My college track coach was not the nicest guy in the world, but he had a unique ability to distill complex concepts into the simplest terms. On our first day of practice, he gathered all the nervous freshmen together and barked: “Gentlemen: The key to running faster is to practice running faster. Hopefully it won’t take you four F’n years to figure that out.”
The rest of Coach’s speech had too many profanities to recite in this forum, but his bluntness and world-class motivational skills got him into the Track & Field Hall of Fame. So, we sprinted down the longest, steepest cow pastures we could find near campus. We did dozens of 100 meters sprints—AFTER “warming up” with 10 mile runs in the heat. We allowed Coach to chase us in his pickup truck (at 10-12 mph) as we sprinted up abandoned fire trails—with no shoulder to turn out on if you got tired.
The idea was to get our legs (and minds) used to turning over faster than they ever had before. That, or get run over. We thought Coach was out of his mind, but as our times began dropping and the wins piles up – 150 straight meets at one point – his approach didn’t seem so insane.
Busting through summer doldrums
As we head full steam into the summer doldrums, many of you are struggling to get your blog posts, articles, presentations, podcasts, videos and eBooks to the finish line. It’s natural to hit the mental wall during the Dog Days of summer. A week doesn’t go without someone asking me for a secret formula or quick “hack” to help them bust through writer’s block or get off the procrastination treadmill.
As far as I know, there’s no secret. You just have to practice writing faster.
Whether you use a PC, tablet, phone or legal pad to compose your thoughts, most of you can write plenty fast—and cogently. You got through years of schooling and advanced certifications. Didn’t you? You just tend to get hung up on perfection. Blogger Hannah Heath explains why you should let your first draft suck and Vaibhav Vardhan explains why your first draft is supposed to suck.
Our advice: Just listen to your inner voice. Get your thoughts on paper and then revise, revise, revise. To paraphrase Voltaire: “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.”
Here are some tips that have helped many of our clients:
- Frame it. We’ve never been big on formal outlines since they conjure bad memories of school term papers. But you still need some kind of framework for the wisdom you’re planning to share with your audience:
— Start with a 1-2 sentence intro about why you’re taking on this topic today.
— Then come up with 3-4 bullets about what the reader will learn.
— Conclude with one big thing the reader will learn after reading what you have to say.2. Time It. Set the timer on your phone for 30 minutes. Don’t answer any calls or emails and just write away. At the 30-minute mark, stop typing and see what you’ve got. Don’t worry about grammatical errors or typos. Just ask yourself, does it flow? Does it make a point? Does it sound like me? If not, give yourself 5 more minutes max.
3. Sell it. Now can you write a provocative headline and subhead around what you’ve got? Why should a busy reader take time out of their day to stop what they’re doing and read your words? What can you share that they haven’t already heard a dozen times before?
4. Summarize It. Summarize what you’re trying to tell your readers/clients/followers in 3-4 bullet points. Those are the “Key Takeaways” that go at the top of your piece to make it easier to scan on a phone, tablet or computer screen.
5. Step away from it. Take a break from your writing for at least an hour. Chances are, the words you thought were so brilliant before your break suddenly stink like a garbage dump I August upon your return. Don’t despair, that’s part of the process. You can give up, or you can dust yourself off and make it better.
6. Read it back to yourself aloud. Better yet, dictate it into your smartphone voice recorder and play it back. You may not like what you sound like, but this technique will prevent from straying too far from your point and from falling into the run-on-sentence rabbit hole.
7. Revise it. E.B. White said, “writing is hard work and bad for the health.” Perhaps it is, but it’s an essential part of communicating with your clients, prospects, employees and stakeholders. Set a deadline. Go with your best effort, and then revise, revise and reviseeven after it’s been published. That’s one thing that’s great about publishing in today’s electronic age. It’s never been easier to fix things and make them better in v2.0 (or v3.0).
Writing is like a muscle—the more you exercise this skill, the stronger, leaner, and more efficient it will be. To become a faster writer, you simply have to practice writing faster. But it’s less painful than getting run over by a pickup truck.Like it or not, you need to be a writer. You might even enjoy the process of seeing your writing times and wordsmithing stamina set new personal bests.
What’s your take? I’d like to hear from you.