Now that we are firmly into the new year (I’m not even writing 2011 any more; are you?), most of us have realized that we either are or are not going to make a decent go of our New Year’s resolutions. As for me, I didn’t so much make resolutions as I decided to make over certain aspects of my life, but even that nearly didn’t get off the ground. Over the last couple years, I’ve discovered that probably the barrier that most of us have to face as free lancers is the Great Wall of Inefficiency.
It’s damn hard to make time to do your freelance work when you have so many other obligations going on, from your “real job” to kids, housework, a marriage or relationship that will always need tending (if you want to keep it happy and healthy) to a gazillion other things that are far less meaningful (like Facebook, Twitter, television, etc.). Meaningful or not, these are all things that suck time away, suck energy away, and sometimes create that awful black hole of ennui that keeps us from our writing.
“Tried and True” are Tried and True for a Reason
Since I started my freelancing career almost two years ago, I’ve found a few tried and true tricks that have helped keep me focused and on track, and that have also helped me keep money coming in the door. At the beginning for me, the biggest hurdle to writing was time management. I would sit down to my computer, and time would slip away into nothingness. I’d look up and see that an hour had gone by, and oops, I’d wasted it. So I realized quickly that I had to end that model of behavior and switch into something else that was going to help me achieve my goals, not impede me from my goals. Since then, I’ve found five techniques that help me achieve my daily writing goals:
- Your Fourth Grade Basic Outline. When I was in fourth grade, my teacher Mrs. Close taught us how to write a basic outline for our reports. Guess what? Outlining really works, because it gives you an immediate focus to your writing. Once you’ve accomplished your research, you should be able to whip off an outline for a blog post in five to ten minutes. Boom! 25 percent of your work is done.
- The Seven-Minute Clean Up. When my kids were little, I invented a game called the seven-minute clean up. I’d set the timer for seven minutes and we’d all rush around like crazy people seeing how much we could get picked up in seven minutes. The kids knew that if the timer went off and everything was picked up, we wouldn’t have to set the timer again. We became a model of efficiency when it came to cleaning up the detritus of daily household life. Since then, I’ve found that this technique actually has a name, and lots of other writers use it too. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique, and Steve Scott wrote about it on his writing blog a few months ago. Set the timer for 25 or 30 minutes and write like a crazy person until the timer goes off. Don’t do anything else but write. You may be amazed at what you can accomplish in a very short period of time.
- Don’t edit as you write. Just sit down and work from your outline. Don’t try to get it perfectly written the first time out. The idea here is speed, not perfection. Ideally, you should be able to write a 500-word blog post in 30 minutes or less, just about every time. After your timer goes off, walk away from what you’re working on and take a five-minute break. Don’t come back to edit the first piece until you’ve already worked on something else. You’ll have a surprisingly fresh perspective on the first piece.
- Mix and Match. I think one of the best things we can do as writers is to bring our own personal perspective to every piece we write. I call it “mix and match.” I try to think about how things from my personal life are often very analogous to my professional life (like the seven-minute clean up). I’ve spent a lot of years being a professional Mom, and that experience helps me to become a better writer; I try to use it as often as I can.
- Banana Grams. Yes, I know that bananas are becoming a theme around here, but there’s a reason. One of our new favorite games is called Banana Grams. It’s basically a competitive, free form crossword puzzle that you have to finish as quickly as possible (so you can win, of course!). While the speed relates to the Pomodoro technique mentioned above, Banana Grams can’t be won if the player isn’t willing to switch things up – even starting almost all the way over if you get letters that aren’t working with what you already have. In other words, don’t get married to your words. If you come back after your break and see what you’ve written doesn’t quite work, don’t be afraid to change it. Heck, sometimes you might even have to start over, but if you do it’s not the end of the world, because it’s only going to take you thirty minutes to do a re-write anyway, right?
This post took me 38 minutes to write, and it’s 869 words long (not including this sentence).