For about five months, I wrote blog posts for a marketing firm here in Dallas. It sounds glamorous, but it’s actually more humorous. Or laborious.
Each week, my very friendly boss sent me an order for a dozen or so articles for various companies. I had the distinct privilege to write about motor oil, agribusiness, nutritional supplements, and other fascinating topics. I learned about call center management and bedroom decorating and gynecological surgery. Stuff I didn’t know that I didn’t want to know.
But it was a job, and it taught me a lot. For instance, I have learned numerous reasons why I should be eating protein for breakfast. Bring on the huevos rancheros.
I have also learned a lot more about writing.
After a few weeks, I could see definite progress as a result of writing a couple thousand words every day. The mental exercise and physical discipline of BIS (butt in seat) day in and day out taught me things about my own writing and the writing process itself that I would not have known for months or years otherwise.
There are several things that surprised me after writing about 2000 words a day, five days a week, for several months.
1. I can write a lot faster than I thought I could.
If you had asked me a year ago to write you a 500-word article on any topic, it would likely have taken me an hour to write it and another hour or so to edit it before I turned it in. That’s 120 minutes for 500 words, a pretty lousy average. By the time I had been writing regularly for a couple weeks, I was seeing rapid improvement in my rate. I’m now at 20-30 minutes total for 500 words, depending on the topic.
2. The topic is everything.
Whether or not I finished 500 words in less than 30 minutes depended on the topic. If it were something very unfamiliar to me, it would be very hard to finish in a half an hour. But if I had even a casual understanding of the topic, the time and the words would fly by.
I also noticed that it is entirely too easy to waste time searching for a topic. It’s the writing that counts, so the topic had to be there faster.
Sometimes Often I had to force myself to write about a topic I didn’t enjoy or care about or even like. But if I reminded myself that this was the task at hand and it just had to be done, the agony was over faster.
I wonder how often I should just quit fussing about exactly what I want to say and just say it and move on.
3. An outline is essential.
I quickly fell into a comfortable yet very workable habit. Every article followed the same recipe:
– Choose a topic.
– Give it a title.
– Outline the reasons or process.
– Write an introduction.
– Explain each point of the outline.
– Conclude it quickly.
So that outline became the basis of the entire piece. If I took the time to outline (which only took about three minutes of brainstorming), the entire article would flow quickly. A few times I tried to skip the outline, and I found my writing a tangled mess and was a real pain to untangle. That cost me more time than it was worth.
4. A deadline overcomes resistance.
My boss gave me a deadline, and I mentally gave myself an even stricter deadline. I cannot bring myself to count on the last day of any time period being available for use. So I would divide the work among the remaining days, again, assuming I will be exponentially less productive as time goes by. So now I’ve created an impossibly stressful worst-case-scenario to work under. To make it more relaxing, I turn on my Windows 8 timer app to count down from 30 or 45 minutes right in front of my face while I’m writing.
And I type like my very keyboard will rise up against me.
It works. Almost every day I wrote more than I anticipated and in less time than I thought possible. I recently heard Mary DeMuth say that setting artificial deadlines — and beating them — was an integral part to her own writing growth.
5. I can write it.
There was always, every week, one or two assignments that I honestly thought I couldn’t pull off. There were topics I didn’t understand, assignments I just couldn’t comprehend, and clients who were past pleasing. Every single week. And I would start to write an email to my boss to tell her why I couldn’t do that one, then I would make myself just try before giving up.
I would try, grumbling to myself (and sometimes to my family). Every single time, lo and behold, I pulled it off. Presto! Words about something I don’t know! And someone else likes it! BINGO!
I wonder how often I make excuses to myself, how often I say, “I can’t,” how often I give up when if I just tried, I could make a difference.
So today I wrote 2000 words for myself. Topics I care about, things I know, stuff on my own mind.
And it felt great.
What could you accomplish if you just made yourself practice every day?