Dealing With Unfinished ProjectsOctober 3, 2019
Constantly starting new projects? It may be Shiny Object Syndrome.January 13, 2020
“I have an amazing idea for a novel, but I can’t seem to start writing it.”
“I’m never going to finish my master’s degree because I can’t find time to write my thesis.”
“My clients keep asking me for an online course, but it’s too overwhelming. I just don’t know where to begin.”
How many of us have a large writing project looming at the bottom of our to-do list? Whether it’s a book, thesis, screenplay, or online course, the idea of long-form writing projects is simply daunting to most people (myself included!).
Why is it so hard to write large projects?
If you’re stressed out about a large writing project, you’re not alone. And that’s not surprising! Most of us can squeeze out a blog post, report, or other piece of short content, but writing a large text is another matter altogether.
Where do we start? Do we just jump in? How do we know if we’re writing it correctly?
These projects take weeks, months, or years to complete. What if we spend all that time and produce something that fails to meet everyone’s expectations? As fear of criticism and perfectionism set in, we’re spending more time stressing about the idea of writing than on the actual writing process.
I completely understand this stress. I get easily overwhelmed at the start of any large project, and will do almost anything to put them off. But after learning what worked (and coaching dozens of clients through their own challenges), I’ve discovered a few tricks for effective writing.
How to write a book without pulling your hair out
The key to finishing your book or thesis is consistent progress and good time management. Of course, that’s much easier to say than to implement!
Here are a few tips to make writing a more sane experience.
Treat writing like a workout
You know how it’s dangerous to jump right into intense cardio without a warmup? Writing is not that different.
If you try to write the “meat” of your project without any preparation, you’ll find yourself moving in circles and getting very little done. Instead of beating yourself up for not focusing on the work, try to approach your writing sessions in the same way as you would a 30-60 minute workout.
- Warm up: Review your notes from previous sessions. Jot down ideas, scribble or type out very rough drafts of paragraphs. Don’t worry about cohesion and deadlines, just get your brain working. Now set a timer for the next step. You can gradually step up the length of the main session over time, but start with about 10-15 minutes.
- Main session: Organize your ideas and write paragraphs. Don’t edit as you go – doing so will block the creative flow of your ideas. Just allow yourself to WRITE. It’s always better to write too much, so you can go back and shorten the content later.
- Cool down: Clean up what you produced, but don’t over-edit. You can make decisions about minor details and style choices when the bulk of the text is finished. Leave yourself some notes so you’ll know exactly where to start off your next session.
Keep an idea bank
If you’re like me, your best ideas come to you when you least expect them. Try to capture the concept as quickly as possible so don’t forget your flash of insight until your next writing session.
Keep a small notebook or digital note-taking app with you so that you can jot down your ideas. You don’t need to follow a complex brainstorming system, just get all your thoughts on paper or in a note, so you can come back to them later.
Consistency is key
Regular writing sessions build up a “muscle memory” that makes it easier to write in the future.
It’s far better to write consistently in 30-60 minute spurts than in day-long, stress-fueled marathons. Unless you are a night owl and can afford to sleep in the next day, don’t work late into the night.
Try scheduling writing time in your calendar in short chunks. Start with just 30 minutes/week, then increase it as you see fit.
This is a hard one for us perfectionists, but it will help a lot. Try to separate the writing and editing processes in your mind. Writing is the most important task, and editing comes after.
Make peace with the fact that your first draft is NOT going to be perfect. You don’t need to spend hours obsessing over each word you type. Instead, write as much as possible.
Don’t worry too much about wording or text length, just keep writing. If you need to fact check something or do extra research, make a note, and and don’t let those thoughts interrupt the creative writing process.
This has two important benefits:
- When you give editing your full attention, you can polish your writing more effectively.
- The more you write and push past your own perfectionist mental blocks, the easier it will be to write faster in the future.
Stress-free writing starts with time management
These are just a few of the strategies I explore with my clients when I coach them through their large writing projects.Give them a try; I’m confident you’ll see a difference in your productivity on your thesis, book, or other long-form text.