On How to Write
Posted by: Alex Linley (we’ve introduced this since we realised that the email update doesn’t include the names of our blog posters…)
As someone who has written and published consistently across my career, I’m often asked for advice on how to write. Usually, this question is prompted by a person who has a plan to write something (a report, a proposal, a dissertation, an article, a book), yet they can’t seem to get started.
Here are the five key things I have learned along the way that help me to find my muse and overcome my lizard brain. They are written especially for two friends who have a vitally important book to write and need to get started:
1. Write in a medium that works for you. I often start these blogs in an email, since, like many people, I write hundreds of emails a week. Doing what I do naturally means that I am straight into it and don’t get hung up by being faced with a blank page, the cursor blinking at me…For you it might be pen and paper, the notepad on your iPad, the Evernote app, or speaking into your Dictaphone. Whatever works for you – use it.
2. Write even if it’s wrong. Whenever I start to write, it’s never perfect first time. Certainly, it gets easier and better with practice, but I have never written something that was perfect first time. It just doesn’t happen. Instead, I often find that I need to write garbage and get it out of my system, then the good stuff starts to flow. Don’t be held back by thinking you need to be perfect first time. You won’t be.
3. Write notes, not novels. You’re unlikely to sit down and write whatever you are writing from start to finish without a plan, without notes or sketches or mind maps to refer back to. Capture your thoughts and ideas as you go, then rearrange them into your plan before you start to write again – if you even need a plan, that is. Sometimes it’s better just to write, then edit and re-organise as you go.
4. Write every day. A number of years back a friend and I met famous psychologist Roy Baumeister at the International Positive Psychology Summit in Washington DC. My friend, Meliksah, asked him, “How have you written so much in your career?” “I write every day”, was his simple answer. Every day he made progress against his writing goals. Of course, this is the man who brought us the excellent Willpower: Rediscovering our Greatest Strength. (You might remember this from my post on The Decision Toll of Being The Decider on The Capp Blog).
5. Write or do nothing. Author Raymond Chandler is cited in Willpower as saying that he is productive because he sets himself the task to “write or do nothing”. No emails, no web surfing, no phoning a friend for a chat. If he is committed to write, he writes or does nothing. As he explains it, when you have this stark choice, you’d be surprised how quickly you get down to writing.
Knowing – and practicing – these five tips will make a more productive writer of anyone. If you’re still struggling, and want to understand why, then discover what you need to do to overcome the lizard brain that lurks to distract all of us. Overcome the lizard brain with Seth Godin’s excellent Linchpin.
Have you found these writing tips useful? Are there others you’d like to share? Comment on The Capp Blog.