Writers often complain about the painful process of drafting substantial content, like reports, white papers, or book chapters. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your could be creating great content rapidly and enjoying every moment of it. You just need two things:
And writing time.
Writing in flow versus endlessly struggling, typing, and deleting
In the idealized writing process, you are writing in flow. The words are effortlessly streaming forth from your fingertips and you feel exhilarated. Writing in flow doesn’t just feel great, it also reads great — you sweep the reader along with your own efficiently connected words, sentences, and paragraphs.
Most of us writers have experienced this. Many are now wondering why it hasn’t returned, and they are plodding along painfully.
The key to writing in flow is to clear the obstacles out of the way. Every obstacle stops your process.
There are two kinds of obstacles: internal and external. To clear away internal obstacles, prepare. To clear away external obstacles, preserve your writing time.
How to prepare
Imagine a carpenter building a piece of furniture. She needs a plan for how the pieces fit together. But equally important, she needs to have all the bits — lumber, nails, sandpaper, saws, hammers, screwdrivers, and so on — nearby. If she needs to keep stopping and tracking down where the hammer went and driving to the hardware store to get more nails, the project is going to take a long time.
It’s the same for you, the writer. You need the plan and all the elements collected ahead of time. The first part of preparation is to assemble the pieces you’ll need: case studies, quotes, statistics, ideas, diagrams, and so on. And it’s not enough to collect them — you need to figure out how they’ll fit together and in what order. To do that, put the bits and pieces together into a fat outline — a “zeroth draft” that indicates what will be in the final written piece.
If you’ve prepared the content and the fat outline, you’ve eliminated the internal obstacles. But that, in itself, is not sufficient to create flow.
Why it’s crucial to block off writing time
Nobody writes well from a cold start. Here’s what writing is like:
Sit down. Think a bit. Maybe procrastinate a little.
Read what you wrote so far. Refer to the fat outline.
Start typing. Type a sentence. Type another. Frown. Delete. Start again. Go slow.
The build momentum. Keep going. Now you’re in flow. Keep going as long as you can.
Because of the need to spend time “getting up to speed,” blocks of writing time are crucial. If you have half an hour to write, 15 minutes of that is going to be spent getting into the right frame of mind. If you have 90 minutes, you can spend nearly all of it writing, instead of warming up.
That means you need to find time in your schedule for writing blocks of 90 minutes (or longer). That might be early in the morning or late at night. It might be when everyone else is having lunch. When it is depends on when you feel most productive as a writer.
But during that time, you need to avoid interruptions: phone calls, Slack messages, Instagram, TikTok, people “stopping by to pick your brain,” laundry machines buzzing, children needing hugs — whatever it is in your life that’s most likely to get in the way of writing in flow.
I can’t tell you how best to prevent interruptions. But I can assure you that, unless you figure out a way, you’ll never get to writing in flow.
Why this matters
You want to be an amazing writer. You have the potential.
Writing in flow will make you happy. It will make your readers happy. And it will make your prose sing.
That’s better than struggling, crying, starting over again and again, and creating disjointed bits and pieces that don’t hang together.
So prepare and block off time. That’s how professional writers become efficient so they can fall in love with writing.