Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Productivity Secret of Professional Writers

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Georgina Laidlaw. Georgina is a freelance content developer and content manager for Problogger. You can follow her on Twitter @georginalaidlaw.

“Just get started.”

When I spoke with Jeff late last year as part of the research for a Problogger eBook called Blog Wise, this was his mantra. To be fair, he didn’t make it sound easy. Jeff told me the way he gets things written is to trick himself into making a start.

It seemed curious to me. How exactly does a writer who doesn’t love the actual process of writing “just get started”? How, specifically, do you get past that first hurdle? My research points to one answer:

Professional writers are constant writers.

Assembly Line — Productivity Secret

Photo credit: Ben Sutherland (Creative Commons)

What is constant writing?

Despite what you may be thinking, you don’t need to quit your job, give up weekend sports, and chain yourself to a pencil to embrace constant writing.

In this case, “constant” doesn’t even mean consistent. It’s not about sitting down at your computer every morning at 7am and turning out 500 words of deathless prose. Constant writing is an ongoing process that lets the act of writing get under your skin and into your blood.

Constant writing is the easiest way to foster a writing addiction. To do it, you need to stop thinking of writing as “Writing” — an external, objective task. Instead, you need to start thinking of it as a natural part of you, an extension of who you are. Like thinking, breathing, and laughing.

How can you adopt that mindset? By writing something every day — ideally more often than once a day. But between text messages, tweets, scribbled notes, and emails, you’re probably already doing that.

Now you need to go a step further, to use some of that writing time as your own time to reflect and express yourself in different, unprecedented ways.

To be clear, the point of constant writing is:

  • Not to write blog posts.
  • Not to journal or complete something.
  • Not to focus on improving written expression, grammar skills, etc.
  • Not to shut yourself away in a soundproof room and focus.
  • Not to get too serious.

The point is simply to enjoy playing with words. Because if you enjoy words, you’ll naturally want to get them out of the box and use them more often — in speech and in writing.

Once you begin to really enjoy expressing your thoughts through writing, the “just get started” challenge stops being such a hurdle. Suddenly, it’s a means to an end — a necessary step in a rewarding process.

Once you’re thinking like that, you’re on track to becoming as prolific a writer as some of the best.

How does it work?

Constant writing starts with paying attention. It could be a text message or a tweet, an email to your boss, or a birthday card for a friend. Of all the things you write today, choose one — just one — and really focus on the words you’re using.

Maybe in confirming that you’ll meet a friend after work, you’d ordinarily text, “Sure, see you then.” Maybe today you’ll try something different: an “Of course” or an “Excellent! I look forward to it,” or (my personal favorite) “Coolio.”

Attention to words also involves reading. Not necessarily books or blog posts, but the things you read every day: billboards, posters, headlines, signage, and even T-shirts (I just looked up in time to read a passing T-shirt as I wrote this sentence).

Think about the way those communicate ideas. What would you change? How else could you say that? Are there ambiguities in what’s written? Where do they lead your imagination? Over the weekend I read this sentence in a New Scientist article:

Like many people, salt is a large part of my diet.

Visions of cannibalism swam before my eyes. I couldn’t help it. Then, I thought of other ways to restate the message. But I didn’t write anything down. Nonetheless, this is constant writing in action.

Through this practice, I’ve become obsessed with the way words combine to communicate. If there’s scope for error, just imagine the innumerable possibilities for intentional clarity. It’s fun.

Finally, constant writing involves listening. Overheard conversations, misheard snippets of speech and accents can reveal intriguing possibilities for language. They also allow us to learn from the ways others express themselves.

When you start thinking like this, the desire to play with the words snowballs. The impetus to stretch and bend language becomes irresistible. You’ll be compelled to get a pen and notepad or pull out a word processor and play around.

At this point, you’re writing just for the love of it. Not to necessarily achieve anything. You’ve officially got writing under your skin. It’s in your blood now.

And the rest is your future

You can imagine where things go from here:

Now, you’re the kind of person who writes down a word a colleague used in a meeting so you can look it up later.

