5 insights on how to start and keeping writing

The hardest thing for most people to do is actually to start writing, to actually sit down at your desk, open up a new document and start. It’s the moment of truth . . . can you actually follow through and start the process.

So, you’ve committed, worked out who your audience is, what you have to say and set a deadline (see my previous post 4 tips on how to start writing). Now you have to actually start writing.

This sounds easy but it can be a challenge if you are out of practice or haven’t really written anything other than a proposal for your business, a paper to present to the management team/CEO or an article to share on LinkedIn.

Let’s face it, most people don’t write anymore. Sorry, Facebook posts, Tweets, SlideShare presentations don’t count as writing in terms of creating a book (although they might be the spark of an idea for one).

Writing more than 500-1,000 words takes practice and there’s no way around it. If you haven’t written anything for a while here are 5 insights on how to start and keeping writing.

1. Start

The hardest thing for most people to do is actually to start writing, to actually sit down at your desk, open up a new document and start. It’s the moment of truth . . . can you actually follow through and start the process.

To make this critical moment easier put a date and time in your diary for when you are going to start. Make sure you have a desk/table in a place where you won’t be disturbed, turn-off the auto-email notification button, put your phone on silent, type in a heading on your new document and start. (The Snoopy cartoon idea is not such a bad one).

2. Stay focused

Depending on your concentration span, you might need to actively stay focused on writing. There’s any number of distractions that can get in the way of writing, and many are often quite welcome.

Resist the urge to ‘just answer that call,’ just peek at the email, make a cup of tea/get a cup of coffee . . . anything.

I can sit at my desk for 5-6 hours writing, but I’m a bit unusual as I have been known to write for 10-15 hours a day for 7 days in a row if I am in the groove. You should aim to spend at least one hour per session, if not two. You will get through a substantial amount of writing

3. Be organised

If you need to reference books, documents, papers, presentations or your own notes, make sure you have them all ready and easily accessible. For me, the number one time waster when I am writing is the time taken to try and find that quote, piece of information I’ve read and want to refer to, or the highlighted part of an article.

Make sure you have everything you need and you can open and move between multiple, open, documents on your computer. It might take a while for you to work out a system that works for you (and there are plenty available). Whatever ‘system’ you come up with, it has to be easy and simple for you to use.

4. Don’t self-edit

When I am asked about how I know what to write I reply by saying, ‘Just start and write what you know. Don’t worry too much about how it comes out to begin with. The key thing is to get your thoughts and ideas down.’

If you are writing a thought-leadership piece or putting your IP into words, and you’ve worked on the structure of what you want to say beforehand, just write it as it comes.

Once you’ve got it down you can go back to it and rework or rewrite it, but you’ve got to have something written first.

If you’re stuck with writing it down try thinking about how you’d explain what you want to write to someone in a conversation. . . .and then write this down.

5. Activate your Autosave and backup

Most writers can tell a story about the time they lost a piece of writing whether it be a whole book, chapter, a mornings’ work or even the latest (and of course always the best) version of a document.

I’ve got several stories and now backup, save, duplicate and save again . . . all the time.

You simply cannot rely on Auto recovery to save a document accurately. In any case, Auto recovery does not apply to your computer being stolen, the hard drive being corrupted by a virus, blowing up because you’ve spilt coffee on it or someone (usually a child) accidently wiping your folders.

You only have to lose your work once to become slightly paranoid.

When I was close to finishing a 200,000 word book on Australian business (back in the day when there were Floppy Discs), at the end of each day I would copy the whole file, take several discs down the road to a friend’s house and then pick them up in the morning ‘in case there was a fire’ at my place.

Set your computer to back-up automatically every five minutes. If you’re not on Cloud (well even if you are), buy a hard drive and back up once a day (and unplug the hard drive when you turn your computer off).

You have been warned.

6. (well a repeat of No. 2) Stay focused 

This is worth repeating. If you’ve been at your desk for an hour or two the temptation is to ‘just’ go and do something that you’ve been meaning to do, or reply to those phone calls/emails/texts, whatever. Don’t!

Set the time you are going to spend on your writing and stick to it.

Ideally, set the days and times you are going to write and stick to them. Others around you will learn that these are your writing days/times and will adjust. You will too. It’ll also help you stay focused and get organised.

Let me know if these have helped.