Psst … hey, Copyblogger is taking the week off between Christmas and New Year’s.
At least, officially.
I’m not supposed to be here at all.
But, given that my schedule is always out of whack this time of year, I like to take advantage of the disruptions to think about what I want to make happen in the coming year.
I talked a little bit before Christmas about some of my observations about productivity advice and why it can be tricky for creative pros.
Today I want to talk about one of my favorite productivity “hacks.” It’s the one tactic that serves me when everything else is on the express shuttle to Crazytown.
Like, um, the moment when I’m writing this post … between finishing baking the second pie for Christmas dinner and doing my hair so I can go to the neighbors’ place without frightening their children.
That lifesaver is a robust creative process. If you make anything creative on a consistent basis — blog posts, videos, podcast episodes — this will save you a ton of time, energy, and stress.
First: the starting ritual
Usually, the hardest part of creative work is getting started. I don’t know about you, but my brain likes to put off starting as long as possible. Partly because my brain likes plenty of mulling time, and partly because my brain is rather lazy.
There are a million little rituals you can devise to let your brain know, “OK, we’re starting some work now.”
You might go for a walk, or go catch a Pokémon, or make a cup of your favorite writing tea. Maybe you like to scribble a fast mind map, or burn a little incense at the altar of the writing gods.
Whatever starting ritual you choose, make it consistent. And when you fire it off, do anything you can humanly do to start writing … even if it’s literally a sentence or two.
The more you practice starting, the more work you’ll end up making.
This is the creative idea, the seedling that will grow up to be a piece of work.
This is where a lot of writers can get stuck, but there are two great secrets to generating creative ideas.
The first is that the more work you create, the more ideas you have. Ideas are like tribbles. Get a few of them together and they’re very good at making baby ideas.
The second is that no matter how creatively drained you might feel, you actually have plenty of ideas. Your brain sits there in your head making up ideas all day long. You just aren’t capturing and keeping them.
I recommend that part of your creative process should focus on that second one — how you’re going to catch ideas as they fly by, and hold them safely where they can do you some good later on.
Every good piece of creative work has a structure. It might be an unconventional structure, or an organic one that isn’t pre-planned, but good work always has a skeleton that gives it shape.
If you want to produce a steady volume of good work, you’ll want to learn what your preferred structures look like. And part of inventing your own creative process will be getting familiar with the structures that work best for you.
For most writers, these include short but memorable stories. Other writing structures include quick, interesting introductions, and sections to cite evidence or give examples.
For content creators, the numbered list is a helpful structure — if it’s well done. Folks who give presentations have bits, anecdotes, and sometimes props. And copywriters include technical persuasive elements like calls to action and fascinating bullets.
Structures can be complex, but a structure can also be as simple as a cohesive set of subheads that keeps the reader (and you, the writer) moving smoothly through your key idea.
The walls and windows
Once you know your framework, you can start filling it in. Some frameworks, like those numbered lists, are easy to fill in — you just research the needed number of items and write them up. Others can take more thought. But if your framework is solid, you’ll understand how to build the walls and windows of your piece.
If you come to a point where you really don’t know what to write next, you probably have a chunk missing out of your framework. No need for panic, just go back and shore up that part — or consider taking the whole section out as the seed for a new piece.
The finishing touches
Carpenters sometimes say that the first 90% of building a house takes 90% of the time, and the final 10% takes the other 90% of the time.
In other words, finish work is hard. It’s also what makes your writing (or a house) look polished and beautiful.
Many writing blogs give most of their advice on this step. Over time, you’ll amass your own favorite bits of advice, and you can fold them into your creative process. Some of my favorites include:
- Read it aloud.
- Let it sit for 24 hours before you do your final edit.
- Look for unnecessary words you can prune. Then do that again. Then do it one more time.
- Snip out anything that’s not to the point (and save it for a potential later post).
- Make sure each word means what you think it means.
- Read it, carefully, one last time after you think your edit is done.
Why processes are magic
With a solid process, you can create good work even if you’re short on time.
- No matter how long or short a piece is, it will serve a single point.
- You’ll have given it an editing pass, even if it was quick.
- It will be based on an original idea that has some life to it.
Having great processes cuts most writer’s block off at the pass.
It also shows you exactly what to adjust if you want to change any aspect of your writing.
Do you tend to ramble? Tighten up the process for your structure. Do you want to write content that’s more elegant or polished? Add a new step or two to your finishing touches. And if you aren’t writing regularly, work on your starting rituals.
We have a few processes outlined for you
We have two processes already defined that you can start using today.
But the richest rewards will come when you build your own process to suit.
Take the elements we suggest and make them your own. Understand the general steps, then fill them in with your own peculiarities.
Very soon, we’re going to offer a resource that will help you do exactly that — draft, create, and refine your own personalized creative processes, for every kind of work you like to create.
But the team is still sipping the last of the eggnog and firing off the final volleys in the fruitcake wars. We’ll be able to let you know more very soon. Stay tuned!