You see a hand-written sign stuck to a shop window and mentally transfer in some other nouns.

You spend your commute drafting the opening lines of a never-to-be-finished story about a closet cannibal who’s also a respected scientist.

You’re a constant writer.

You no longer see getting started as a hurdle, except in terms of topic, perhaps. But that’s easily solved with a little research or free time. The actual act — physical and psychological — of writing is now second nature to you.

Now you can just get started.

For more about how constant writers stay productive, check out this new eBook from Problogger: Blog Wise: How to Do More with Less.

*Photo credit: Ben Sutherland (Creative Commons)

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • Deborah

    This is great! Georgina’s point of playing with words, rather than crossing things off a “writing” todo list, is new perspective for me. It really is about falling back in love with writing and word play isn’t it? Thanks for another great post Jeff!

    Deborah

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      it really is. thanks, Deborah.

  • http://twitter.com/mooderino Moody Writing

    This was a really interesting post. Got me thinking (a good thing in this case)
    Cheers,
    mood

  • http://twitter.com/cynicalbynature Kevin Basil

    Great post by Georgina. One of my routines every day is thinking on my way to the bus stop. It’s a half hour walk and I just turn on my ipod, listen to the music, and let my mind wander. Inevitably, I think of new ideas or just interesting things I want to research later. A lot of times, my ideas are spawned by looking around as I walk and watching people or maybe something I hear in the music. Perhaps a line of lyric will inspire me. To me, writing is everywhere and everything is story that just needs a good hook.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       I love how your surroundings can inspire you.

  • http://www.adamlasky.com/ Adam Lasky

    I love the part about listening.  There is material everywhere I go, but the challenge is to become observant.  This is in part why I love to read: observing creativity challenges me to get creative as well.  There are mentors and material all around us.  Great post, Georgina!  Thanks for the insights!

  • http://www.voyagersquill.com/about Patrick Hearn

    Excellent post! I’m glad I’m not the only one who does this – when I see something spelled poorly on a sign, or an apostrophe in the wrong place, I flip. I’m extreme about grammatical mistakes in my writing, and I try to demand the same level of attention from others. 

    I’m happy to know it’s ‘writing constantly’ and not OCD like I had thought…:p

    • http://www.chadgibbs.com Chad Gibbs

      I won practice round tickets to The Masters two years ago, and our gate brought us in near the 16th green.  First thing we saw was a sign saying, “Quite, Green Ahead”.  I mean it was quite a green, but I don’t think that is what they were trying to say.  

      Great post by the way.  Reminded me of a sermon I heard on praying without ceasing.  

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        hah!

  • http://www.ivblogger.com/ Sheyi

    Excellent post here. In anything one wants to be the best in, the only way is to always do that thing and try learn everyday too.

     

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    Thanks for this, Georgina.
    I’m amazed at how our motivation can be affected by how we look at a task at hand. It’s powerful to remember the benefits, but it seems that there is even more power in getting to the point where we actually enjoy the process.

  • http://www.theskooloflife.com Srinivas Rao

    Well said Jeff. I’ve made it a habit to write every single day. But recently one of the things I started doing was keeping track ideas in Evernote. How often do we hear somebody say something and thinking “wow that sounds like a great title for a blog post.”‘ Then we forget about it.  I’m starting to love Evernote because of this. I”m also keeping a swipe file of titles that I click on and open. 

  • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

    I’ve found this to be true in my writing – I am still on the journey toward the love of writing. But I love “having written”! Thanks for the encouragement!

  • http://granbee.wordpress.com/ Rose Byrd

    Georgina and Jeff, reading this post has stiffened my resolve!  I will be transferring all of my posts that include portions of my adult fairy tale series onto my new 32 gb flash drive and begin “filling in the blanks on March 1!  Also next, Monday, March 5, I will being preserving my digitized illustrations on that flash drive.  I do strongly believe, (am convinced) that my writing mostly for my blog posts for several months and interacting about these poems with other writers online as properly immersed me back into the writer’s world I mostly withdrew from over 20 years ago, through a crippling self-effacement complex!  I listened to other people who supposedly cared about me instead of my inner voice.  You have really helped me continue to firm up my writing practices!  Hooray!

