Writing: When It Flows


Whether you are writing a novel or a quarterly report, are past-deadline or have a wide-open time horizon, love the writing process or abhor it--you have "good" writing days and "bad" ones.

So do I.

I asked Ray Sidney-Smith, W3 Consulting, to share how he works on multiple writing projects at a time. A prolific author, Ray has interviewed me for a podcast series and used this newsletter as an example in his book SloLoMo Success. It was time for me to turn the tables and ask him some questions.

Daily Practice  

"For me, it all comes down to daily practice," he said to explain how he musters the time and creative energy to write. He sets himself a goal to write 2,000 words per day, first thing in the morning. All those words don't make it into his final pieces, but some will. No matter, he's moving toward a finished work.

I am not suggesting you duplicate Ray's numerical goals. Two-thousand words is perhaps not even appropriate for the your type of project.

The point: set a goal related to time (e.g., 30 minutes), word count, or piece of the whole ("the scene where Anne talks to the doctor.") Make it ambitious, but realistic. Maintain a steady, forward march.


Ray uses this acronym for his publication process: Brainstorm, Research, Organize, Outline, Draft, Edit, Disseminate.
"My goal is from a productivity perspective--breaking a project into do-able parts," he said. He spends a lot of time in organizing and outlining. For example, when writing a book, he said he will think through chapter and section headings until they feel right. "By the time I get to drafting [the 2,000 words per day], I am executing what I have already done."

Letting Things Flow

When he gets stuck, Ray says he asks himself the question, "What would someone want to know here?" Answering helps get him unstuck.
When drafting, he doesn't spend time agonizing over the right word or shift gears to look something up. He has developed a shorthand system over time of brackets, question marks, and other marks as place-holders to remind him to go back to that part. Then he moves on.   
"There is a psychological concept at play," he said. "If there's just a blank space, the brain cannot let it go. Instead, if you put something down, anything, you can move ahead."
He also noted our brains are wired to mull on these things throughout the day. "I might insert a bracket, go on, and have the exact word as soon as I sit down the next morning."

You probably have moments of inspiration during the day. Keep a small notebook handy, if that's what works for you. As a techie, Ray suggested a mobile app called PlainText (iOS) or Plain.txt (Android).
Other online or tech tools:

  • Writer (a Mac equivalent is Scrivener) to organize  research and pieces of writing  
  • Zotero, a citation tool to capture research in a single searchable interface, including PDFs, images, screenshots, and videos  
  • Wordpress daily prompts, simple ways to start your words flowing.
  • idictate.com, to talk out your ideas and then have audio files transcribed for about a penny a word.

Reward System

Last but not least, it's hard to get motivated--even for a self-starter like Ray--without an external deadline. Thus, incentives.
"Humans are reward-based entities," he said. He develops series of rewards for different tiers of goals (weekly, monthly, completion of a project).
Think about which goal-based incentives will keep you writing. Then reward yourself!