Is your writing running on empty?
My husband recently gave me one of the most beautiful gifts I’ve ever received, a Waterman fountain pen with a body satin-finished in two shades of jade green.
Just holding this gorgeous instrument elevates my daily journaling. I may just be scribbling in my pj’s, but the pen makes the activity feel special.
Each morning now begins with a micro ritual: I slide the pen from its case (where it rests like a sacred object), smoothly open a page in my journal, and take a slow sip of water. Then I (gently) remove the pen’s cap, take a prayerful breath, put nib to paper, and—if I’m lucky—the ink starts to flow.
Whether the ink flows or not has nothing to do with the pen’s mechanism. My husband deliberately chose a nib that suits my handwriting style—the mechanism requires only a light pressure, and it’s springy enough to respond to a change in pressure when I bear down to spell out a bold idea. Provided I’ve remembered to fill the ink cartridge the night before, the ink trickles out at the perfect rate.
But if I’ve forgotten to refill the pen, I’m stuck. And I experience another forehead-slapping moment where I remember that you can’t write if you haven’t filled your well. With a fountain pen, this statement applies literally. But when you’re trying to produce written language with a ballpoint pen or a keyboard, it holds just as true.
Productivity starts with preparedness
One of the craziest trends in today’s business world is that we’re writing more, with less and less time for the concentrated attention writing requires. Just do a quick inventory of the amount of writing you’ve done in the past week. Count up the emails, direct messages, social media posts, reports, application forms, and other documents or pieces of marketing collateral you’ve created or helped create. How much of your “work time” was really writing time?
It’s no wonder that one of the most common issues I see clients struggling with is writer’s block. This sometimes shows up as a sense of being stuck, but more often it manifests as feelings of frustration or anxiety. Writing takes too long to produce so that the process of turning thoughts into written words becomes stomach-churning.
When people feel overwhelmed by writing tasks, they’ll often ask me for a “template” or a step-by-step pattern they can follow to conquer the blank page. However, as an engineer client recently reminded me, templates don’t solve root problems with the writing process. In fact, they can create the false impression that all writing means is populating a form.
It may seem counterintuitive, but skilled writers often start “writing” long before they sit down to generate content. Preparing to write makes everything easier. Done right, it creates the optimal conditions that enable you to focus and the words to flow.
But the most valuable pre-writing work may not look like you think it should. It doesn’t involve outlining, mind mapping, or even brainstorming a list of ideas. It looks more like filing a fountain pen from an inkwell.
What’s your inkwell of inspiration?
When my husband gifted me the fountain pen, he also presented me with a bottle of ink bearing the label Inspired Blue. I keep the bottle in plain view in front of my writing desk. It reminds me that unless I charge my mind with inspiration, I can’t write anything worth reading.
Inspiration energizes both the writer and the writing. It’s not just for poets or other artsy types. It’s a vital precursor to any kind of business or technical writing.
It also differs for everyone, and it can change from situation to situation. The key is to figure out what inspires you. What kind of inkwell do you need to give you fresh ideas and the confidence to express them?
Here are some of the many inkwells you might draw from to improve your writing productivity:
- Secondary research. You don’t have to be writing a research report to dive into thoughtful, even academic, research on your subject. Take some time to investigate some of the dark and dusty corners of your topic, as a scholar would. You may be surprised what you discover and how it can trigger inventive thinking.
- Reading on a topic related to the writing. Keep up to date on your topic, your field, and your industry by engaging regularly in relevant reading. Dip into the inkwell weekly or daily, and your pen will never run dry.
- Random reading on diverse topics. Expand your reading beyond the books or journals everyone in your field reads. Try out a biography, for instance, a bit of historical fiction, or a nonfiction book in a field you know nothing about.
- Conversations with your audience. If possible, engage your audience in the writing process. Make them collaborators and co-creators, not just end users. You’ll find it easy to write for people you know well, and relationship-building is an investment that always pays off.
- Conversations with your team. We all know that a “second set of eyes” helps with revising and editing, but why wait until your writing is complete to get help from others? Talk through your ideas with a colleague before you sit down at your desk, and you’ll find that you’re able to start a writing session in second or third gear, instead of having to crank up the transmission from a cold start.
- Podcasts, videos, and radio shows that stretch your mind. Like “random reading,” thoughtful journalism in any format gets you thinking differently, nurturing creativity. In addition, the more general background knowledge you can draw on, the easier you’ll find it to connect with audiences different from you.
- Review of other people’s writing. Reports, proposals, and web copy may not make great leisure reading, but it’s worth investing pre-writing time examining such documents. Find strong models of the kind of writing you want to produce and notice what makes them effective. With such models in your mind, you’ll find it easier to structure your own writing, even under time pressure.
Just as ink for fountain pens comes in many different hues, so does inspiration for writers. Experiment with various colors, consistently, so that you’re always primed to produce high-impact writing that attracts attention and gets results.
Could you use some help boosting your writing productivity? A free 30-minute coaching session might help. To book a time, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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