The Discipline of Writing

My friend Noah just got a book contract.

“Do you have any writing tips for me?” he asked recently. “I have only six months to finish the entire book, so I’m a little stressed out about it.”

I often get questions like this – I blog for Forbes, the Huffington Post, and the Harvard Business Review (not to mention Owner), and usually write 2-3 posts per week overall.

Many professionals recognize that blogging is a great way to develop their ideas and enhance their personal brand. But when you’re busy, writing even once a week can seem overwhelming. How can you find time to sit down and actually compose something worthwhile? I have a slightly unfair advantage: I started my career as a journalist and had to report and write 3500 words a week, or I’d get fired. (That’ll teach you to write pretty fast.) But I also have a few tips —writing habits, if you will— that I shared with Noah and they might work for you, too.

Capture All Your Ideas

There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page and desperately willing an idea to come. Instead, I try to capture every idea that comes into my head – at the gym, walking in the neighborhood, or talking with colleagues. I record them in my smartphone’s “Notes” function, periodically consolidate them into a (by now very large) Word file, and turn to it when I need ideas.

Know How Much Time You Need

With a bit of practice, you can learn how much time you need for different kinds of writing, and you can block it out accordingly on your calendar. If I’ve interviewed someone, I can usually produce a blog post from that in about an hour; a “think piece” requires a little more soul-searching (or research) and generally takes 1 ½ to 2 hours, and when I’m working on a book (like my recent one, Reinventing You), I need to block out a full half-day to get anything meaningful accomplished.

Don’t Let Food Get in Your Way

Food is possibly the greatest procrastination tool of all time, so that’s part of why I like to work in coffee shops. Research indicates that the “sonic hum” of café life may actually be optimal for stimulating your productivity. And if I get hungry or thirsty, I can take a 30 second break to order something, rather than a half-hour break to leave my office and go get it. If I really need to get something done, I’ll simply vow that I won’t leave the café until it’s finished. Self-imprisonment isn’t necessarily the ideal formula for creativity, but if you need to “bang out copy,” it’s a good way to get it done.

What are your best strategies for building up the writing habit and making it happen?

This post first appeared at Owner Magazine.

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.