My Plan to Fix My Writing Routine and Stop Sucking

Posted on June 10, 2013 by

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My recent post “Why I Quit Reading For 45 Days” sucked.  I wrote the post under time pressure and as the deadline approached I had to stop writing and start editing even though I knew it was in poor shape.  As soon as I hit publish I felt regret, shame, and disappointment.

I started this site so that I could practice writing and publishing on a regular basis and develop the skill to produce high quality and high impact articles.  When I don’t leave myself enough time to fully plan, write, and edit my ideas I am short-cutting the process.

When this week’s deadline rolled around and I had nothing started with hours to go I realized that something had to change.  Sure I could rush out another post but that would defeat the process.  Instead I let the deadline expire, paid Beeminder the $30 penalty, and started thinking about my current writing routines.  I wanted to understand what was working and what needed to change.

Cramming

I used this routine in High School and College and it is what I use most frequently for my blog posts.  When I am cramming I leave myself just enough time to write.  The pressure of the looming deadline gives me an adrenaline rush and I feel inspired to write.  I normally finish late in the night and I am too exhausted to edit.  I read through it a couple times trying to spot and fix typos, grammar, and awkward sentences before I publish it.

My results using this routine have been mixed.  Some of the posts make me cringe when I reread them and others make me proud.  All of them could be improved if I had given myself more time.  I find this technique works better for ideas that are already well developed and ripe in my mind.  As I write more regularly these ideas are more rare and it is becoming more challenging to write interesting and fully developed posts on a moment’s notice.

Daily Drafts + Cramming

In order to develop ideas more deeply I started picking a topic early in the week and writing stream of consciousness a couple days in a row.  My goal was to flush out the idea and create some good snippets of writing.  As the deadline approached I used these fragments of writing to piece together a final draft.

This routine produced some of the articles I am least proud of.  Each day I would explore the same idea from a slightly different perspective and in a slightly different voice.  When I went to edit them into a final draft I struggled to merge what worked and I still had gaps that needed to be filled.

Inspired Draft + Cramming

Every once in awhile I have an idea and I sit down and produce a couple thousands words in one sitting.  When I reread these drafts I am surprised to find that they are pretty well organized, interesting, and almost ready to be published.  Since I know these will require the least effort to edit I often leave myself even less time to finish them.

I have had good but unrepeatable results with this routine.  Unfortunately these moments of inspired writing do not happen on a weekly basis and I can’t count on them for a weekly post.  These also would benefit from additional time in the editing process.

What are the Best Practices?

Recently I read a great three part article on how to plan, write, and edit a blog post and I realized how many steps I was skipping.

  • I rarely create an outline to organize my idea.
  • I don’t always write my first draft in one sitting.
  • I never leave myself enough time to edit properly.

After reflecting on what has worked and not worked for me I have come up with a new routine to guide my weekly blog posts.

Outline + Working Draft + Editing

I will choose an idea and develop an outline to flush out what I want to say, who I am saying it to, and how I am going to say it.  Then I will give myself a window to write a complete draft in one sitting. I hope it will read like an inspired draft but I will consider it a success if I manage to write it from beginning to end in one sitting.  Next I will spend a couple days editing the draft, polishing it and giving it time to simmer.  I hope that having some distance from it will allow me to read it with fresh eyes and take it to the next level.  Finally I will reread it after 24 hours and publish it.

When I consider how much time I need to outline, write a working draft, and edit I come up with a schedule that looks like this:

     Monday – Choose Idea and begin outline (~30min)
     Tuesday – Finalize outline (~30min)
     Wednesday – Write working draft (~1hr)
     Thursday – Edit (~30min)
     Friday – Edit (~30min)
     Saturday – Final Draft Complete (~1 hr)
     Sunday – Final Edit and Publish (~1 hr)

It is one thing to have a plan but it is another thing to stick with it.  I am already using a Beeminder goal to post on a weekly basis.  Since I had it setup as a weekly goal it allowed me the flexibility to do all the work last minute.  Moving forward I will be updating my Beeminder blog post goal daily.  Each day I must complete the work required per the schedule above and document that in the comments.

Failing Forward

I have taught myself a number of different skills over the years but this project is unique because my failures are so public.  When I was teaching myself to kiteboard or renovating my house few people witnessed my most embarrassing mistakes.  With blogging every article I publish has the potential to be read by thousands.

I choose to do it this way because the added public exposure motivates me to try harder and continue to push myself to improve.  I know that all of my writing could be improved and I am proud of the fact that I keep showing up and trying to do just that.

I would love to know how other writers handle this process.  Do you struggle to find the discipline to plan, write and edit?  Do you think I am on the right track developing a routine like this?


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10 Topics to Inspire Your Daily Writing
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