Understand your writing process to keep the words flowing

I was recently asked questions about how I write – what to do and not to do. Basically the style and content of a blog is very personal, but I find that understanding the process is key in order to keep the posts coming. When I write I go through three different stages, and what causes me to get stuck in the process or limits me from writing is when I mix up the different stages.

These are the three stages I go through:

1. Be inspired: getting the idea
In this stage I hardly ever sit by the computer with a word document open. I can of course consciously try to generate ideas by brainstorming with pen and paper. However generating ideas often occurs more organically for me. It happens while I’m out for a walk, after a conversation with a friend, during workout, while watching a movie, listening to a podcast, driving my scooter, reading a book, dancing, cooking etc. I always carry a notebook and pen so when I get an idea, I can note it down as soon as possible; and maybe even outline a couple points about the main content.

2. Open the tap: writing uncritically
A famous Danish children’s book writer Louis Jensen once told me about his writing process saying that the initial stage was like ‘vomiting onto the paper’, and as unappealing it might sound, this is more or less what happens when I start writing the rough draft. I write everything that comes to my mind, and sometimes it almost feels nauseating because it comes out in fragments, I jump back and forth between thoughts and new ideas spring forth. At the back of my head I often hear this voice criticizing whatever I am typing, but I try to ignore that voice. The key is to stay light and open and let the words flow uncritically. Some of what I write will be bad, will sound weird or need to be re-written, but the less I focus on the end outcome, the easier I can bring forth the desired content in a free flowing way.

3. Hatch away: editing fiercely
In this stage I put on my critical glasses, restructure the post and remove unnecessary content. I try to narrow down the main point(s) I want to make and delete the parts where I am just repeating the same point. This is the biggest challenge. Sometimes I really like the way I’ve formulated something and a part of me feels like keeping it in, even though it doesn’t bring anything new to the post. I ask myself is it concise, coherent and relevant?

Why I never mix these stages 
What works best for me is to go through each stage on different days. If I have set myself a tight deadline I can combine 1 and 2 on one day, but doing 2 and 3 never works on the same day. This is because it requires very different modes of thinking. When I write the draft and put the text away for a day or two, I can then look at it with fresh eyes, which makes the editing much more effective.

Have you noticed what works for you in your writing process?

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5 ways to work with the flow

I was supposed to sit on an airplane right now and spend the whole day travelling. I don’t. They cancelled my flight and instead I’m on the balcony in my house. Nobody knows yet. I will fly all night instead so it feels like I have been given an extra day in life.

I could have been upset about the fact that I had to change my connecting flight, that I was arriving a day later, that I had to write my clients about a sudden change in work availability. It wouldn’t have made any difference about the actual situation, but somehow we often get stuck in negative and unfruitful reactions to things that happen to us, and spend a lot of energy on something we can’t change anyway. Once you realize that it really doesn’t change anything, it seems like such a waste of time.

The situation got me thinking about how working with the flow of things helps me keep a more balanced state of mind in everything I do – but especially when it comes to my professional work.

Working with clients – and with people in general – demands you to let go of control. This could potentially stress me out a lot. When I was younger I would often create a huge amount of mental stress by obsessing about the outcome of my efforts. So much that I would often feel paralyzed in my actions because I was too afraid of something going wrong or things not working out exactly as I envisioned them. I have become much more aware of these obsessive patterns and how they don’t serve me, but sometimes they still show up.

waterfallThe other day I went on a daytrip to a waterfall with a friend, I was mesmerized by how graceful the water moves. It always makes its way, but doesn’t try to penetrate or move the obstacles on its path. And that is exactly why it can be soft and still keep going with an innate power and drive.

My friend and I are both self employed and we talked about how to work with clients, be successful in what we do and enjoy our work. “I’ve heard the key is to work towards a goal without being too attached to the outcome” I told him. Sounds right, but how do you actually do that? We asked ourselves.

A big part of it is to let go of wanting to control everything.

Here are five ways you can try to work with the flow and not against it:

Let go of what you can’t change
Use what is given to you
Work with great discipline but be flexible
Respond constructively to the situations that arise
Use the circumstances that inspire you to fuel your work

How using desire paths will spark your productivity

 

Do you often feel that what you have to do is not aligned with what you feel like doing? And then you end up in an unproductive and destructive work pattern? I used to experience this a lot.

The other day I watched a TEDx talk by Chris Bailey, the creator of the project ‘A Year of Productivity’. In the talk he mentions the University of California at Irvine and their different approach to design. He tells how they waited some time before building actual sidewalks during the construction of a new campus. They looked at the paths that the students created spontaneously by walking around the buildings, and then built the sidewalks on top of them. They chose to use the students’ desire paths.

I immediately loved this concept of desire paths. It was exactly what I had been looking for to describe, how I have managed to become more productive: by integrating my desire paths into my work schedule.

Let me give you an example.

I used to plan to have one morning a week for writing blog posts. I had this idea that I work best in the mornings and, therefore, it would be the first thing on my schedule. But, what really happened was that I prolonged the morning by surfing aimlessly on the Internet until at some point I forced myself to look at the blinking cursor in an empty word document while lacking inspiration. I would end up feeling frustrated because I had procrastinated too much and was behind schedule.

I started paying attention to when I felt inspired and what would get me writing. I realized that I was more likely to concentrate on writing when I allowed myself to start the day by taking a walk and getting my mind to flow; then read some articles and maybe watch an inspiring talk to fuel creativity. Slowly, a topic for my new post would form in my mind, and when I actually sat down in front of the computer, my hands would start typing almost as if by themselves since I would be bursting with ideas.

What it really comes down to is to work with your personal flow and not against it. I am not talking about just following any desire you have. You should really look at what energizes you, what ignites your creativity, and then do this. Thereby, you can eliminate the patterns that drain you and keep you from being productive.

How to map your own desire paths:

  • What activities do you constantly choose to do at a different time than planned, or skip altogether? Notice why this happens. Could you schedule them at another time of the day?
  • What tasks do you always feel resistance towards doing? Notice why there is resistance. Notice what helps you do them and what doesn’t. Incorporate the things that help you into your schedule.
  • What sparks your creativity? Plan this activity to take place before you have to write a blog post/brainstorm/create a new product.
  • What calms your mind? Plan doing this activity before you have to perform/teach/work on difficult tasks.
  • What gives you confidence? Plan doing this activity before you have to talk to potential new clients/sell your products/meet with collaborators.
  • What energizes you? Plan doing this activity before you have to do dreaded but unavoidable tasks.

This way you are able to plan your work with awareness and increase productivity. In the comments below, I would love to hear, how you use your desire paths when planning your schedule.