How to improve your writing productivity with one simple rule
Reflecting on one year of consistent writing
I’ve been able to maintain a consistent writing schedule for over a year now, despite all of the turmoil that 2020 has brought.
For 52 weeks, I’ve published something consistently at least once a week, sometimes twice. This is on top of work and other personal projects that I’ve been working on.
I won’t say that it’s all been amazing writing (in fact, there’s one I unlisted because it was so bad), but I’ve been able to be productive based on one rule.
Whenever I’m stuck, it’s because I don’t know enough.
That rule alone has helped me overcome creative blocks more than I can count. And it can help you just the same.
My writer’s block experiment
When I decided to publish once a week, it was an experiment to try and help me deal with writer’s block.
Writer’s block takes a different form for all of us, but for me, it usually took the form of one of three approaches:
- I feel like I have no new ideas/bad ideas
- I kind of know what I want to say, but the words aren’t coming out
- I feel like I’m repeating myself from past works
In the past, I would spend time mulling over the exact wording. I’d re-work one sentence or paragraph over and over again, trying to create the perfect piece.
But that sentiment made it too easy to never publish, and just play around with drafts whenever I had time.
So doing this experiment was an attempt to kick my butt into publishing constantly.
It honestly sucked at times: starting out, I felt like my words and thoughts were incredibly disorganized and didn’t really make any sense.
But the consistency of publishing even flawed works allowed me to find my voice.
However, it wasn’t until I applied my rule that I began to touch on things that my audience truly cared about.
Reading and writing, two sides of the same coin
Very early on into my experiment, I found that I’d run out of things to write about unless I spent a significant amount of time reading.
The simple fact of the matter was that I couldn’t come up with enough good ideas just by sitting down and thinking about it.
This was especially true as my focus began to shift from general productivity to writing about specific niches (such as Healthcare or Data Visualization).
So to maintain my pace, I found myself dedicating equal amounts of time to reading and writing.
It’s something that seems like it should be common knowledge, and yet we often forget about this when it comes to writer’s block.
So here’s how my rule has helped me in the types of writer’s blocks I’ve had.
I have no new ideas/bad ideas:
This one is by far the easiest for the rule to deal with. If I have no new ideas, I need to do something to generate new ideas. And while I think I’m somewhat creative, I don’t think my writing is suited towards coming up with them by myself.
So when I read other people’s works, I’m inspired by their findings, the ideas they present, or just more knowledge. Breathing in by reading allows me to learn new things for myself, which I can then turn into writing by breathing out.
I kind of know what I want to say, but the words aren’t coming out:
This was the piece that I used to struggle with the most. I’d have an idea that I felt was really good, but I would be struggling to piece together the words to say it.
But something that I learned in grad school is that if you can’t explain it, you don’t really know it. And what I mean by that is the difference between Information and Knowledge.
Do you have a somewhat shallow understanding of something, to the point where you’re largely just quoting and repeating sources? That’s Information. There’s a ton of information out there, but just touching on information is not really engaging writing.
To get to the next stage, you need to have a deep enough understanding to not only summarize but synthesize the data. You need to be able to explain it, in your own words, to others.
Writing isn’t just summarizing whatever information you want to talk about.
It’s about using your voice to give your own viewpoint about whatever subject you want to talk about.
And the only way to get that deep understanding of something is to learn more.
I feel like I’m repeating myself with past works:
This one might be something that more intermediate writers run into, but it can still apply to people starting out as well.
As you begin to find your writing niche (i.e. the general subjects you want to focus on), you may find that some of the major ideas or concepts are worth revisiting. But when you do, you might feel like you’re just saying the same thing as you did previously.
But one of the things you have to remember is that you’re not the same writer you were when you originally wrote that piece.
So as you’re revisiting a subject, think about all you’ve learned since then. Do you understand an author’s viewpoint better, now that you’ve read other sources? Has your viewpoint on the subject changed? Or are you trying to make another point about the same concept?
If you can’t answer those questions, then it’s time to seek out more sources of knowledge.
Going around roadblocks
One of the things that you learn with the consistency approach is that you need to keep moving, no matter the case.
While it sounds great to break through your creative brick walls, it’s often more efficient to simply back up and take an alternative route.
Over the past year, I’ve found that the best alternative route is usually found by learning more about the subject.
As you learn more about the subject, you learn not only how to explain it to others, but also how other people think about the subject and whether you agree with it or not.
So the next time that you’re stuck writing something, or if you’re trying to become more consistent, it may be useful to simply stop banging your head against the wall.
Just take a step back and try to learn more about the subject. You may find exactly what you want to talk about along the way.