CTRL-A & DELETE

I just caught myself hitting  CTRL-A & DELETE with touch-typer speed and precision.  No hunting and pecking for that odd combination of keys required.  In case you’re not a complete computer nerd like me, the key sequence highlights everything on your screen and deletes it.  It’s the quick and easy way to start over with a clean slate, or the modern equivalent for ripping the sheet of obnoxious writing from the typewriter, wadding it up, and pitching it toward the trashcan (only not as cathartic).  For whatever reason, this time I paused and thought about why I did it.  It must have been the third or fourth time I had hit those keys in the preceding five minutes but I hardly remember doing it.  I only remember trying to get an article off the ground and not liking my results.

I had started an article I wanted to publish on Medium.  You see, I’ve been “saving up a couple good ideas” for pieces I believed had some legs and could launch my Medium presence with a bang.  Saving an idea is a silly notion, I know, but that’s the reality of how I thought today.  I wanted this to be a great piece, though, and I was not meeting my expectations.

As I re-read the first six or seven sentences of the article (for the third or fourth or fifth time), I judged it as unworthy of a venue where I could expect people to pay to read my work.  So with a flash of thought, my fingers twitched and the offending words were obliterated.  As I pondered my action I tried to figure out on what grounds I based my judgment.  I was, and still am, at a total loss for anything that made sense.  I simply did not believe it measured up to other articles I have seen on the site but I can offer no concrete evidence as to why I believe it.

My actions were obviously a symptom of publishing fear.  Somewhere, deep inside me, despite my strong words and bravado, despite my month-long record of posting blog content, I am scared of how the public will judge my work.  I don’t want to be laughed at or ridiculed.  I don’t want my work to be found wanting by the internet literary mafia.  Instead, I expect it to strike a chord with every person who reads it.  I want it to move them enough so they not only reward me with their dollars but they are compelled to tell all their friends about the wonderful article they read.  What tripe.  I know the futility of approaching the work with some sort of “greatness goal” from the outset.  It’s just not how it’s done.

“The writer’s job is to write.  Let the public and the critics decide what to do and think about your work,” says every guru on the internet.  With clear instructions like that, why is it so hard to separate yourself from thinking about how your words will be perceived?  It’s a conundrum.  There has to be a trick to dissociate yourself from the feelings of inadequacy and impending doom.  If I can find that trick I’ll retire a millionaire.

In the meantime, I need to end the habit of judging my work as I write it. The CTRL-A & DELETE cycle must be broken.  I suspect I am not alone in fighting this problem.  I also suspect it will be similar to the addict giving up the needle or the bottle. There will be a few relapses, but my resolve shall remain strong.  To ensure I do not wimp out and delete the next great article I conjure, I commit to writing and publishing an article on Medium within five days.  You should do the same!  If we can’t do that, maybe we should pry the DELETE key off our keyboards!

Where to Spend the Writing Time?

I have a problem. It seems I keep creating them for myself. This time, it’s a question of how best to spend my writing time. I have publicly committed to publishing articles on this blog (at least 365 by January 1, 2019), but I also need to work on my fiction and other projects. How does one decide where to spend the time when there are multiple competing projects, all of which are worthy of the effort?

Time is scarce. Between work, family, studying, sleeping, and writing, the day is beyond booked. Some writers believe there is plenty of time available in the day and that the real problem is doing the writing. That’s backward to me. The writing is easy, provided there is enough time available, and that’s always the rub.

In my quest to figure out how to make better use of my time I did some experimentation. It turns out that as long as I have a “road map” of where I want to go with my work, I write at an average pace of about one thousand words per hour. When I do not have a well-defined plan, however, I’m slowed to three hundred to five hundred words per hour, and my satisfaction with the work is typically much less. The obvious solution is to spend time writing only when the plan for the work has been completed. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.  Planning takes time, too.

I estimate I will need to write approximately one hundred eighty thousand words to fulfill my commitment to my blog. That’s akin to writing a large novel. If I properly plan each article, that amounts to one hour per day that I must spend to achieve my blog goal (plus the time it takes to plan what I want to write).

I have two fiction pieces I want to write, too. Each of them will require about twenty thousand words each. That’s another forty hours of raw work, plus the planning time, rewrites, and editing. All together, I will probably spend one hundred fifty hours on them.

The yearly total is about three hundred fifty hours of work for my writing. Per week that equals almost seven hours. Where does one find seven hours per week? The question before me, then, is to determine if I can justify putting forth a significant amount of effort over the next year to accomplish all my writing goals or if I should reevaluate my commitment to publish 365 blog posts and spend the time focused on fiction or other projects.

