go through those articles, clean them up, and click publish.
Writing this way is easy because the hard part, the initial words, have already been put down in an effortless manner.
An example workflow
When I’m working on a new book or screenplay, I use the Scrivener or Final Draft apps on my iPhone. Even if I’m at home, I’ll step away from my home office to do it — being in my office feels like I’m working, which can be intimidating. Even if you sit on the couch instead of at your desk, go to lunch, a bar…someplace where you are not “at work.”
Then I’ll at least start the chapter or scene. Sometimes, I fly right through it and even onto another one. Sometimes I only get a few lines of dialogue down before a waitress brings my dinner.
What’s important is my end-of-day word count, which is always 500–2k words higher when I use this technique.Tweet
After you’ve got some words down, it’s time to edit. I like to write during the day and evening and then edit the next morning. I’ve also done it on the same day. What works best is up to your schedule.
Keep at it, make tweaks, and nail down the perfect writing process that works for you. I promise you can be prolific if you can get your head out of the way.