Hemingway said to write drunk and edit sober. (He also said the first draft of anything is sh*t — which is perhaps not surprising if he was writing drunk.) W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing….Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
The internet is flooded with sure-fire tips and tricks on how to write, but I think Maugham was onto something. There’s no “right” way to do it.
However, I have found certain practices that help me write better. They probably don’t work for everyone and might not work for you — but if you’re looking for fresh ideas to improve your writing, here’s what I do every day to stay at the top of my game.
Get Enough Sleep
This is by far my greatest tool in my toolbelt. If I don’t get at least seven-and-a-half solid hours of sleep at night, I’m useless the next day. No amount of caffeine can fully break through the iron fog of fatigue.
I’d expect this is true for most writers, since so much vital brain activity occurs while we’re asleep. During slumber, your brain processes the previous day’s events, creates and consolidates memories, makes creative connections between unrelated things, and generally resets itself. All of these are a big part of the writing process.
Write in the Morning
While I don’t consider myself a morning person by nature, I’m definitely more mentally nimble in the morning. Creative thinking comes more easily and I haven’t started slowing down with that post-lunch sluggishness yet.
As much as possible, I reserve all my blogging and creative writing for the morning hours and schedule other writing tasks for later in the day. Not only do I churn out better content, it also comes quicker — I can often get out ahead of my schedule early on.
Schedule Every Minute
I schedule every minute of my workday at least one day ahead. I keep my Google Calendar open while I work and as new tasks and projects come in, I schedule them out in 30-, 60- or 90-minute blocks. I’m writing this on a Wednesday and already every time slot through Friday is booked.
Why on earth would I do this? Assigning something to every minute of my day keeps me on task and helps me complete my work more quickly. I blow through my worst, most impossible days because I know exactly what I’ve got to do and when it needs to get done. Otherwise I’m wasting time trying to figure out what I’ll work on next — or I spend too much time on one task and don’t leave enough time for others.
You’d think an insane schedule like this would run me into the ground. But it actually helps me finish tasks more quickly and get ahead of the game, so I get time between tasks to stretch, grab coffee, walk around the office.
Don’t Check Email
Email is a huge distraction and ruins your writing. Every time you switch to and from your Inbox, your brain has to reorient itself to the new context and reprocess what you’re attending to, using up valuable cognitive resources and making you less efficient and less focused.
I try to only check my mail during natural transitions, like the beginning and end of the day or between tasks. That way I can easily get in the zone and stay there.
Stand Up, Sit Down, Write Write Write
I’ve been using a standing desk for the last few months. Now to be honest, I don’t have any real evidence that it’s improved my writing. But I enjoy it, and it keeps my juices flowing. I feel good using it, and I feel like standing at certain times helps me focus at work.
The trick to using a standing desk is not to stand all the time. The problem with sitting isn’t sitting — it’s being sedentary. So standing still at your desk isn’t any better. Instead, stand for about 5-10 minutes at a time, then sit and work for a while. And shift your weight or move around a bit while you’re standing, so you don’t develop varicose veins or joint problems.
Don’t Skip Lunch
A lunch break in the middle of the day is absolutely essential. I do my best to schedule at least 30 minutes every day to decompress, take a walk, enjoy something beautiful and think about nothing related to my work.
I come back refreshed and clear-headed, and often the thing that I was stuck on suddenly has a simple solution.
In fact, tomorrow I’m taking a long lunch to enjoy an open-air lunchtime concert in the park.
Use an Editorial Calendar
I love editorial calendars. They help you plan your writing strategically so you can hit your quarterly marketing goals, but they also guarantee you’ve got something to write about. When I use an editorial calendar I never struggle with the question of what my next post will be about.
So there you have it. My daily best practices for better writing. Try them out and let me know what you think. And if they don’t work for you, you can always follow Hemingway’s advice and find some rum for your morning coffee.