When we say “I’m writing”, most of us mean the process of putting words on a page and editing them as we go along. Meanwhile, creating content and editing it should be two separate things. That’s why I like to separate writing in drafting and editing.
But in order to write without judging our own words we need to tell the little editor persona in our own brains to shut up and go do something else. I have discovered a way for myself to do that. Now I would like to help you do the same.
You might be looking for time to journal and process your thoughts. Or you want to find time to write your blog posts. Maybe you finally want to make progress on your novel or screenplay.
This guide and the checklist that I created for you to download will help you figure out the practicalities. It doesn’t matter what you want to work on. What you end up writing is 100% up to you.
How to Send the Editor Away
While preaching to my clients how they should be keeping their drafting and editing tasks separate, I was secretly absolutely not doing that myself. I was breaking my own rules — mostly because I had not yet found a way to shut the editor up.
But, a while ago, I implemented a new morning routine which, inadvertently, led me to find out how to shut that blasted editor in my brain up. I mainly kick-off my mornings with 20 minutes of meditation now, followed by 30 to 60 minutes of drafting.
I started this practice because I was looking for a way to get my own writing done. When your job includes writing for your clients, you can easily fall behind on your own stuff.
In the evenings, I was usually too wiped to be creative, so I had to try mornings, no matter how useless I thought myself to be in the a.m. I still am absolutely terrible at mornings. I’m simply not fully awake. But, surprisingly, that was the key to unlocking efficient creative time.
In the morning, thoughts and ideas just go around in my mind like bumper cars gone wild. I’m so unfocused that I’m not yet able to put drivers in all of the cars, so they bumble around aimlessly. There’s a gloried freedom to this, though. When the filter is turned off, I am free to put words to the page without judging each and every one of them. The editor is still fast asleep.
How to Unlock Your Time for Writing New Content
I believe that everyone can unlock the perfect circumstances to create new content. All it takes is a little bit of experimentation and some patience.
Find your ideal writing time
The first thing you need to do to keep your writer and your editor personas apart is finding out when your ideal writing time is. For me, it’s as close to waking up as humanly possible, but feel free to experiment.
Maybe your editor is an early bird and nods off at 10 pm, leaving your night owl writer to secretly hammer out good stuff after the editor has gone to bed. Or maybe your editor doesn’t deal well with the afternoon post-lunch slump.
Try out some different methods. Give it a week before you decide whether it’s working or not. Iterate until you find your ideal writing time.
Make your writing time truly yours
In my experience, it helps to set your routine up to be a comfy blanket. Sometimes I want music on, sometimes I don’t. Oddly, the later it is in the morning, the more I need music to distract the editor persona. When the morning is still early and quiet, I’m fine without headphones.
My cup of tea is a must. If I write for an hour I might make a second cup. I also sit at a different spot at the dining table than I usually occupy when working or eating. All of this helps to make my daily writing time part of me-time.
Figure out what works for you. Find the perfect spot in your home, at a coffee shop, outside…whatever works for you. Come up with your ideal setup. And then make your writing time your happy place.
Turn off distractions
Unless the house is coming down around us, my wife knows not to talk to me during that hour in the morning. It took a few days, though, because I’m an idiot and forgot to tell her what I was doing. So, be smarter than me, and alert others to what you’re up to.
Turn off distractions by telling the people around you that you won’t be available for the next X minutes or until the headphones come off. Regardless of whether you have music on, headphones can be a good signal for others to see you’re doing focused work. Turn off emails, Slack, Facebook, Twitter and whatever else might distract you.
Find your ideal time frame
Figure out how long you want to write. For me, 30 minutes to an hour is perfect. After that, tea and time have done their thing, and I can feel the editor beginning to stir. Then I know it’s time to finish quickly before she has something to say about my draft.
If you tend to go down the rabbit hole once you write, either set an alarm or keep a time tracker running so you don’t lose track of time. If you generally track your time for work and other tasks, I’d suggest you also track your writing time.
Of course, it’s me-time and enjoyable, but it is also work and your time tracking should reflect that. You’ve done something productive and should reward yourself by enjoying that feeling.
Leave yourself prompts
We’ve established that we need to shut the editor up. But, for instance, if you need to quickly look a word up, that’s perfectly fine, as long as you don’t lose minutes pondering alternative ways to say what you want to say. Anything else that doesn’t hinder your writing flow is okay.
Leave yourself clues in the text. I like to use “(Sp?)” if I want to check the spelling of a word later, or <LINK> if I know there’s an older blog post or an article I want to link to. If it would take too long to look a word up, I use a placeholder instead like: <find synonym>.
I mostly use Google Docs for my daily writing and I make good use of the comment function. I’ll leave myself comments like “research” or “find source” or “link to blog post about tools”.
Quick Tip: In Google Docs on a Mac CMD+ALT+M will quickly bring up the comment field, and you can confirm the comment with CMD+Enter. That way you won’t even have to leave the keyboard and use the trackpad or mouse. Minimum workflow interruption!
But, whatever you do, when you’re done drafting, you’re done for the day. Try not to read what you’ve written right away or you will be tempted to edit. Just close the document and let it sit there for a while.
Let the Editor Have a Go
It’s important to realise that this thing you’ve created will always only be a draft. It might be a really good draft, or it might be all over the place. But it will always need editing afterwards.
So, come back to it in a few days and let the editor do her thing. Don’t worry if she thinks a lot needs to be changed. It’s not personal; she’s just doing her job.
Sometimes, editing will be a lot of work. You might find that your initial draft is completely unstructured or, worse, badly structured. That can take a lot of time to fix.
Other times the draft will be good and only require a little bit of editing, taking out a word here, replacing one there. Don’t worry if your draft doesn’t really have an ending. Many times, you will only be able to write a conclusion of sorts during the editing process.
Over time, the editing work will also give you a clearer view of whether your writing time is working out for you or whether you might need to change it up still.
Keep an Ideas Folder
Often I will just pick one of the topics swirling around in my mind and write about whatever I can think of. Sometimes I’ll draw a blank, though, and there’s nothing more frustrating than sitting down to write and not knowing what to write about.
Keep an ideas file going for this purpose — some place where you jot down ideas for blog posts you want to write in the future. That can be a document or a note on your computer or in the cloud. It can be an old-school notebook, your Evernote or a folder in your Email app to which you keep sending ideas via email.
I currently use a separate label in my Todoist. That way I also get to check something off after writing it. But I’m in the process of moving all my content ideas to a content planning sheet.
If you’re not journaling for the moment, but working on your blog posts or articles, make sure you don’t lose track of your drafts. Schedule editing time — otherwise your work will never see the light of day.
Ready to start writing? Check out my prompts sheet; it’s full of ideas for you to try out to find your writing mojo!