To make matters worse, my interest in my fiction waxes and wanes, as does my interest in writing for my blog. I find it difficult to sit down and slog through five hundred words for a blog post when I am more interested in working on a story, and vice versa. The bottom line is I’m not sure where I want to go with the work right now and I’m not at all certain that there will ever be a perfect answer. How do people manage the competing interests for their writing time?

15 Tricks to Help You Become a Professional Writer

When I decided to write as a professional, I committed to a daily output of at least five hundred words. Notice my commitment is not qualified with conditions like “most days” or “provided I’m not busy with other projects.” It’s an everyday requirement. It has to be. To take a day off, or worse, to have the ability to skip a day’s work on a whim, invites procrastination and laziness into my life. Once they have a foothold they become insidious and cripple productivity.

Below I have listed the top fifteen tricks I use to stay true to my commitment as a professional.  Before I show them, I want to make certain you understand why they are important and why you should adopt them. Without a thorough understanding of their purpose, they’re just simple ideas. Once you have changed the way you think about your commitment to writing as a professional, they can change your life.

When I started, I thought I knew how to make myself write every day. I didn’t. I am insanely busy and had trouble making time to write every day. I thought I needed outside help.  I thought I could write when my schedule allowed.  I was wrong on both counts.

In hopes of boosting my resolve to write every day, I joined a Facebook group called my500words. Jeff Goins started the group to encourage budding writers to write every day. It’s was fun to have a little bit of external accountability via the group, but it’s not the source of personal motivation I hoped it would be.  I had to change the way I approached my work because the group was not helping.

Through my participation, I realized my goal to write is truly mine alone.  It’s a simple concept but was a revelation to me.  I think a lot of writers, including me, start by looking for external validation to help overcome the fear of putting their work out into the world, to provide the motivation to keep writing in the face of the fear and to get some positive feedback to encourage them to continue.   That doesn’t work.  I learned no one is going to care if I fail to do the work because no one noticed when I didn’t post my daily word count, and I didn’t care when they didn’t post their own. They are just hundreds of anonymous writers trying to make their way in the world. They have no stake in my success. Why should they?

I struggled to make my daily output goal until I internalized the realization that no one cared about my work. Once I fully accepted responsibility for my own productivity I changed my daily habits and scheduled the time to write.   I began writing for me.  The more rigidly I controlled my time, the easier I could do the work.  I also began to understand why so many people fail.

It always appeared to me that most members pounded out their daily words and posted their accomplishment to the group.  Then I did the math.  Given the number of people who belong to the group and then noticing that it was the same fifty or sixty people posting their word goal every day, I understood it was a very small percentage who were actually doing the work.  Kudos to them. The truth is that most people, if they posted at all,  posted the reasons why they failed to reach their five-hundred-word goal. It’s common to read comments such as “I’m behind because <reasons>, but I’ll catch up.” Or my personal favorite, “This has been a day. I had to put my writing on the back burner because <reasons>.”  They think we care why they missed their goal.  They don’t understand it’s their goal, not ours’.  We don’t even know them.  This misconception is exactly what kept me from doing the work every single day.  I wanted people to notice my work or lack thereof.  They didn’t and that rejection kept me from doing the work.  Then I changed.

Reading the “I’m not able to make my five hundred words because…” comments depresses me now.  People either do not realize how easy it is to make the time to get the work done or they are not serious about writing in the first place. Either way, they are missing the opportunity to achieve their writing goal because of their personal failure to make it happen.

Now I believe that unless you are in the hospital and are physically incapable of writing, or a loved one has died or is on death’s doorstep, whatever reason you claim for not doing the work is just a personal crutch.  This is now one of my professional guidelines and its validity was proven to me by the repetition of the excuses on the my500words group.  Ultimately, this was the change in thinking I needed to alter the way I approach my work.  If the work is not getting done, it’s your own fault.  Don’t make any excuses.

Too harsh? I don’t think so. I’m a busy person and I get my writing done. How busy am I, you ask? I am a husband to my beautiful wife and father to four awesome kids, each of whom requires my attention every day. I am the operations manager of a thirty-million dollar per year business, where I work a minimum of fifty hours each week. I’m a paramedic student, where studying and class attendance require fifteen to twenty hours per week. I’m a part-time 911 emergency medical technician in Las Vegas, a job which requires about twelve hours per week. I’m a professional competitive shooter, a job that requires a few hours of practice each week. I’m a hobbyist traditional woodworker, an activity I enjoy as I have free time. I’m now a professional writer, a job at which I spend at least one hour each day, often more. I believe “busy” is a cop-out, a label that means nothing but sounds important. It’s not objective reality. How you use your time determines what you can accomplish.

If you want to be a professional writer, don’t make excuses why you cannot do the work.  Take the responsibility to produce every single day and get it done.