    • http://www.adamlasky.com/ Adam Lasky

      That’s awesome Rose! Stay strong.  It’s great to see that you have made specific, actionable, and achievable steps to get you closer to your goal.  Small victories in the beginning are crucial! 

    • http://twitter.com/georginalaidlaw Georgina Laidlaw

      Congratulations, Rose. I love that the web has provided a more open forum for writers than traditional publishing :) Don’t let go of your dream.

  • http://www.eileenknowles.com/ Eileen

    Many great thoughts here.    One think I love about writing is that there are stories every where.  And, usually, I don’t realize it until I sit down and start putting the idea down.  Sometimes it just starts with a word or a sight.  It’s so much fun.  Last week at work I sat through a meeting and the person speaking must have used the word “efficacy” a half dozen.  I was fixated on it.  I never used that word.  I love that word!  There ‘s a story there somewhere. ;)  

    • http://twitter.com/georginalaidlaw Georgina Laidlaw

      Eileen, you make a really important point here. There’s a lot of advice, especially online, about simplifying writing, and that advice would have you ignore—if not deplore—words like “efficacy.” So your delight is an exciting contrast to that :) I don’t think we should shy away from any words—we just need to know how to use them, and then choose to use them, rather than just writing on autopilot.

  • http://www.jasonvana.com Jason Vana

    I’ve been doing constant writing for a long time, just never had a term for it. I was an English Lit major in college (and a business major, but that doesn’t really apply here) and I love playing around with words. Ads and t-shirts and rephrasing the way people communicate is something I do without even thinking about it. Great post!

  • Lindagartz

    I find I do this a lot–especially cringing at the dangling participle (I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s called — “Standing in the woods, the stone looked heavy.” Yikes! A standing stone. 
    I like the idea of of just writing something for fun. Writing a more coherent sentence in an email (or a post comment — avoid “great!” is practice that will pay off as quality phrasing becomes part of your everyday expressions.

  • http://twitter.com/MeditateThis MeditateThis

    Inspiring post, Jeff. I’m always writing my thoughts down. I seem to conjure up my best thoughts while driving. This is why I always keep a pad and pen in my car!

  • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

    Love this: “Instead, you need to start thinking of it as a natural part of you, an extension of who you are. Like thinking, breathing, and laughing.”

    • http://henryfiallo.wordpress.com/ Enrique Fiallo

      I also love the “extension of who you are”. No need to even think about it. It’s just THERE. Like my fingers, intrinsic and integral, so much a part of me that I do not give it a second thought. Constant. I just “DO”. 

      Enrique
      Fiallo

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        love that, too.

      • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

        Yes Enrique!

  • http://www.publicationcoach.com/ Daphne Gray-Grant

    Constant writing is a terrific idea – great post! One of my own secrets to “constant writing” is that I walk a lot and while walking, I am always writing something in my head. When I get back home, I write it down. If the idea is too complicated (or if I feel the wording I’ve come up with is particularly “right”), then I’ll leave myself a message on my cellphone, so I don’t forget it. Thanks for a great post.

  • http://liferapture.com Benjamin Spall

    Coolio post. I love your point, Georgina, about playing with the words. I recently moved to Spain, and in the process of learning Spanish I’ve fallen back in love with words once more.
    Living with people from all over the world and struggling through a foreign language every day has taught me the value of each and every word in my vocabulary (both my English, and my Spanish vocabulary). Gracias :)

  • http://www.write-along-blog.blogspot.com/ Hillary

    Constant writing for me is all about perspective, which I think is what you are getting at here in your post. If you approach life from a writing perspective, writing itself when you sit down to write is much easier, because all the things you experienced during the day were priming your writer’s pump for writing. I find that life is begging to be written if you approach your day as an eavesdropping writer, taking mental notes on conversations, gestures, facial expressions, actions, etc. Multiple times a day I find myself asking, how would I write that? or, wow, that would be a great story or scene. Sometimes I take notes, other times I allow the memory of what happened to enter the mental library of my mind for later use. Whatever happens, my mind is logging everything it finds worth while in the material stash in my mind. This is how I write constantly, by paying attention. The actual writing then is always happening in my head, so that when I sit down to write it all comes out in one form or another.

