Struggling to Write Consistently? Here’s What You Might Be Overlooking
If you’re like me, you’ve struggled to produce your own content for, like, forever. Sure, you can write when it’s required, say, for a project or a proposal or a marketing collateral. But for your own self? Pffft.
But you read all the right books about writing, pore over articles about producing content, idolize amazing writers, and bask in great writing, but the one thing that you should be doing — actually writing consistently — remains hopelessly out of reach.
There’s a lot of well meaning advice out there about how to do that, but there are some things that I had to discover for myself in my journey to become a consistent content producer. Over the past few weeks, I’ve made some breakthroughs that have permanently changed the way I will produce content. I’m thrilled to share them with you.
Establish a note-taking habit first
Last year, I had a hunch that the key for me to consistently write was the ability to collect my thoughts, ideas, and observations on life as they happened, as close to real-time as possible. In other words, journaling. It’s like taking notes in class, but this time, the subject is life.
Since that revelation, I have had half-hearted attempts to journal. It wasn’t until 11 days ago that I had a breakthrough that allowed me to journal for 11 days straight. Don’t laugh! Believe it or not, that’s the longest streak I’ve ever had.
Two things enabled me to make this small achievement: a strong reason and the technique of habit-coupling.
Why keep a journal?
So how did I finally convince myself of the importance of journaling?
That’s right, a sentence with seven words from an article about keeping a journal convinced me to finally record my life in writing. Here goes:
A life worth living is worth recording. — Jim Rohn
Powerful, right? I believe that it’s our responsibility to make our life mean something. And I have burning desire to create a life worth living. I looked into the future and I knew that my future self would want a record of my journey, with all its struggles and successes, so that I can share it with others.
I know I promised that this post is about addressing your struggle to write. But you have to start with your why.
What do you want your life to mean? To what should you dedicate your life? If you haven’t seriously asked these questions, read this and then come back.
That’s where you’ll find your power.
Not convinced yet? Okay, here’s a good excerpt from a Zen Habits article:
Keep a journal. Seriously. Your memory is extremely faulty. I forget things really easily. Not short-term stuff, but long-term. I don’t remember things about my kids’ early years, because I didn’t record any of it. I don’t remember things about my life. It’s like a lot of foggy memories that I’ll never have access to. I wish I had kept a journal.
Couple your new habits with old ones
The second thing I did to consistently make that streak was something called habit-coupling.
So the way it works is that you attach or “couple” the habit you’re trying to develop with some other habit that’s already firmly established. In my case, I just followed Leo of Zen Habit’s example of journaling while drinking coffee. I’m addicted to coffee and drink it everyday without fail, making it a perfect habit to which I’ve attached my journaling time.
But it doesn’t stop there. That’s just the bare minimum. It’s also vital to record insights and observations throughout the day as they race across your brain. You might not think so much of that but I’m telling you how big a difference it makes. I wouldn’t have been able to write this article without my notes. Once I had a list of notes about my observations and realizations, good websites I’ve found, clippings of remarkable articles, accomplishments, and struggles, everything clicked.
With those notes in hand, your writing process will be much smoother. Without them, it would be like trying to cook without ingredients.
Don’t go full paperless
If I were to say this to my previous self from a year ago, she would have thought me blasphemous and insane. “But the trees,” she would say. “The purity of digital,” she would cry.
Baloney. Maybe it works differently if you grow up digital, but if like me, you were caught in the transition into the full digital era, you would never be able to get rid of your fondness for paper.
The benefits of handwriting are well known: better retention, more thoughtfulness, and higher creativity. But the one great benefit everyone else overlooks is that writing on a physical notebook puts you into a production mindset because there is nothing else to consume on your notebook other than your previous writing. Whereas a smartphone or a computer puts you into a consumption mindset because there are so many ways to get input that it overwhelms your ability to actually create something.
Now I’m not saying to give up digital completely. That would be absurd. As a tech-oriented person, I still prefer digital for the most part. I have a huge collection of notes in Evernote, which I adore. All I’m saying is, don’t discount the power of handwriting.
Last week, I bought a gorgeous notebook and a pen from Muji. The ink flowed so magically that I was moved to just write. And I have had some amazing revelations and clarity while doing so.
Sure, tools like Evernote are great for capturing and making sure that all your thoughts are indexed and searchable; but nothing beats handwriting for gaining clarity. So let that ink flow onto those crisp pages and you will gain insights you’ve never had before.
Use the Genius Writing Method to separate yourself into two
I named the Genius Writing Method after the movie “Genius.” In the biopic, the protagonist is Tom Wolfe, an up and coming writer with a tendency to just vomit manuscripts. His first manuscript consisted of 333,000 words. Wow. Fortunately, his work was accepted and shaped into a bestseller by legendary editor Max Perkins, who edited the writings of the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
I wondered how Tom was able to write so prolifically and came up with the hypothesis that he didn’t have an internal editor or that he had the ability to turn it off. So my idea was to separate myself into two: one that would just write, then another that would edit.
As an experiment, I wanted to see what would happen if I removed my internal editor and just tried to finish a tiny story by convincing myself not to worry about it being crap since a separate editor persona will edit the work later. Surprise of surprises, 14 pages later, I did finish the story. It was hilariously bad, but I was able to prove to myself that I can indeed write a lot as long as I did not have an internal editor to stop me. In that process, I accomplished something that I’ve never done before — actually finish a tiny story.
If you’re experiencing creative constipation, I can attest to the power of the Genius Method. If you’re having trouble with your internal editor, try to do it sequentially. Tell yourself not to worry about the mess you’re making because another part of yourself will take care of it later. Your ruthless editor-self will shape it eventually into a semblance of something readable.
Address your fear of people stealing your ideas
As I go through my day, my brain would bug me with many ideas for new businesses, design and software development projects, and other crazy things. I’ve learned to capture these by way of Evernote but a lot of these ideas simply go to die without having served any useful purpose since I have chosen not to implement them. What a waste, right? I decided, instead of hoarding them, I will just share my ideas, doodles and sketches with the world so that other people may benefit from them.
In the words of James Altucher:
By giving away your ideas, you’re showing people a few things about you. You’re the type of person who can come up with ideas that can help them.
For example, these are the ideas I’ve freely shared in some discussion groups over the last week:
- Device as a service — Setting up an Open Device Lab-type of business in our area
- A potential market for Ergotron-style sit-stand desks in our local market
- Finding unmet customer needs through Stack Overflow/Exchange and support forums — I’ll talk about this some more in a future post
Look, I get it. Writing is hard. Producing content consistently is hard. I’ve been there. And I’m not quite there yet, but I’m making progress. That’s all you gotta do. I hope my small discoveries will help you on your way to a fulfilling life.