When you have something to write, do you focus and get it done? Or do competing priorities or back-to-back meetings pull you away, until suddenly you have lots to write and little time to do it?
When you’re pressed for time and need to write, quickly, try these ways to ignore distractions, focus and get it done:
Set the tone
1. Back away from the internet
Do not keep your browser open. Sure, you SAY you’re not going to look, but then you pop online to check a fact (don’t do it; see #4) and next thing you know, an hour has gone past.
2. Turn off notifications
Turn off automatic notifications and those distracting little “dings.” Close your email. Turn off your cellphone completely or leave it in another room, but don’t touch it. If you must, only allow yourself to check for messages after you’ve put in a decent amount of time writing. Five minutes is not a decent amount of time.
3. Set a deadline
Nothing focuses the mind quite like a deadline, or so I’ve found. If you have two weeks to write something, your brain will think you have lots of time and you’ll wait until the last minute. (Remind you of studying for exams in high school?) If you don’t have a deadline at all, the writing will probably drop to the bottom of your priorities.
4. Separate your research from your writing
Don’t stop “to look up a fact, find a quote, or check a figure,” says Ali Hale on DailyWritingTips; you’ll just interrupt your train of thought and waste time trying to get back into the flow. Instead, set aside a block of time to look up facts and figures or whatever else you need. (See #8.)
5. Keep your notes together
I usually start writing by saving all my notes about the topic in a new document. Then I can cut and paste wording as I go along, but still keep extra details and background intact in the original document. Blogger Evan LePage on Hootsuite recommends this, too. He says, “When the notes section disappears, you know you haven’t left anything out, and you can focus instead on tying everything together with your own thoughts.”
6. Keep yourself on track with an outline
An outline can be as simple as writing down the main point you want readers to take away and bullet points you want to cover. Adam Costa on the Grammarly blog says an effective outline collects these “talking points,” which “talk” you through your first draft. (I love the image of Kermit madly pounding the typewriter!)
Separate writing from everything else
7. Allow yourself to write a lousy first draft
Writer Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” Writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant calls it a “crappy first draft,” and author and digital marketer Ann Handley, an “ugly first draft.” Whatever you call it, stop trying to write the perfect first draft with the perfect words and phrases. Just write.
8. Use placeholders for words
It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole trying to come up with just the right words. Instead, highlight the word you want to change and write “ANOTHER WORD FOR X” or “CHECK SPELLING” or “SOMETHING HERE ABOUT Y” to capture your thought but not waste time polishing it. Go back in the editing stage (see #10) and fix it then.
9. Use placeholders for sections
Similar to #8, use placeholders for whole sections. Having a hard time writing the opening sentence? Write “CLEVER OPENING” and get into your writing groove in an area that may take less creativity. Go back once you’ve warmed up.
I often do the same with headlines: “CLEVER HEADLINE HERE.” I’ve only once forgotten to replace a headline placeholder, and the client and I had a laugh about it.
10. Separate writing from editing
Editing while you write slows you down (see #4 and #8) as your creative brain and your critical brain fight for control. Only after you have your lousy first draft done should you go back and fix the parts that needed work or didn’t quite capture your thoughts. Daphne Gray-Grant often talks about this and has seven ways to stop editing while you write.
What other tips help you write quickly? Please share!
Image: Pixabay. This post updates one from 2016.