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Every month we hold an hour-long editorial call with our clients to talk through a fresh batch of content. We come to the table with a pitch for the articles we’d like to write (based on the defined strategy and their target audience natch), and use that time to pick their brains and steal their genius. We then write that up and claim the credit.
Our clients enjoy the process. It’s an hour away from the whirlwind of activity which defines our daily lives: a chance to step back and think creatively. We’ve been described as ‘double art on a Friday afternoon’ – a space to throw on your ideas smock, grab your thought palette and wield your brush of insight to create a masterpiece of good words and stuff (hey, metaphors are HARD, guys).
Some clients are happy with us going away and writing for them. Others really want to write pieces themselves: they want to be more prolific and improve their writing skills. Their problem, and the reason we exist in many ways, is time. So many marketers and business leaders say to me (or at least they do for the purpose of this article), “I can never find the time to write”.
So, here’s how I do it in a nutshell.
I get into work on a Friday morning at 7:30 am, make a coffee, open my laptop and focus solely on writing a piece for our newsletter: a piece like this. By setting the same time every week to be my ‘newsletter’ time, my mind, body and digits are in the right (write) mode. Routine and habit are the single best way to get work done. It’s what Cal Newport in his brilliant book Deep Work calls The Rhythmic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling; which is a grand way of saying exactly what I just said. Create the habit – the rhythm – and stick to it.
For bigger pieces of work, I schedule an entire Wednesday afternoon as and when I need to write. This isn’t quite as routine as this mailer, but it is always Wednesday. A 1,000-1,500-word piece requires research, time and thought – it’s difficult to squeeze that concerted effort into your schedule on an ad-hoc basis. You might baulk at the idea of taking 4-5 hours out of your day, but, here’s the thing: nothing bad will happen. In a 2009 study, Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow told a group of management consultants to disconnect from work for one day a week – no email, no smartphone, no social media. The consultants panicked that their clients would complain. The client didn’t care. On top of that, morale and productivity actually increased.
NB: This is a good time to pitch a 4-day work week to your MD.
When I arrive on a Friday morning, I don’t quickly check my emails first, I turn off Slack notifications, I ignore Spotify, I don’t even glance at my daily to-do list – I solely focus on producing this mailer. This isn’t to say it always flows out quite so easily as this one has, but having distraction-free time to hunker down and write something makes all the difference. On a good day, this all takes about an hour; a bad one, maybe two. But the point is, I’m in it ‘til I do it.
The early start isn’t because I’m a spiffy morning person by the way (they’re quite literally the worst people), but because it’s before everyone else gets in. I’m at work, it’s quiet; it’s focus time.
For deeper pieces, make sure you start with a plan, a structure, and have the research and sources ready before you start scribbling. Then, take a break every 90 mins or so, walk around, step outside, look away from the screen. 15-20 minutes is fine. 30 if it’s particularly strenuous. By the end of the afternoon, you should have a shiny new blog post to call your own.
Making writing a habit, and allocating regular, focused time to do it will make you a better writer – both in content and in speed.
Right, NOW I can check my email…..oh fu……
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