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5 Smarter Habits of Highly Efficient Writers

Fundamental things that set highly efficient and prolific writers apart from the rest

By fizkes/Shutterstock
By fizkes/Shutterstock

Writing is a robust tool that enables us to communicate our thoughts, ideas, and opinions. It also improves our thinking process.

By improving your writing, you are also improving your ability to think and vice versa. “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard,” says David McCullough, an author, narrator and lecturer.

All writers dream of building efficient writing habits, writing amazing posts, attracting thousands of followers, and publishing best-selling books.

The bitter truth is, we dream because it’s a difficult task and not everyone has the commitment, persistence and the drive to take the right steps.

I’ve been writing and curating for over a decade now — but it’s only in the last three years that I’ve really taken my writing seriously. It’s made a dramatic difference.

I believe everyone can be a great writer. The bad news is as writers, we can be our own worst enemies. We know what works and what to do but we just can’t push ourselves a little bit further to do more of what will deliver the results.

If you’ve committed to developing your writing voice, improving your skills and working steadily on your craft, you are probably familiar with these habits that separate serious and effective writers from everyone else.

1. Efficient writers stick to a personal routine

The writing process is demanding — it’s a messy middle that involves a lot of organisation of thought and ideas. Without it, you will find it hard to master the craft. For many writers (particularly new ones), who still keep a job, it can take time to create a routine or stick to one.

To be a prolific writer, practice makes possible — practice makes any seemingly impossible task familiar. You can learn to write.

If you can’t find time to write, it can take a while to make it worth your effort, time and energy. But it’s not impossible.

Aim to write, every day, week or month. Stick to what works for you. If you can’t write every day, commit to a weekly schedule.

You can go from “wanting to be a writer” to “being one” by scheduling time for it. I write every morning. If I don’t write before midday, I probably won’t write at all. So I choose to write before 12 noon and spend the rest of the day working on other projects.

If you want to embrace daily writing as a habit, try writing every day for at least 30 days right here on Medium. Review your calendar and block part of your creative time for writing.

Don’t aim for 1000 words if you can’t sustain it. And don’t worry about building an immediate audience. Your initial topics and format should be whatever you can do easily and maintain some sort of frequency. Commit to being relentlessly helpful, no matter how small.

“For writers, creating such an “implementation intention” would involve writing down a sentence that looks like this: “I will write for (period of time) at (time of day) at (location).” So, for example, “I will write for 30 minutes at 3 p.m. at the kitchen table.” By sitting down each day at 3, you accustom your brain to this new habit,” explains Lorraine Berry ofPenguin Random House.

2. They write like it’s their full-time job

Successful writers do the work because writing is their job, not just a hobby. Think of your writing on the same timescale as any other career, approach it with all seriousness and you will be discovered.

You know what makes you a writer? Writing. “Each time you write a page, you are a writer. Each time you practice the violin, you are a musician. Each time you start a workout, you are an athlete. Each time you encourage your employees, you are a leader,” argues James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits.

Writing, just like all else, is a muscle that can be built up into a habitual process that eventually flows. The single most important advice I can give to actually write is to write. I’ve learned more from writing every week than any book could teach me about writing.

Since I committed fully to writing as a career, my workhas been featured on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, CNBC, Inc. Magazine, Pocket Hits, Thought Catalog, etc. I have also written a book, published by a reputable publisher in London. And I make a living from multiple income sources, including sponsorships, book sales, courses, and the Medium partner program.

It’s insanely easy to start writing — but the hard part is finding your voice, figuring out topics that are interesting for other people to read, and building a long-term habit. If writing is your job, invest quality time in it. Put effort into learning to do it well.

3. Highly efficient writers eliminate distractions that get in the way of the writing process

If you want to be a prolific writer, you need to learn to write without distractions. In the age of attention deficit, the importance of disconnecting from everything that can distract your writing process cannot be overemphasized.

Do you know your distractions? The most challenging part of eliminating distractions is often identifying and acknowledging them.

The next time you sit down to write, take note of what exactly pulls your attention away — social updates, emails, noise, uncomfortable temperature, etc. Write down each distraction you identify. Once you know what gets between you and your writing, you can start taking steps to eliminate or reduce them.

Successful writers know that making time to be alone, disconnecting from noise, notifications are triggers for deep thinking that supports the writing process. In an interview with George Plimpton in The Paris Review, the Legendary Maya Angeloudescribed her writing process: “I have kept a hotel room in every town I’ve ever lived in. I rent a hotel room for a few months, leave my home at six, and try to be at work by six-thirty.

Multiple New York Times bestselling author Daniel Pink spoke with Kelton Reid of Copyblogger about his incredibly consistent, workman-like process and said, “I’ll set myself a word count for the day. Let’s say 500 words. I will then turn off my phone, turn off my email, and then I will do nothing, truly nothing, until I hit my word count. If I hit my word count at 11:00 in the morning, hallelujah. If it’s 2:00 in the afternoon and I still haven’t hit my word count, I’m not going anywhere.”

To reduce distractions, you can write first thing in the morning. It allows you to focus and it done when you are most active. It makes it your number one priority. If you write every morning no matter what, then you won’t ever let another task get in the way. And when it becomes a habit, you can significantly improve your writing process and output.

4. They refresh their minds with insightful reading

One of the best ways to become a better writer is to embracing the reading habit. Good writing, regardless of what it’s about, will help you become a better writer.

Reading is not a distraction from doing the work if you know how to make the most of it. The contemporary non-fiction writer Robert Greene spent hundreds of hours researching his books, Mastery and The 48 Laws of Power. Greene typically reads 300–400 books about a particular topic.

He annotates what he reads and translates his notes to a trusted system for organising his ideas. In this Reddit AMA, he said: “I read a book, very carefully, writing on the margins with all kinds of notes. A few weeks later I return to the book, and transfer my scribbles on to note cards, each card representing an important theme in the book.”

If you’re a serious writer, your job is to take thoughts, emotions and ideas and turn them into words to educate, entertain, or inform others.

By reading, you’ll see how other writers tackle similar problemsYou’ll learn what works, and what doesn’t. You’ll know what’s been done before, over and over again, and what hasn’t.

5. Highly efficient and serious writers prioritise rest and recovery

Your ability to get better at writing is like fitness. If you never took a break between sets to recover, you won’t be able to build strength, stamina, endurance, and give it a shot again, and again.

Taking short breaks to rest while we’re in the process of writing gives your brain the opportunity to recover and start over.

As much as the practice of writing is insanely important, resting often is just as critical to writing as the practice.

Your brain needs downtime to refresh and begin again. A break is essential to achieve your highest levels of performance.

Take proper breaks, often. That also means good quality sleep to completely clear your mind and begin again. Your success depends on it.

“Stress + rest = growth. This equation holds true regardless of what it is that you are trying to grow,” says Brad Stulberg, author of Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.

Whilst you aim to write consistently, learn from those you admire or those who have figured out a better or smarter approach to writing well. Start with some of these books: On Writing by Stephen King, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig, Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Story Genius by Lisa Cron, The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work by Marie Arana, and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

Books should be used as a way to stimulate our thoughts to action. They are a means to an end not an end in itself. When in doubt, choose to write. Remember what James Russell Lowell (apoet, critic, editor, and diplomat) once said, “A thorn of experience is worth more than a forest of warnings”.

Great writing takes time — it takes months, even years, to form better and smarter habits. But once those habits are in place, your writing can improve exponentially. What looks like failure, in the beginning, is often the foundation of success.

Originally published on Medium.

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