How to keep going when the going is hard
Writing is hard work.
Writing every day for business is harder work.
Yet you do it despite the temptations of social media, well-meaning friends who lure try you away, and relatives who want you to run errands.
You could just give in and blow off writing that day, but you don’t. You’re disciplined — until you hit a wall, or the writing dries up, or you’re just fed up with the whole thing.
You only have so much will power, right?
Challenge 1: Writer’s block
You know the feeling. You want to write, but you can’t get the words out. Forcing just makes it worse. There could be a number of causes; here are a few common ones:
- You don’t know where to start. The solution: Start anywhere. There’s no rule that says you have to write from the beginning to the end. Let the work flow organically. You might be surprised how good it is when you start anywhere.
- You want it to be perfect. There’s a trap here. You can revise and edit a document to death; the more you touch it, the worse you might make it. Don’t strive for perfection. Aim for error-free and make it as good as you can.
- You’re afraid of being criticized. Anyone who writes for publication or business is putting their work out there to be seen. People will either like it, hate it, or ignore it. If you believe in the quality of your writing, take a deep breath and jump in. You’ll be surprised how fast you get a thick skin when you believe in what you are doing. Yes, negative criticism hurts, but you can learn to shake it off and keep going.
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” John Steinbeck
4 Quick Fixes
- Write about your writer’s block. It just might turn into an article or blog post.
- Take a day off, but just one. According to Bamidele Onibalusi, “Sometimes, you’re experiencing writer’s block because you have been writing for so long that it’s killing you. Try not to write for a whole day. Go out there, enjoy the world, see friends and have a lot of fun. You will be amazed at how refreshed and productive you can be at the end of the day.”
- Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat healthfully, move more, do something to release stress, meditate. You can’t be creative and productive without taking care of your body.
- Read inspirational words on writing.
Here are 4 great quotes to help you get going.
“Create. Not for the money. Not for the fame. Not for the recognition. But for the pure joy of creating something and sharing it.” Ernest Barbaric
‘For when all else seem dark, an urge to create something would still give you an aim to look forward to. And if you just take hold of this urge, it will take hold of you and see you through even the darkest times. Like it did to me.” Jyoti Arora
“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” Barbara Kingsolver
“If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” Mahatma Gandhi
Challenge 2: Procrastination
In the last century BCE, the Roman statesman Cicero declared procrastination to be “hateful.” Centuries later, Charles Dickens wrote, “Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.” A 2002 study found that 20% of adults procrastinate.²
That number is still valid today although some experts say it’s closer to 26%.
You could grit your teeth and use sheer will power to plow through wall and get the job done. That will leave you exhausted, probably irritable, and likely unhappy with the result. The solution is discovering the reason you aren’t writing.
Liz Huber often writes on procrastination and productivity. Here’s what she recommends in her article How to Beat Procrastination for Good, “After you have analyzed yourself, you should be able to identify patterns in your procrastination behavior. The next step is to fix the biggest underlying problem (aka the reason why you are procrastinating). If you have multiple big reasons, start with fixing the biggest one first and then deal with the others one by one.”
Not Ready to Write
Procrastination can hit if you start a task without first thinking through what it involves, or you haven’t done adequate research.
- Define what the task requires and the resources needed.
- Determine how much time it will take. Be careful to not over-estimate or under-estimate the needed time. Remember, tasks will expand to fill the amount of time allotted to them.
- Sketch out a game plan that makes sense and is doable.
- Decide the first steps and put them on your calendar.
Too Little or Too Much Research
Before starting any task, identify the research you need — data, statistics, reports, interviews, and so on. Line up what you need and tackle it one piece at a time.
Avoid over-researching. This not only wastes time; it can lead to procrastination. Having more information than you need or will ever use can paralyze you with indecision just as thoroughly as having too little.
Some tasks are boring or may seem stupid, and they still need to be done. The solution is getting rid of these writing tasks sooner rather than later. Schedule short bursts of writing on your calendar and reward yourself for starting and finishing. The more boring, stupid, and odious, the bigger the reward.
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” Douglas Adams
People who put off things often rely on the adrenaline that arises when faced with a looming deadline and barely enough time to deliver. They thrive on the stress of beating the clock at the last minute.
It works, but it has consequences. You risk delivering barely adequate results or making avoidable mistakes. It’s also exhausting. If you ever crammed for a test or jammed a term paper through the night before it was due, you experienced the crash that comes later. Do this too often, and you are flirting with a variety of stress-related problems.
3 Quick Fixes
- Use the Pomodoro Technique to get started. Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on writing until the timer goes off, then take a 5-minute break. Repeat twice more and take a longer break. You should have made pretty good progress and may feel like continuing.
- Take a tablet (device or paper) and get away from the office. Go to a café, park, or any other new environment. Settle down and start free writing about any topic. After you warm up this way, tackle the writing task you’ve been avoiding.
- Set a word maximum and write until you hit it. Don’t worry if the writing is good or bad. You’re just aiming for the word count.
Challenge 3: Lack of Ideas
The solution is creating a log of ideas for future content creation. You can keep a notebook, file folder (paper or electronic), use note app, or capture ideas by starting the first sentence or two as a Medium draft to return to later.
5 Quick Fixes
- Let your clients tell you what to write. Create a list of the questions, fears, questions, and desires that your clients have. Each item on the list is the topic for some kind of content.
- Pick one problem your clients have and brainstorm solutions to that problem. Each solution is a topic.
- Review old articles and update them with new research.
- Take an article or post that didn’t gain much bandwidth and rev it up.
- Prime your creativity pump. Watch Ted Talks on topics you aren’t familiar with, take a class, seek out inspirational books, blogs, and podcasts. Challenge yourself to keep learning and find ways to use your expanding knowledge in your writing.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King
Jump in the Deep End
No one learned to swim by reading a book. You can read everything about writing, but none of that matters if you don’t write.
Dorothea Brande in her seminal book Becoming a Writer, suggests writing every day at the same time, preferably in the morning, an idea that was promoted by Julia Cameron years later.
Brande wrote, “When you have succeeded in establishing these two habits — early morning writing and writing by agreement with yourself — you have come a long way on the writer’s path. You have gained, on the one hand, fluency, and on the other, control even though in an elementary way.”
You can download a free PDF of Brande’s book at Salem State University.
Refuse to let writing challenges stop you. You might have to step away for a while, or work on something else, or clean the house, but never give up. Challenges can be met and overcome. Be kind to yourself because writing is hard work.
Even when the words are flowing, there’s a little voice that whispers, “Is it good enough?”
Listen to it. You may be able to make the writing better.
But never let it stop you.
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Louis L’Amour