When my sister introduced me to the a cappella group Pentatonix, I was hooked.
It’s probably one of the best a cappella groups I’ve listened to. Each member brings his and her own unique contribution and together they produce a beautiful arrangement of music. You’d be hard pressed to know such magic comes from just five people and without music instruments.
Writing is pretty much like that.
There are several factors that make up writing. And like the Pentatonix, they produce the best possible work when these factors work together in perfect unison.
After studying the best practices of various writers as well as experimenting with myself, I learned a few key factors that contribute to high writing productivity. My blogging efforts were more rewarding once I applied practice and consistency to it.
This means not being hindered by mental block and letting ideas flow freely as you write. I summed up these factors into a triad of main sections.
Ok let’s go over each of these in detail:
#Knowledge (Knowing what to write before you write)
Many bloggers start writing before they get a chance to understand their topic well. Their research often means collecting sources and reading them quick. But they don’t take the time to retain the information and develop their own ideas.
As a result, they hit a dead end during the writing process. After spewing out a few words, they run out of things to say.
Knowing your topic before you start is a powerful strategy to boost your speed.
Just as you won’t go on a long hike without food, first aid kit and other essentials, don’t start writing until you’re fully prepared with enough research to beef up your content. This includes clear explanations of concepts, examples, studies, and anecdotes to illustrate your point.
The more prepared you are, the less likely you’ll find yourself stopping and running out of things to say.
For more on knowing your topic before you write it, read my previous post about researching.
#Constraints (Using limitations for better blogging)
Constraints, as studies have proved, encourage creativity. It may sound counterintuitive but with the right parameters, they can actually help you get the breakthrough you need when you’re blocked.
In her book Creativity from Constraints, author Patricia D. Strokes gives several case studies of creativity at work when paired with constraints. Many of these come from artists who are known for their unique techniques such as Jen Arp and Ellsworth Kelly.
As Stroes says:
“What can we learn by copying or working like a famous artist? It’s not to represent a particular painting, but to discover and practice using the constraints that made the work possible” It’s not by chance that Jean Arp and Ellsworth Kelly are our teachers this time”
When it comes to writing, one great example of using constraints is the haiku – a short three-line poem that contains 17 syllables. Writers of haiku should be able to capture the essence of their message within the compact three lines and the 5/7/5 syllable count.
So how do you add intelligent constraints to your writing?
Here are a few ways:
—Start With the Title
When you start with the title, you set the direction for the entire piece. It forces you to narrow down your focus. As a result, writing will be considerably easier because you have a clear picture of what should go into your piece.
—Set a Tight Deadline
There’s a reason why setting deadlines is an age-old time management advice. Having too much time in your hands can breed procrastination. On the other hand, there’s nothing like the crudity of a deadline to get you moving and anxious to finish that piece.
So set a deadline for each of your writing task. Do this even if you don’t have a boss to answer to. You may also want to break this down further by working in increments. Set a timer for 1 hour and tell yourself to finish the raw draft before the time is up. Next, proofread and copyedit for another hour.
A nice tool for this is the Focus booster app. It has a mini window timer that can stay on top of all your windows so you are able to track how much time you have left while writing.
—Decide On the Target Length
When you have a set word count, your internal gauge will tell you how much preparation and discussing you should do.
For instance, if the goal is 700 words, then you know you can’t possibly squeeze all the how tos of your topic in that short length. Similarly, if your goal is an in-depth 5,500 word guide, then that means you’ll need to dedicate an ample amount of time for research first.
—Write in a Counterintuitive Slant
It’s easy to get bored when you’re writing the same topic over and over again. To add some variety, why not write from the reverse POV?
For example, if you’re writing about diet, some cool examples are “How to Make Sure You Gain Weight in the Next 3 Months” or if you’re writing about Productivity, go for “5 Things To Do in the Morning to Ruin The Rest Of Your Day”.
—Change Your Writing Voice
Avoid being stuck by changing your style every once and a while. Try changing tenses or switching from the first person to the third person (or vice versa). If you’ve been diligently staying on the neutral and safe side, try injecting your own thoughts. Share a personal story, add some humor or do both.
