Writing Mistakes I’ve Made and How I Try To Avoid Them
I’m cautious to make the claim that I can help those of you that are real writers, because I just dabble in this as a hobby. But I am confident that if you write, particularly if you write more than a few articles a month, you will become more productive by following a writing process.
I am a computer programmer by trade. The software development processes I learned are important to me when I write code — they increase my productivity. My experience as a programmer is the reason I developed my own process for writing.
By following a writing process, I can (usually) avoid the productivity killing phenomenon of “paralysis by analysis” that slows down my output.
What is Paralysis by Analysis
Paralysis by analysis is the result of over-thinking a situation so that a decision never gets made. By continuing to analyze options, you get stuck in a loop of inaction, and your desired outcome is delayed or, worst case, never achieved.
In the case of writing, the following factors contribute to the state of analysis paralysis:
- Too many options: Do you have a ton of topics, ideas, or targeted keywords?
- Making the simple difficult: Do you have a hard time picking what to write about next?
- Trying to be perfect: Are you afraid to publish or ship your product because you just need to polish it up just a little more?
As an example, have you ever started the day intending to write an article and never got started?
You get out of bed, do some exercise, take a shower, eat breakfast, then retreat to your writing spot to get going. What is the first thing you do after you sit down?
Do you just sit there and start writing or do you have a “creative process” that you follow?
I use a process to enable my writing. I developed it over the past few years by trial and error, and turned what worked into a set of repeatable steps.
Even with this homegrown writing process, my days can end up like this if I’m not careful:
- Look through my Super Secret List of Killer Ideas to see which one jumps out at me. Nothing.
- I turn to my SEO tool to perform keyword searches on an idea I had in the shower.
- A few keywords satisfy my criteria for target search volume and competition, so I file them away. I then think to myself: “I’m so smart and clean.”
- I draft a few headlines using the recently discovered keywords.
- I open my idea list looking for something associated with these keywords. Nothing. I try to make some ideas fit. I start on a draft or two, and nothing flows. Pull up my draft headlines. Start looping between keywords, ideas, and headlines. My eyelid starts twitching. Gah, FML!
- By now I’m more than a little hangry, so I make a snack. “Meh, I wonder what’s on TV?” Day over.
That is not how it is supposed to work. Did you see where I entered the “paralysis by analysis” phase of my writing session? I went completely off the rails during Step 5.
How To Keep From Entering a Paralysis Loop
Create your list.
I have a huge list of ideas that I would like to turn into articles one day, but the reality is that’s simply not possible. I would spend days working through this list, looking for something that I feel like writing about, never landing on anything solid, and give up.
Even though I Suck at Search Engine Optimization, it is a valuable tool in my toolbox. I use a SEO tool to find keywords related to my target ideas, and these keywords make it into my articles. I also use SEO techniques to prioritize the ideas in my list.
Prioritization of ideas is how I reduce my options. In addition to research for new keywords, I use a few SEO factors to prioritize my list of article ideas. I prioritize based on a combination of search volume and competitiveness. The ideas that rank highest based on these factors get written about, those that rank lower might never see the light of day.
Reduce your options: keep a list of ideas, ordered by priority. The ones at the bottom might not make it.
Keep it simple.
Once you have your prioritized list of ideas, pick the one at the top and start writing. Your prioritization methods will differ from mine and you need to determine what criteria would motivate you to write.
Part of keeping it simple is not agonizing over the decision. Save the energy for those ideas that do require serious thought and consideration. This is writing, it has it challenges, but it is something you want to do.
Keep it simple: write based on priority.
Stop trying to be perfect.
If you are like me, you want everything to be perfect. But that’s not possible.
I’m not that good at punctuation and grammar. I write like I talk, and sometimes it’s really hard to read, my spelling might (will) be off, and the headlines and section breaks will often make no sense.
I feel most productive, and create some pretty decent stuff, when I am just writing like I am talking to a group of friends.
Stop trying to be perfect: it’s not possible.
And finally, give yourself a break.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
I will have weeks where I am totally flowing and can crank out a few articles a day. And then there are other times, like the past two weeks, when the days disappear and I honestly haven’t accomplished a thing.
It’s OK to not get anything done, sometimes. Our brains need time to recover. These creative slumps are a good time to read, exercise, and do other things that help you recharge.
- Find or develop a writing process that works for you, your productivity will improve.
- Keep your options to a minimum, a huge list of article ideas can be daunting.
- Make it simple to decide what you are going to write about.
- Stop trying to be perfect. Hasn’t happened yet, and it’s not going to.
- Go easy on yourself. This is something you want to do, so enjoy it.