The Secret To Writing More…
You can learn a lot by watching your children play athletics. Do they exhibit good sportsmanship? Are they gracious winners? Do they want the ball at the end of the game? I took my five-year-old to basketball practice. They don’t play games at that age. They focus more on learning basic skills like passing, dribbling and shooting.
Before and after the practice the instructors have the kids run a few wind sprints — you run from one end of the gym to the other and back. You’re supposed to sprint the entire distance.
I noticed something interesting on all of the sprints. My son stopped sprinting about twenty feet before the finish. He slowed to a crawl. After the scrimmage, I told him to hustle the entire way. Don’t slow down. Run right through the finish line.
The Last Ten
It was somewhat of an eye-opener for me because I often fall prey to the same fault, not just in athletics but life. Last year, I worked on a copywriting project. It was a few thousand words. I finished ninety percent of it in ten days. The last ten percent took over a month. That final ten percent is always a struggle, even when I’m super motivated to move on. I’m a great starter but a poor finisher.
I can start projects all day long. I have more ideas that I can execute. I reach a point after I start my project where momentum wanes, and I limp across the finish line. I know other folks who struggle with the start. They stare at their computer screen and watch the cursor blink for a half hour before calling it a day. In some cases, you can partner with someone who complements your weakness. A strong finisher can partner with a strong starter.
But That’s Rare
When it comes to writing, we’re usually on our own. We have to work through our weaknesses. We can’t pass off our eighty percent completed story to someone else. If you struggle with the start, you can’t ask someone to write the first three-hundred words for you.
I’ll never forget one of my first job interviews. It was at a small Wall Street firm. I was twenty-three years old, naive and unprepared. I asked the interviewer a question that took me out of contention for the job opening.
“What are the typical hours?”
He exhaled audibly as if disappointed by my question. “The hours, young man, are from start to finish. We’ll let you know.”
That line has stuck with me for over twenty years. I’ve adapted it to several disciplines. It applies to your writing projects too. Start to finish.
I’m not one to talk about hacks. Let’s call them techniques.
How do you start when you struggle with starting? How do you finish when you struggle with finishing?
This has been my go-to technique for starting almost one thousand stories over the past few years.
I pick an experience or observation from my life and write a few sentences. Let’s look at today ’s example. In the first draft of this story, I opened with the following three sentences.
“I took my son to basketball practice. I noticed he slowed down as he ran to the finish line during their wind sprints. After practice, I told him how important itisto hustle all the way to the end.”
The tie-in to the rest of the story emerged from those three sentences. There’s a hidden lesson or two from almost every experience and observation. Writing a few sentences is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Each sentence brings you closer to the core learning.
My first draft of this story ended after five-hundred-fifty words. I had completed the guts of the story, but I ran out of steam before the finish. I had chastised my son for not hustling down to the wire. It seems I’m guilty of the same crime almost every day. I wonder where he gets it from?
I came back to my story an hour later, determined to complete the damn thing. Here’s my technique for sprinting to the end.
I read the last paragraph. Then I add one more. I continue this loop until the story reaches its logical conclusion. Once it’s written, I begin the editing process. Editing can be a drag if you’re not an editor. It can feel overwhelming. Here is an easy technique to power through it.
The Lowly Checklist
Checklists are low tech, yet incredibly versatile and useful tools. Each checklist item tells me precisely what I need to do. There is zero decision making involved. When I finish going through my checklist, my story is done. What? You don’t have a checklist? I’ll share a sample with you. I suggest you tweak it to suit your needs. I use different types of checklists depending on the kind of writing I’m editing. I pulled these from copywriting and blogging. You’ll notice one and ten are the same. Yes, that is intentional.
1. Read out loud. Where do I stumble?
2. Eliminate weasel words (actually, I think, maybe, it’s possible that..)
3. Do I veer off topic? If so, does it contribute to the overall story or detract from it?
4. Do I use lingo or jargon the intended audience won’t understand?
5. Am I leaving anything out that’s obvious to me but new to my reader?
6. Is there an opportunity to wrap a label around a complex concept?
7. Is there clarity in each sentence?
8. Paste into Grammarly and make necessary corrections
9. Subheads should foreshadow what comes next, not recap what you’ve already written
10. Read out loud. Where do I stumble?