March 20

6 ways to powerful writing that bursts through procrastination

Let me guess. You’re stuck in a writing project, completely uninspired and kind of just want to get it over with, but you aren’t even sure what to write next. Yep, been there myself and seen it in clients' writings so many times. Put aside that draft that isn’t working, and try these six steps to powerful writing, and fast, too.

grunge image of concrete stair and exit

1. Begin with creative writing.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Starting with an outline will kill your productivity. To write powerfully and quickly, you need momentum. Begin with a free-flowing creative writing exercise. No one will read this.

Open a blank document, and start to think about your project. Put aside any thoughts of what you should be writing or what other people would say about your writing. Write for yourself.

  • Why is this project important to you?
  • What does this project make possible for you?
  • Write a brief memoir of how this project began.
  • Are there any moments or stories that have been influenced, even changed, your way of thinking since starting this project?

Allow yourself the freedom to just write however you feel pulled. All the thoughts that have been floating in your mind about the project, just put those thoughts down in paper, however they want to come out.

Keep going until you’ve exhausted your creative writing. If you’re exhausted after 500 words, you need to stretch yourself a bit. I’d recommend at least 2,000 words. Any more than 20,000 words, and you’re probably just procrastinating. I’d think 3-5,000 words would be a good jolt of momentum.

2. When you’re writing, do not edit.

Any time you’re writing, do not edit. Writing is inherently a creative process – it uses the creative part of your brain. During the writing phase, you’re just searching for words, any words, that will begin to communicate all of the abstract ideas floating around in your mind. Your mind needs freedom in this phase, as much freedom as you can grant.

Editing, though, is an analytic process. When you begin to edit, you’re judging your writing, which is not necessarily bad. Only through analyzing and judging your writing can you begin to determine a better way to phrase something, which section may need to be cut out, or where to expand. Editing is a good and wonderful thing, but both writing and editing must be given their own time.

Write first. Edit later. Do not go back and re-read what you’ve written until you’ve exhausted your creativity in that section. When you’ve said all you want to say, then you can go back and edit. Once you’ve edited, you may find more creativity welling up, and you’ll write more – this is the goal!

3. Imagine you’re writing to a real person.

When you read stilted, boring prose, it’s almost certainly because the writer was imagining writing to a group of judgmental peers. It’s like high school, when you had to give a presentation in speech class. You were so worried about your judgmental peers’ opinions that you just didn’t want to make a mistake, didn’t want to look like a fool. You became careful, so careful that you didn’t have anything interesting to say.

Instead, imagine that you’re talking to someone who is just as passionate about this project as you are. Maybe there’s another writer, whose books you’ve admired, or a colleague, who does similar research. Imagine you’re talking to that person.

Talk to a person who is supportive of your project, who believes in your success, who wants your outlandish ideas to actually work. Write for the person who is nodding along and saying, “Yes! What a good idea. Oh, yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking, too. Wonderful, no one has ever had the courage to say that!”

It’s amazing what we can write when we’re feeling supported. Give yourself permission to feel supported.

4. Reverse Outline

After you’ve reached a stopping point, where you feel like you’ve said pretty much everything you want to say, create a reverse outline of what you’ve written. I’ve talked about the reverse outline before, but I really do think this could help your writing more than you would imagine.

Once you have several pages of creative writing, go back and slowly re-read. Pull out the major points from each paragraph and begin to put them into an outline. Take notes as a student would take notes. One paragraph at a time, think, “What is the main point here?” Summarize the main point into a sentence or two, perhaps provide any sub-points, and slowly an outline will emerge.
After you’ve completed a reverse outline of your creative writing, you’ll begin to see what’s actually important. You may need to re-organize your reverse outline into a more logical flow. You’ll use the organized reverse outline to re-write.

5. Re-write.

After creative writing and a reverse outline, you’ll be so much more clear about what is really important for the project, and you’ll have great clarity on how to proceed. Now, it’s time to begin the next draft. Pull in sections from the creative writing as you need, but re-write as you go.

6. Read aloud.

Yes, read the whole draft aloud. You’ll uncover awkward wording, logical missteps, flimsy cliche’s, and almost all of the grammar errors without begging a friend to proofread or hiring an editor.

Repeat as necessary, until you feel your soul has been purged and your fingers twinge from typing.

How will these six steps make my writing more powerful?

I’ve talked with enough stuck writers to know that if you begin with an outline – even the rough “Intro, Methods, Data, Results, Conclusion, Discussion” outline – your inspiration will dry up quickly. When you start trying to fit your words into someone else’s form, you lose your words and your voice. Your prose become lack luster, like the prose of a high school student delivering a speech to a class.

If you use these six steps – begin with creative writing, write without editing, talk to a real person, then progress on to a reverse outline, re-writing, and reading aloud – you say what is most important to you, in your own words, with power and conviction. Then, you bring in logic, order, and editing. Creativity first, then editing – it’s the only way to keep your voice and still end up with a logical, finished piece.

And this will help me not procrastinate so much, too?

Yes! If you become stuck and lacking inspiration, you’ll barely plod through your project at the pace of a mule. You’ll procrastinate, excuse yourself, become extraordinarily busy with other projects. This project will sit on the back burner, possibly never finished.

If you use these six steps, you’re beginning with creativity and inspiration. Your own words, voice, and passion will drive your progress, and you’ll finish faster in the end. You’ll be amazed at the progress you can make, when you’re excited about the project.

The best time to start is now. (A challenge.)

You’re probably reading this post because you’re suffering a bit from procrastination at this very moment and looking for the magic cure-all. I think these six steps are a fantastic process, but the first step requires you to write!

Close out of your browser, turn your cell phone to do not disturb, and begin creative writing for at least 15 minutes.

What do you think of using creative writing to jump start a project?

When you’ve been stuck, how have you boosted your productivity and finished the project? Leave a comment below!


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