    • http://www.write-along-blog.blogspot.com/ Hillary

      By the way, love your voice as a writer. Would love to see your work too. :) Post a link.

  • MM

    Most authors will tell you that to be a writer, you better enjoy the process of writing. Maybe I’m just hard core, but if you’re having to “force” yourself to write or you dislike the process, perhaps writing is not for you–otherwise you’d make up your mind and just do it. I’m working on my first novel, and even if I decide to keep it on my computer and never show it to anyone, the process I’ve gone through has been simply amazing–nothing like it. I got to experience what the professionals experience, from plot sticks to character development issues to dialogue issues to revision techniques. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.

    • http://www.write-along-blog.blogspot.com/ Hillary

      I totally agree with you, and I was thinking the same exact thing when I read this post. Just like anything in life, you ahve to enjoy doing it, or why bother? Your point about writing, even if you never showed it to anyone, is also really good, and I agree. The process alone is worth the trouble. No, it’s not easy, but you learn so much. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world either. :) Thank you.

      • http://www.write-along-blog.blogspot.com/ Hillary

        By the way, I love your voice as a writer and would love to read your work. Post a link. 

    • http://twitter.com/georginalaidlaw Georgina Laidlaw

      Hey MM, I agree :) I love the process too. But there are plenty of professional writers—including novelists—who claim to have enormous trouble getting started. Perhaps we each interpret our difficulties with the challenge in different ways. 

  • http://www.nurturingcreativity.net/ Denise Smedley

    I love this post!  I am constantly paying attention to words and speech.  The idea is so simple and can be implemented throughout your entire day.  You definitely don’t have to be locked in a sound proof room  to write – well said.

  • http://www.CrazyAboutChurch.com/ Charles Specht

    Good post.  I’ve been blogging a lot lately…which certainly is writing…but I need to focus a bit more time on writing (I mean, finishing) my book.  I think I have subconsciously been putting it off.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for helping me see my thinking as writing. I have found, however, that if I don’t write a thought down, it usually evaporates. In fact last night found me on the bathroom floor scribbling notes because I couldn’t go to sleep my head was so full of ideas.

    BTW – Blogwise was a wonderful read. In fact, it’s how I found this blog.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for helping me see my thinking as writing. I have found, however, that if I don’t write a thought down, it usually evaporates. In fact last night found me on the bathroom floor scribbling notes because I couldn’t go to sleep my head was so full of ideas.

    BTW – Blogwise was a wonderful read. In fact, it’s how I found this blog.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for helping me see my thinking as writing. I have found, however, that if I don’t write a thought down, it usually evaporates. In fact last night found me on the bathroom floor scribbling notes because I couldn’t go to sleep my head was so full of ideas.

    BTW – Blogwise was a wonderful read. In fact, it’s how I found this blog.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for helping me see my thinking as writing. I have found, however, that if I don’t write a thought down, it usually evaporates. In fact last night found me on the bathroom floor scribbling notes because I couldn’t go to sleep my head was so full of ideas.

    BTW – Blogwise was a wonderful read. In fact, it’s how I found this blog.

    • http://twitter.com/georginalaidlaw Georgina Laidlaw

      Thanks Julie :) Interesting process. I find there are ideas and *ideas*. Often I want to write ideas down, and that works well, but when an *idea* hits, I can’t stop thinking about it, so there’s no chance of me forgetting. At that point, the writing down is about developing the idea rather than noting it. Do you find this?

  • http://chrisvonada.com chris vonada

    Refreshing post… I’m inspired, thanks Georgina!!

