Do you write to the pace of a snail? Do you find it hard to maintain a flow? That used to be me. When I first started out in writing, it could take me one week to write one article. It was hardly a financially viable way of working and it meant less time available to pitch to other markets.
I was writing with dusty old habits learned in my formative years. They needed clearing to make it possible for me to earn a living, and write with speed and confidence. Because spending every waking minute tapping at the keyboard doesn’t count as a reasonable work-life balance.
I decided to analyse the way I worked to discover what was slowing me down. And once I’d done this, got my life back, and had time to look for more work, I found another welcome bonus: my creativity was enhanced.
Not only could I accept more commissions, sure of meeting my deadlines, my writing was a better standard. So I thought I’d share with you the five bad habits that were obstructing my work and creativity flow. Not that I’ve got on top of everything, but no one is perfect.
Habit 1: Being a slave to the squiggly line
I admit. I was terrified a typo would slip by unnoticed and give the editor a fright. Which meant I used to constantly correct spellings, grammar and typos as I went along. But then I go through my work with a nit comb anyhow afterwards, while reading aloud, so was this really necessary?
Spell and grammar-checking as you work your way through a piece of writing has got to be the number creativity killer. There’s nothing that will gag your muse quicker than making sure it’s “happy” and not “harpy” in that sentence with each line produced.
Turn spell-check off until you’ve finished your planned session of writing. Don’t bother yourself with the red wriggly line until the end.
Habit 2: Being an ever-ready editor
Like with spell checking, if you’re constantly re-reading your work after each paragraph, you’ll spend twice the amount of time on it. I used to edit obsessively, chopping and changing every few words. What a waste of energy.
Now, I wait until I’ve completed a few pages and then reword sentences or rework paragraphs as I need. I get the essence of what I want to say onto the pages first before I do any editing at all.
Set yourself a limit of a couple of hours, or several pages, and write without censorship until your self-allocated time is up.
You might even just try a few paragraphs at first, until you feel more liberated and confident with this new habit.
Habit 3: Mapping it all out
Do you always map out your ‘beginning, middle and end’ before writing? Or even go as far as producing a long-hand draft first?
It was back in my university days when I realised what a time-waster over-planning was. So as a freelancer, I’ve always just started writing.
Of course, I may have my research before me, but I’ve become so skilled at starting at the beginning, the structure comes together almost instinctively. Some structuring may be needed sometimes, but over-structuring is just not necessary.
If you’re working with a free flow frame of mind, you’ll find the words you need tumble out in the direction you want them to. So just start writing. When you do your final editing, you can then move paragraphs around to fit if the structure seems a bit skewed.
Habit 4: Not paying attention
I’ll be honest here — this continues to be my number one bad writing habit. It’s the one I haven’t totally conquered but I’m thoroughly aware of. It slows me down and cramps my creativity.
But when I do manage to keep out of Facebook, exit my email, and stop doing “crucial” searches on the web, I find my writing flows with ease.
When I am being A Very Good Girl, I turn off my browser and set a time before I will check my email again. Then I achieve more. So, my advice here (that I should listen to more) is do one thing — your writing.
Habit 5: Forgetting to take time out
When you’re desperate to get things finished, you can work until exhaustion – chuffing away like a clapped out stream train on a disused railway.
Being on a deadline can be a creativity crusher. But not taking a break can be more so. Your head and brain need respite to let more ideas in, so give it a chance.
I’m lucky to have dogs that force me on walkies, so I have to leave my desk, and wandering by the river kicking up the earth, that’s when some of my best light bulb moments strike.
Add some planned breaks into your day. Go to the park, sit on your doorstep and listen to the birds, dance in your lounge, do whatever gets your mind into a state where it can amble along under no pressure.
Take time out and let your inspiration seep back in.
Andrea Wren is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in the UK. She launched her career with The Renegade Writer, writes for publications such as the Guardian, and blogs about writing and other things on Butterflyist.com, a site which inspires people to push their comfort zones. You can find her ebook ‘The Ultimate Guide to Landing the Big Commission’ here. Follow Andrea on Twitter via @thebutterflyist.
Stick figure by Andrea Wren.