5 Completely Ordinary Habits That Make Me a Prolific Writer
Image by Comfreak from Pixabay
When I started writing on Medium in June 2020, I had only one goal — it was neither earnings nor followers. It wasn’t even about the views or building my email list.
It was about being prolific. And it still is. Let me tell you why.
The more I studied any field, the more I understood the power of consistency over short-term, high-intensity efforts. On Medium too, I knew that most writers I look up to produce a lot of content. And even if they’re not the Tim Dennings of the world, they showed up, week after week, month after month, and year after year.
So, I decided to write regularly for 2 years. I started with a goal of 3 posts a week — it seemed like the lowest bar to “make it” on Medium. As I did that over and over again, I started improving.
Not only did my writing improved, but more importantly so did my systems.
I noticed loopholes and leaks that I could avoid to write more and better, at the same time. I stole time from useless activities, and I optimized my process to write 5–7 articles every week.
Between starting on 1st June 2020 and writing this post on 22nd June 2021, I was able to publish 277+ posts. That’s an average of 5 posts a week.
Screenshot by author
Seeing this number, some people are surprised to find out that I have a full-time job as well and I invest 3–4 hours a day doing things I like — meditation (~2 hours), exercise, walking, reading, etc. While I read the facts myself, it seems I’ve stumbled upon NZT from Limitless.
Jokes aside, what I’m trying to tell you is that all this was only possible due to habits and systems. Not willpower. Not superhuman discipline. And definitely not some innate writing talent.
Chasing prolificness made all things easier — earnings, stats, followers, opportunities, building an audience, and writing better.
I now get this — any new skill is a volume game at the beginning. The faster you get past the phase where you suck, the more likely you’ll be to stick with the skill. The probability of quitting substantially reduces after every quarter you pursue the skill. Once you get good at it, you’ll not want to leave it.
That said, here are something you can steal from my system and be more prolific, whatever your rate of production might be.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
Writers may seem like artists, but they work as accountants.
A common notion of any creative profession is the freedom to work whenever inspired to and not work when you don’t feel like it. It couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Getting words on the screen is not as easy as opening your eyes and banging the keyboard. No, you need to work to make it happen.
How do you do that? By planning. Plan your environment. Plan your schedule. Plan the topics you want to write about. Plan the links you’re going to use. Plan the headings, subheadings, and arguments you want to make.
When you have a plan in place, the mind says “Yeah, I guess I can write an article.” When you don’t have a plan in place, the mind says, “Oh I can’t think of anything to write. Let’s watch Netflix for some time and come back.”
Do you see? It’s not about summoning the magical gods of willpower. It’s about having a plan and working with your mind, not against it.
Prioritize writing — do it when you know you can’t get distracted. Don’t kid yourself by thinking you can write when you have 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there.
And finally, use the power of technology to block off all distractions. Burn all bridges and give yourself no option but to write for an hour. Then see your productivity skyrocket.
The Best Mental Training
Writing is a game of flow. Flow follows focus.
Sadly, most of us are habitual multi-taskers which makes it difficult to focus on something for a long time.
Even if you take care of multitasking, there’s another question — are you relaxed? Most of us are carrying unknown stress in our minds and bodies. Because we’re not aware of them, they take little pieces of our attention away from the task at hand.
Further, even if we make it a point to focus only on writing, is our mind really present? Or is it indulging in thoughts about the past or the present? Bringing the mind to the current moment is crucial to entering a state of flow.
Meditation helps me overcome all the above challenges. When I write I’m only focused on writing. My mind is in the present moment and not thinking about all the things I’ve to do later in the day. And I’m relaxed from head to toe.
If you think of your mind as a lake, meditation calms the waves on the surface so that the lake can reflect the moon clearly. The hidden pearls of insight come out of the depths of the waters.
Hands down it’s the best habit that improves my creativity and focus — both of which are indispensable to writing.
Everything Begins With an Idea
This one’s simple. It’s hard to write when you don’t have something to write about. Imagine getting up in the morning, knowing that you have to write an article but not having the slightest clue what it’s going to be about.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how motivated will you be to write? Not much I reckon.
On the flip side, if you know exactly what you want to write about, have perhaps saved a few links, and also written 3–5 main points you want to make, wouldn’t you be thrilled to get it done?
Of course, you’ll be. It’s as simple as that. Regularly ideate and find topics to write about. Read books and other people’s content. Record as many ideas as you can. Also, have a dedicated journaling practice to generate at least 10 ideas 3–4 times a week.
As your list of ideas grows, your motivation will grow along with it. You won’t second guess your work. You won’t procrastinate — because you’ve already laid the path in front of you.
The Ultimate Writing Meta Skill
If you’re looking at the keyboard to type, you’re losing out on your train of thought every few seconds. And even if you know how to touch type, you can still derail your speed, if you make a lot of errors.
In short, you need to write fast and you need to be accurate. Writing on a keyboard is something all of us do. Yet, few of us take the time out to learn the right way to do it. Seems stupid, but humans do stupid things.
I know I did. I started using a computer first when I was 10 years old. For 10 years after that, I was neither taught how to type nor did I make an effort to learn.
I picked up the wrong habits and never used all my fingers. I was pecking like a bird on the keyboard until two years ago. When most of my days were being spent on a computer, I knew I had to level up.
An average worker types around 3,500 words a day including email, code, IMs, etc at a speed of 38–45 WPM. Assuming a five-day workweek, 20 workdays per month, and 250 workdays, a year, with an average speed of 40 WPM, going to 70 WPM will save you one whole week every year!
It was hard to learn at first. But within a week, I was not only back at my previous speed but went further up to 90 WPM. For lack of practice, I’m back at 70–80 WPM now. But that also works out pretty well for me.
That’s how I can finish most drafts in 30–45 minutes. It works. Try it for yourself.
A Checklist to Make Things Easier
Checklists are the best way to automate something you do over and over again. Editing is one such thing.
To not forget linking to the source of an image, or publishing with an uncapitalized title, I use editing checklists. They also help to remind me of new editing tricks that I learn but am too lazy to implement.
With a checklist, you never have to think about how to approach editing. Just open the list and go from top to bottom. And voila! You have your article ready.
Do It Now
Whatever you want to do, I’m confident that this system will work for you — whether it’s writing blogs or a novel.
Set yourself a goal and work backward. Determine how much you need to write every single day to hit that goal. And then build systems to make sure that happens.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love said:
“I abide by Goethe’s rule: ‘Never hurry, never rest.’ I never go into crazy fugue states, but I don’t ever stop, either. I’m a plow mule. I’m very disciplined, and I have a great regard for deadlines — usually my own.
I love this advice because this is what I’ve done. I don’t write 7 posts a week anymore. But I show up week after week to write, no matter how much I’m able to.
What matters is that I’m at my desk every morning, plugging away at it. As long as that’s happening, everything will take care of itself.