Productive Writing

You might note that the title of this section doesn’t mention becoming a better writer. Here’s what I know – if you become a more productive writer, if you start to see the benefit of consistently sharing your ideas through your writing, you’ll become a better writer.

So, first let’s work on making you a more productive writer.

Become a better reader

I guess you knew this one was coming, but it’s a fact. Reading blogs, reading business books, reading magazines, reading books that are way off topic will help you find your own style and voice more than any other dynamic.

Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

Keep a swipe file

When you read, bookmark stuff that grabs your attention. It may be because a certain style, a certain lack of adverbs or a lyrical use of certain words – no matter the reason you need to start putting things away for a rainy day. Get plastic file folders or employ a tool like Evernote to clip, organize and keep examples.

Keep an idea file

Use a tool like Workflowy to store and access ideas as they come to you. Since you know you’ll need more content later this week or later this month, just keep adding ideas as you read things and have flashes of insight. One day you’ll be stumped or one day you’ll want to plan your week of blog posts and this list will be like an old friend of unstuckness.

Be opinionated

You don’t have to piss everyone off, but you don’t have to agree with everyone either. One of the ways to be more productive is to look at things with a view that’s  counter to the crowd and take a stand you can defend.

Write like you talk

I think this is just good advice no matter what. It’s easier to write in your own voice and you extend your personality to the reader more effectively by being who you are.

Stay organized

One of the most effective ways to up your writing productivity is through outlines. You were probably taught this in your grade school English class and there’s a reason – if you stay organized in your thinking, you’ll write faster and clearer. There’s nothing harder than sitting down and composing 700 words with no idea of where you’re headed. Decide your main point, create three to five subheads and 3 to five bullet point per subhead. Your specific outline may differ, but this is the most effective way to write quickly.

Let it rip

Don’t edit every ten words or so, just get it down. You can go back and fix obvious things if you change direction, but try to get the first draft done before you do too much to fix it.

Used a timed method

Set a timer on your computer for 45 minutes (I use Apimac Timer) and write with your head down until the bell goes off and then get up and go do something else for about 15 minutes. I find that this approaches makes me more motivated to write, even something very long, when I know there’s a set time for a break. It also allows me to clear my head and come back with renewed energy.

Edit sober

For this point I draw from a famous Ernest Hemingway quote – “Write drunk, edit sober.”

You don’t have to take this literally, but the idea of coming back to your writing after a cooling off period is a good one. It’s pretty tough to assess the quality of your writing, let alone omitted words, when you’re in the throes of your brilliant ideas.

Spend the most time on the title

My last piece of advice has more to do with getting more readers than productivity, but if you spend extra time on any element of your writing, spend time on the headline or title.

There’s nothing that makes your writing more productive than the impact of more readers!

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Barry Welford

    A great list, Chris. My only, but very important, reaction is that #10 should be #1. I think you work on the title first. Do a lot of research on your initial draft title. Google it to see what others have written. Then choose a title that will help you stand out from that crowd. You may find in doing that you get some new ideas about what to include and what to exclude from your title. I do this all the time and the eventual article is rarely what I started with.

    • Sometimes you save the best for last Tom!

  • As a professional writer for the past 30 years, I can’t find a single nit to pick. This is excellent advice, whether you want to make your living through your keyboard, or you simply need to be persuasive or informative in writing. Many books have been written on the subject that said less than you have here. Excellent!

    • Thanks Alfred – appreciate the support cuz I’ve only been a professional writer for 20 years 🙂

  • Hi John,

    What has helped me more than anything is the way I now approach reading, with non-fiction at least … As I read a book I take notes, plenty of notes! When I’m done reading I go through my chicken scratch and try to make sense of it, and this leads me to re-read certain sections of the book and write more chicken scratch. It’s a great way to really retain what you read, plus you now have a folder of notes to refer to if you write a post, or a series of posts based on the content. I now do the same with many of the podcasts I listen to.

    • Craig – I’m the say way – I read everything differently now and often find myself picking up books on architecture or calculus to look for marketing ideas.

    • Craig, I’ve started reading more and more books on Kindle (on my PC, on my Kindle Fire, and on my Android phone). I find that the highlighting feature is great for taking notes. Just mark the points that you want to remember, and you can then access them all on one page, with links back to the text in case you want to get more context. I don’t end up with Post-It flags sticking out of paper books (that I rarely go back and read) or with juggling an extra pad of paper and a pen while reading. I find this much more time efficient and effective.

  • Gary Kirsch

    Love it!! Great points. Thanks

  • Tip: write like a _normal_ person would speak. I don’t get out as much as I should, but I don’t know anyone that would say this: “reading book that are way off topic will help you find your own style and voice more than any other
    dynamic.” 😉

    • Ben are you objecting to the sentence as a whole of the minor typo? Typo fixed – now get out a little more!

      • Generally speaking, I think people should write it like they would say it. It’s amazing how many people fail to follow this advice. It wasn’t the typo in your sentence… it was the use of the word “dynamic.” My comment was also partially written in jest (there’s kind of a joke buried in this as well… and you can see why I work in web marketing and not comedy).

  • Great tips John. I particularly like the idea of creating outlines for articles. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started an article with no real sense of where I was going with it. Just sketching it out first via an outline would probably save me a lot of time during the writing process.

    BTW, the Hemingway quote you cited reminds me of a Lifehacker article I read recently. The title was, “Drink Beers for Big Ideas, Coffee to Get Them Done.” 🙂

    • Thanks Paul – yep I’ve written those wandering texts before – you get about 500 words in and you wonder what the point you’re trying to make was 🙂

  • Sima

    The best advice I received from you was to have a theme for the month. That really helped me be more productive, because I could write out all the titles at the beginning of the month and flesh them out the week they were going to be posted.

    • Thanks Sima, but what I really like is that you took action!

  • Irakli Beselidze

    Thank you John for brilliant tips. The fact that I am just a marketing blogger with less than 2 years of experience gave me the advantage to take more value from them. I believe that 18 years ago it was impossible to find such a valuable information anywhere… This post and comments gave me a lot of things to try and workflowy seems to be the first one. Lot of my ideas are forgotten and it’s a great possibility to improve.

  • Productivity can be challenging, especially when you work from home. I’m glad that there are so many tools and resources available for us to employ to aid in increased productivity. Thanks for sharing this with our bizsugar community.


  • Thanks for the post John. It will surely help me to be more creative and more dynamic in terms of writing, moreover it inspired me into becoming creative and thoughtful writer.