As a professional writer and editor, I’m always on the lookout for practical techniques that can help me overcome my tendency to put off my writing tasks. In his excellent book about writing a memoir, Having the Last Say: Capturing Your Legacy in One Small Story, Alan Gelb offers two very useful and easy-to-implement ideas that can help you conquer procrastination and get more writing done.
The first is freewriting, which he describes as a “powerful procrastination buster and valuable mental exercise that can help get your writing juices flowing.” When you freewrite, he says, all rules and regulations “go out the window.” Just set aside some time, 10 minutes, for instance, to just write. When you’re freewriting, don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, syntax, tense, word choice, or the other things that would normally occupy your conscious mind as you try to craft sentences.
Just write for the time you’ve set for yourself and, when the time is done, look at what you’ve produced. Don’t judge, either. “When it comes to freewriting, there is no good, better, best --or bad, worse, worst.”
“When you’re finished, you’ll look over what you’ve written and who knows? Maybe you’ll find some valuable seeds for future writing exploration. Perhaps a certain phrase will arrest your attention or a metaphor will capture your interest. Even one good word can do a lot to send you in a fruitful direction.”
Gelb shares another practical strategy that he has used to motivate his high school students: Start your first draft by writing it as if you were writing a letter to a friend. “The conversational nature of epistolary writing can help loosen you up enough so that you can produce a good amount of prose that can then be trimmed, massaged, and reworked as necessary.”
I’ve found this technique to be a very powerful way to not only beat procrastination, but to also discover what you really want to say about a topic, and to express it in your most natural voice.
After spending hours working and reworking an article and then publishing it, I’ll share it with an editor or a friend with a short email summarizing the contents. What I’ve often found is that note, which I usually rattle off quickly and without much fuss, forces me to produce an even better articulation of my ideas on the topic, and in a more conversational and persuasive voice.