By Maggie Dallen
Whether you’re hoping to publish a book about your area of expertise, put out more blog posts, or wow your newsletter subscribers, being able to consistently and efficiently create written content is an invaluable asset for any business owner.
As a bestselling author of more than fifty books, a former ghostwriter, news reporter, and editor, I’ve spent more than two decades working in the world of words. One thing I’ve learned? Writing is a long game. Developing writing skills and proficiency is a marathon, not a sprint. Like training for a marathon, it takes dedication and long-term commitment. The ability to consistently put out new content means strengthening those mental muscles with regular, if not daily, use. So, where to begin?
Goal Setting & Tracking
I’m sure we’ve all heard some variation of the Peter Drucker quote, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” This is especially true with writing. If you want to up your daily/weekly/monthly output, you need to be able to track how much content you’re currently creating and set a goal of where you’d like to be. So, what are your goals? Non-fiction books typically fall into the 50K-75K range. Blog articles are typically around 800-2.5K. Is your goal to write a book by the end of the year? To write a blog article a day/a week/a month? Whatever you choose is great, just so long as you know what you’re striving for.
The second half of that equation is tracking your progress. Personally, I keep a super simple spreadsheet open at all times and log how many words I get done in a day, with a running auto-sum tallying where I’m at with my monthly goal. Not only does it help me keep track of where I’m on a day-to-day basis, but the monthly goal keeps me motivated. It’s the carrot at the end of the stick!
Tricks of the Trade (AKA Sprints & Rewards)
How do I hit my daily 5K writing goal five days a week? With a timer! My favorite and most efficient way to get words on the page is by sprinting. I know, I know. I said this was a marathon, not a sprint. But when it comes to actually sitting down at your keyboard, I want you to think in terms of sprints. Silence your phone, shut down all social media sites, and set a timer for a short period of time—I do twenty-minute sprints, but anything goes. During that time your only mission is to write. The words don’t have to be brilliant, they just have to be words that form sentences. That is all.
Often, it’s that perfectionist voice in the back of our brain that stops us from writing, or that makes the process miserable, at the very least. But when writing a first draft of anything, all you need to focus on is getting the words out of your head and onto the page. There is always time to edit, refine, and revise later. But if you’re serious about growing your writing output, that voice of self-doubt and self-criticism is only going to hold you back. So, when that timer is running, try your best to block out the perfectionist and just see how many words you can get down.
What makes sprints even more effective? Rewards! When you hit a word count goal or if you’ve just made it to the end of the timer without checking emails, reward yourself. It can be anything. Eat a piece of chocolate, take a walk to clear your head, or just allow yourself five minutes to scroll through Instagram before diving back in. Whatever motivates you, go for it!
Improve Your Writing
I promise you that by consistently writing, your writing will improve. But if you’re looking to expand your skill set or brush up on the technical aspects of writing, then I have some good news for you. We live in a golden age of self-improvement, my friends! It’s never been easier to improve your writing thanks to software like Grammarly, ProWriting Aid, and Hemingway. You can run your writing through those programs and get instant feedback on where you need to improve your grammar. Want more personal feedback on the actual content? Find peers whose opinions you value and ask for some help. Better yet, hire a freelance editor and get an expert opinion.
What to Do When You’re Stuck
Some days staring at a blank page is just no fun. Okay, let’s face it. Staring at a blank page is rarely fun, but some days it can feel outright paralyzing. ‘Writer’s block’ is a well-known term for a reason, and I’m sure we’ve all felt that awful frustration when you have no idea what to write. What’s the best way forward?
Make the blank page…not blank.
I know, I know. Too simple, right? But honestly, the best way to improve writing output and quality is to make it a part of your routine. To make it something you continually work on. So the fact that you write is what matters. It’s all that matters!
Some days you might feel inspired and other days you might want to throw your computer out the window. But like Picasso famously said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Sitting and staring at a blank page is not going to get you anywhere. So, if you’re feeling stumped? Write. Just write. Don’t overthink it. Write about what you want to eat for dinner. Write about the book you’re reading. Write a love letter. Just. Start. Writing. Once you start, see where it takes you. What starts off as an ode to that pot roast you’re looking forward to might just lead you into an eloquent essay on the beauty of anticipation. You never know. Worst case scenario, you’ve honed your writing skills just a little more and successfully continued your regular writing routine. Best case scenario, you find yourself with something creative and unexpected to share with your readers. Either way, it’s a win. So, if you take away nothing else from this article, let it be this. Write. Just write. Then write some more. That’s all it takes to be well on your way to being a prolific, proficient writer.
Maggie Dallen is the bestselling author of more than fifty published novels. Prior to finding success as a fiction author, she worked as a news reporter, a freelance editor, and a ghostwriter. These days she enjoys living in fantasyland along with her husband and son in beautiful Montana.