  • Allie

    Coolio!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       :)

    • http://twitter.com/georginalaidlaw Georgina Laidlaw

      Booyah!

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        can’t beat a good “Booyah”

  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    Excellent insight. Too often I get caught up in trying to write content instead of enjoying playing with words. Thank you.

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    Great post Georgina, very helpful tips.

  • Sorrento Aishikami

    I work in an online English school – we offer online courses.
    Our learners write a lot of essays, and often use Google translate while doing that (for the life of me, I can’t figure out why?).
    That is an endless well of inspiration. Sometimes their essays make little sense, but one or two sentences are so interestingly wrong, that I could write a whole short story based on them.
    Therefore, I agree, inspiration for writing can be found everywhere.
    One only has to keep one’s eyes and mind open. :>

  • http://www.librarianchat.com/nookbooks.html Houston Librarian

    My friends would unfriend me if I wrote Coolio, but other than that…good advice.

    • http://twitter.com/georginalaidlaw Georgina Laidlaw

      Haha! Seriously, though, don’t let your friends’ snobbishness curb your self-expression, Houston Librarian… ;) 

  • http://www.mattsouthern.com Matt Southern

    Interesting post. I’ve always thought that to get better at writing that your writing should have a purpose. I’ve never thought of writing something just for the sake of writing. I’ll have to try that and see what comes from it. Thanks for sharing these ideas.

  • http://babyrowe.blogspot.com Sabrina

    Getting started is oftentimes where I stop.  Not because I want to.  Rather, I just don’t know how to begin.  Thanks for these tips.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       ditto

  • http://itsakoolife.wordpress.com/ rebecca koo

    Wow. This is really amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. Love how you emphasis writing as an organic, inextricable part of life instead of a task that is done when we set life aside. I’m going to be digesting this for a while. Thank you.

  • Allyhawkins

    I’ll be watching the news and one story will make me start asking, “What if…or what must be the reality of that person in order to justify that behaviour… or what must a person tell himself at night in order to allow him to sleep?” Or I’ll see a person and they do something and I start making up a story about them. This happens all the time.  I started thinking of myself as a “real” writer when a guy with the full disclosure(tattoo) of woman’s bust on each arm inspired my ss “A Girl on Each Arm”.

  • http://KatieAx.blogspot.com/ Katie Axelson

    I read everything! Not necessarily books but billboards, CD liner notes, posters, anything with words that crosses my eyes. If you’re looking for quality reading, I suggest the back of the cereal
    box.

    Katie

  • Anonymous

    “… if you enjoy words, you’ll naturally want to get them out of the box and use them more often”. Love it!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       I liked this part, too.

  • Meg R

    I get the addicted part.  Just as an alcoholic doesn’t go for a drink but drinks because he is a drinker, so is the work of writing not just an activity but something I do becuase I am a writer.

  • http://www.15minutewriter.com Sharon Gibson

    Wow! I totally love this post! I love words and to play with them. You’ve given me permission to take the drudgery out of writing and to enjoy the process. Now I see writing as creative play as well as an opportunity to communicate the message I have to share. I already do enjoy being creative in my writing but this gave me even more release and more ideas to have fun and discover in new ways the joy of writing.
    Thank you so much for writing this!
    I am truly grateful!

  • http://everyoneisvegan.com/ Ainslie

    Oh. This is what’s going on inside my head at least 75% of the time, I never thought of it in this way though – as a prelude to my “actual” writing. I tend to prefer “cool beans” to “coolio,” though ;) Great post.

  • Mae Lorette

    I like your thinking and I like your sense of humor.  You managed to stretch my thinking and make me laugh.  A winner combination. I can now add a new component to the writing life.

  • Alexa

    Wow this is beautiful and inspiring. I’m still on the 10th page of my story (for months now) and I just couldn’t seem to get it out of my head that reaching 100 or 200 pages is just next to impossible. I already have a small publisher who is willing to help me out but my problem is always, I’m just getting started. So thanks, Georgina and Jeff for this post.