I’ve been spending a lot of time recently pondering the issues I find difficult in relation to writing and how to resolve them. The sooner I can achieve this, the sooner I can leave my part time job and dedicate a few more days to tapping out some words.
I guess that my considerations have manifested themselves in my wiritng, part of me hopes that writing about my troubles will cause some sort of epiphany, one which will enable me to get past whichever plateau I’m struggling to overcome at that time. There’s another part of me which hopes that the words I write resonate with some of you out there, there’s an awfully peculiar comfort in knowing you’re not suffering alone. Most of all though, I hope that some of the pieces I write are able to help others overcome their problems, if I’m able to help in any way I can consider the mission a success.
In the last few weeks I’ve been struggling to focus on the task at hand. Finished articles have become an elusive quarry. Completion has been a perpetually moving goal with motivation levels dwindling to a level I’ve not experienced before.
I find it particularly difficult to focus during the day for some reason. Most of my writing has, up until recently, been completed in the twilight hours. Unfortunately all of my evenings in the last few weeks have been spent in front of a TV watching the world cup which, in the UK, runs from 17:00 until the early hours of the morning.
Rather than simply wait until the group stages were finished, I decided to try to focus more on my writing during the daytime and have the following tips to share. All of these have worked in helping me concentrate on my writing and to get the job done. I assume that the majority do so not through any tangible benefits but more for the subconscious link with seeming professional and being “at work”. Hopefully they’ll be able to do the same for you.
7 Ps! (Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance)
The 7 Ps could really be applied to most areas of life and indeed every section in this article. In this particular instance I’m referring to the preparation of yourself for the working day. Far too many people see work at home writers as people who stay in their pyjamas all day who lounge on the sofa whilst tapping out a few hundred words.
I really do wish that this was the case, but I would argue that the vast majority of writers who have trialled this method will tell you how unproductive it can be.
I find I really need to prepare for the day as if I were heading into the office. I wake up, have breakfast, a shower and get dressed. All ready for a 9 AM start. The clothes I choose are comfortable but of a smart casual nature, enough to get past most modern office’s dress codes.
Preparing for the day as if I am heading to the office helps me get into the mindset of ‘going to work’. I may be staying at home, but I need to understand that the day is for work, not for lounging around in from of the TV when I hit a block.
Organise Your Day
To make good progress you need to know what you have to achieve on any given day. You’ll be surprised how a self imposed time limit to achieve a goal can be a motivational kick up the arse.
I tend not to have a strict organisation of my day except a loose outline of my working hours, usually 09:00 – 17:00.
Having set working hours may seem simple, but the motivation from knowing how long is left of the working day and having something to look forward to in the evening will really get you moving.
I know that as soon as the work is done and it’s around 17:00 I can sit down, relax and enjoy a movie or head out to see friends.
Whilst it’s not a method I employ, I do know of self employed people who have a strict outline of their day. They like to know exactly what they will be doing at any given time. It doesn’t work for me but it may be worth you trying it out. Try organising your whole day as the below and let me know how it works.
09:00 – 10:00 – Emails
10:00 – 12:00 – Writing
12:00 – 13:00 – Social Media
I prefer not to organise my day so rigidly as I find that if one activity runs over, the whole plan can end up ruined. My timings are more fluid enabling for more flexibility, i’ll have goals to achieve and deadlines to hit every day or week and will work until the work is done. I’ll work in hour long blocks, if I’m struggling, then after one hour i’ll change activity or take 10 minutes off or will simply power through if I’m ‘in the zone’.
Set Up Your Working Area
This is something that can be difficult when working from home but is of paramount importance. You need to establish an area that is for work, and work only.
When working from the sofa you’ll find yourself falling into the habit of relaxing too much. The sofa is a no go zone, not only is it far too comfortable but there’s a subconscious link you will make with sitting there. It’s not an area you associate with work so it will be difficult to stay motivated. Needless to say it’s not an area conducive to productivity. Shun the sofa in favour of a set up with a more professional feel.
I myself have stopped eating dinner and watching TV shows from my desk to get myself into the state of mind that when I sit there, I am there to work.
This is something that will differ from person to person. Some like to have complete silence when working, others prefer a little music whereas some excel listening to the background chatter of a moderately busy coffee shop. You’re going to need to experiment to find out exactly what it is that allows you to tune out all external distractions.
I personally bought some great noise cancelling headphones and play music to drown out the sounds from the very busy street outside my window. I find that a constant level of ambient noise (music without lyrics usually) deafens me to the outside world without pulling my attention away from what I’m doing.
Setting goals is an incredibly important aspect of any business, especially one where no one is looking over your shoulder to check on your progression. Goals will stop you from floundering and give you direction. Without something to work towards, you’re more likely to make very little forward progress.
I break my goals down in a specific manner, all of which have a set timescale in which to be completed and a small incentive to ensure I get it done. If you’re curious about how I do it check out this article. Whilst the method I use now is still similar I have refined it a little.
If you’re not sold on my recommendations for setting goals, maybe a thought from one of the worlds most prolific writers will change your mind. Steven King advocates writing 1000 words per day to hit goals and develop as a writer. Set your own goals and stick to them.
Plan Your Article
Again with a reference to the 7 Ps. Not so long ago I was writing everything as it came to me. If I had an idea, I would start writing about it. Turns out writing without planning isn’t a great idea! I was constantly jumping from the article to the internet to make sure that I was fitting in everything I wanted to say. Going back in the article to amend already written paragraphs to include the latest aspect I deemed important.
Before you sit down to write, do your research and plan your article. Know exactly what you want to say and the point you want to make.
Write out the various headers for each paragraph and include a handful of words that will jog your memory for the important points you want to make. By doing this, I’m able to write around 1000 words in an hour as opposed to the 4 hours it would have taken me with my previous efforts.
If you’ve properly planned your article then there’s only one thing left to do… write. With your sub headings decided and your paragraphs outlined, this should be one of the easier stages. You’ve done the prep work so it’s just putting words on paper. Don’t second guess yourself after every sentence, if something doesn’t feel right, ignore it for now. Get your thoughts down and work out the kinks when it comes to editing the piece.
Editing is not to be done whilst writing the initial draft. If you’re constantly going back to change words or sentences you’ll get nowhere. Write what comes naturally and don’t stop until your goal has been hit or you’re finished. The result will be a much more coherent piece with a better overall flow.
Don’t Edit Straight Away
On the subject of editing, I would definitely advice against editing as soon as the piece is finished. Book a block of time to edit, step away from your work, do something else then come back to it with a clear mind. A fresh set of eyes will do wonders at picking up errors or ugly text. Mistakes that are often missed when you force yourself to edit without a break will be identified and rectified quickly and easily.
Hopefully these tips have proved useful for you. I’d love to hear how you manage to stay focused on your goal and on track. Have a word in the comments below if there’s any tips or tricks you use.