Below is a list of methods I use to schedule my writing time and come up with new ideas every day. The first three are absolutely critical. Skip them at your peril. Somewhere in this list are the keys to unlocking your own ability to write every day.

  • Commit to writing at least five hundred words every day, without excuse;
  • Adopt the absolute belief that any excuse to not do the work is, by definition, bullshit. No exceptions;
  • Understand no one cares about your success except you;
  • Get up an hour early and write before work;
  • Stay up an hour later and write before bed;
  • Write on my lunch break instead of socializing;
  • Write or come up with ideas on breaks from work (quit smoking if you have that vice, you will live longer and you will have more time to write);
  • Write while sitting in the ambulance waiting for a call (or anywhere you have unproductive downtime);
  • Write while waiting for appointments to start (they’re always late anyway);
  • Think of new ideas and ways I want to write about a subject while exercising;
  • Write instead of watching television;
  • Write instead of going to the bar with friends;
  • Record writing ideas between meetings or other work tasks when I need a couple minutes for a break;
  • Think of new ideas while cooking meals for my family;
  • Think of new ideas while driving;

I did not write this article intending to bust anyone’s chops. I hope that is not how it is perceived. That said, you must accept responsibility for your writing success. Don’t make excuses for why you fail to write. Adopt some of these techniques, adapt them to your own life circumstances and quit making excuses. Quit looking for external validation to keep you motivated.  Just do the work.

Are You Saying Something or Just Spewing Words?

About a week ago I committed to writing at least 365 pieces of meaningful content for this site by the beginning of 2019. One article per day, where at least one hundred of the articles have more than five hundred words (which sounds loftier than it is – I can’t seem to write a grocery list with fewer than five hundred words).

To bolster my resolve to accomplish my production goal I joined a Facebook group called My500Words. The commitment is simple. Five hundred words, every day. No excuses.
Continue reading “Are You Saying Something or Just Spewing Words?”

Happy New Year! Now Go Set Some Goals

With 2018 upon us I feel compelled to offer a message of goodwill and encouragement for the new year.  It’s customary as well as true.  I sincerely hope everyone accomplishes their goals and lives the life they want to live.  The truth, however, is that most people will not accomplish their goals – or much of anything else – in 2018.  This is because they do not have any goals to accomplish nor a plan with which to accomplish them!
Continue reading “Happy New Year! Now Go Set Some Goals”

How Much to Invest in Your Own Writing Business?

I am faced with a curious dilemma this evening.  My son, as noted in a previous article, wants to start a business. This business requires a lot of video production. In today’s age of easy computing, it’s not a technically demanding requirement, provided you have the requisite technology on hand! I, however,  do not.

Continue reading “How Much to Invest in Your Own Writing Business?”

What Is The Value of One Human Voice in a Sea of Voices?

I’ve often wondered what value a single human voice has in today’s age of instant information. I wonder if I will make a dent in the world at all simply because the task of getting my message in front of a large number of people seems so impossible given the number of other people trying to do the same thing. If I do happen to get my words in front of the masses, will it make any difference? Continue reading “What Is The Value of One Human Voice in a Sea of Voices?”

How Long Does It Take To Build An Audience?

One of the most important things we want to do as writers is build our audience. Having someone actually read what we write is the goal, is it not? We want our thoughts to change lives, impact the world, and make a difference. An audience is also the path to monetary reward. Having readers is absolutely critical if we want to get paid. For these reasons, it’s safe to say that building a large audience is as important a goal as writing itself.

Based on my Google-fu, one of the most sought-after bits of information about how to build an audience is “how long does it take.” The response depends completely on who you ask. Continue reading “How Long Does It Take To Build An Audience?”

The Power of Rituals for Your Writing

Rituals have existed since the dawn of mankind for one reason.  They work. Work for what, you ask?  Rituals are used to reinforce good (and bad) behaviors for individuals and groups.  Examples include the obvious, like church rituals.  Holy Communion, the marriage ceremony, and baptism are all rituals.  Other rituals are not so obvious, like how we get ready for a date, how you celebrate birthdays, and what you do on New Year’s Eve.  While not as elaborate as the church rituals, they are every bit as potent in terms of how they affect the individual. Continue reading “The Power of Rituals for Your Writing”

The Fear of Wasting Your Time Writing

It’s easy to commit to being a writer.  It’s a simple thing to make any commitment, for that matter.  People make commitments every day, but they rarely honor them.  Think of the countless commitments made on New Year’s Eve each year.  I’ll go to the gym five times each week.  I’ll eat nothing but healthy food.  I’ll ride my bike to and from work every day.  I’ll save ten percent of my salary every year.  You know all about the hollow commitments that are made but never met.  You’ve made a few yourself.  So have I. Continue reading “The Fear of Wasting Your Time Writing”