—Focus on One Problem
Really nail down the one pain point of your target readers and offer a solution in its full details. For example, don’t write about how to conduct customer surveys, write about how to deal with customers who ignore survey invitations.
#Psychology (Environment and neuroscience hacks)
In addition to knowledge of your topic and intelligent constraints, brain science also plays a major key in your writing productivity.
Here are some ways to make your environment and your brain function work for you:
—Write When Your Willpower Is Highest
Several studies tell us that willpower is a mental resource that gets depleted – pretty much like non-renewable resources like oil and gas.
A study published by the National Academy of Sciences is one that confirms this. The researchers examined over 1,121 parole board rulings over a 10-month period. Here, judges have to decide whether to grant prisoners parole or not.
Their tasks involve analyzing the case of prisoners one by one and discussing with other board members before deciding whether a criminal should be released from prison or not. It was a mentally arduous task that drains their energy as the day wore on.
What the study revealed is that prisoners who had their trials in the morning got 65% chances of being paroled while those who had their trial in the afternoon had only 10% chances of being released from prison. This trend stays consistent regardless of the crime committed whether it’s murder, assault theft, embezzlement and rape.
As it turns out, our willpower runs out as we expend energy and decisions throughout the day.
So when it comes to writing, try doing it in the morning when your willpower is still high. Brian Tracy, in his book Eat That Frog, 21 Great Ways to Start Procrastination and Get More Done in Less Time, supports this idea. He explains that doing your most difficult task in the morning gives your energy and willpower the best chance.
Bluma Zeigarnik, a Russian psychologist discovered the Zeigarnik effect after her professor noticed how a waiter seems to be dedicated to the order he’s currently serving before moving to the next. Once an order was completed, he was unable to remember any more details of that order.
The Zeigarnik effect states that once we have started something, we become focused on completing it. Otherwise, we experience a disconnect.
So the lesson here is to just start somewhere. Anywhere.
I like starting my writing the traditional way — that is, from the headline, then the intro and all the way through the rest of the content.
But there’s no wrong in starting anywhere. If you don’t have an intro in mind yet but have great ideas for your subheads, feel free to start there.
—Go for Natural Lighting
Sleep researchers suggest that natural lighting keeps our body clock in its natural rhythm. On the other hand, artificial lighting causes our cortisol levels to drop leading to lower energy levels and stress.
This study shows that people who are exposed to natural lighting are more alert compared to their peers who are exposed to artificial lighting.
Since your energy levels are in question, it only makes sense to pay attention to the lighting you use to give your writing productivity an advantage. If you’re working in a windowless room, consider moving your workstation near a window so you can bathe in sunlight while working.
—Tune In to the Right Sounds
Studies have shown that sounds can also boost your focus. But not just any sound. Obviously, heavy metal music and wailing sirens are the last things you want to listen to if you want to be productive.
Experts explain that ambient noise such as that in coffee shops is the “sweet spot” for getting that creativity juices flowing.
For this purpose, some great sources I found are Coffeetivity, Ambient Mixer and Focus at Will. Find out which type of sound works for you. I find that coffee shop sounds work way better for me than soft music. But still, both of these significantly help my focus rather than writing in complete silence.
—Add Some Ardor To Your Work
Shawn Achor, author of the The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, suggests that positive psychology has a direct impact on our productivity.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. When we’re on a writing groove and the words just flow freely, we usually feel energetic and a sense of purpose on what we do. In contrast, when we don’t feel like writing, we feel sluggish and uninspired.
So consider adding positivism in your writing. There are several ways to do this which I’ve talked about in the previous post.
How to Use The Above Advice
All of these suggestions may seem wonderful but overwhelming. I don’t suggest you follow all of these at once.
Begin by picking one that you feel you need to work on most — say, ramping up on your retention of your topic before writing it — and work on that until it becomes natural to you every time you tackle a writing task.
Eventually, incorporate another advice into your workflow and see your productivity improve.
And when it does, don’t forget to share your success to us!