What does it take to write a great novel, screenplay, song, or poem? Does it come easily to even the great writers, or is it always hard work? Ask any professional writer, and they will give you a similar list: time, focus, discipline, commitment, routine, persistence, courage.
Now, that PowerPoint presentation you are planning to write on the plane? It is no different. It takes time to move human thoughts onto paper. Each writer needs to find their own way to be a creative, thoughtful, and productive writer.
Here are five questions to ask yourself about your approach to writing. The sharper your answers, the more writing success you will have:
1. How much time have I scheduled for writing?
Here is a good rule of thumb for a short talk: one hour for strategic thinking, one hour for “right brain” creative writing, and one hour for “left brain” editing (followed by and an hour to rehearse). It’s advisable to take a break between the writing and editing; stepping away and coming back to your writing at a later time will give you a fresh perspective.
2. What is the time and place?
Early morning or late at night? Listening to music or enjoying pure quiet? Café, quiet corner, or on the train? Door open or closed? Series of intense short sessions or long marathons? There is no one right answer; sometimes a writer has to try different times/places before figuring out what works best.
3. What are the right tools?
Pen and paper, tablet, or laptop? Index cards, blank sheets of computer paper, whiteboard or flipchart? Notebook, legal-sized yellow notepads, fancy paper, the back of an envelope? The tools a writer uses depend on the situation, availability and sheer preference; again, there is no one right answer.
4. How many drafts?
The Canadian novelist Timothy Findley told me, “first write, then get it right.” He meant that the first drafts are just getting the ideas out, that you don’t know what to say until you have tried saying it. In the busy corporate world, it is natural to want to the first draft to be the final draft. Go for at least two, three, four or more.
5. Who is my editor?
Behind every great writer is a great editor. We need someone with a reader’s perspective to see the areas that make sense, those that don’t, those sentences that can be cut, and the parts that need to be expanded. Find someone you trust and make a habit of getting their feedback. And remember, for many writers the part they personally love the most is the part that needs to go.