Writing consistently is hard. Here are 5 tips to make it easier.

I’ve always loved writing, but as a natural perfectionist, it’s been hard to actually publish stuff. I still remember the coffee-fueled, angst-ridden dread associated with the weekly deadline of the column I wrote for my college newspaper, just to get a 300-word story out that barely anyone read [1].

Over the years, I have developed a few tricks to getting my navel-gaving thought out[2]. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Write your ideas down using your phone’s notes app, whenever you have them.

It’s a lot easier to write when you have something coherent to say. For me, I find that my coherent thoughts tend to metastasize either 1) on the train going to work, or 2) on the toilet. Since my phone is usually on hand in either circumstance, I try to punch in my ill-formed thoughts into the notes app.

2. Set a publication deadline < 60 minutes.

The longer that you analyze and polish your story, the lower marginal return that you’ll accrue. Confront the fact that despite your best intentions, 9 out of 10 people won’t even click on your headline, and the other 1 person will spend less than 10 seconds reading it, probably on the toilet.

I told myself that I’d publish this baby by 11pm PST (20 minutes to go).

3. For the headline, write the first conversational thought that pops into your head.

I learned this from reading Buzzfeed articles. Based on the seeming blather that constitutes their headlines, I speculate that this HAS to be the method that they teach their writers to generate headlines. Since their articles are viewed and shared a ton, it probably works.

4. For the lead paragraph, use a hook to get people started.

People are inherently lazy, but once you get them started, they’re also too lazy to stop.

That was an example of a lead paragraph that I learned in high school journalism class. The basic tenet, if I may paraphrase after 20 years, comes down to doing something other than merely describing what you’re writing about.

It doesn’t matter what you write; just zig when you’re expected to zag.

5. Use an odd-numbered list, and refer to it in the headline.

I have no idea why this works, but I read it once before in a Buzzfeed article.

[1] Naming my column after my college girlfriend’s teddy bear (Snuffles) probably didn’t help in expanding readership.

[2] For my Xanga blog, circa 2004.

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