Good Writing Habits

How to Develop Good Writing Habits and Write More Words Per Hour (Podcast)

In this episode of Digital Marketing Madness, John Maher and John McDougall talk about how to develop good writing habits. They explain that whether you’re writing for work or play, you need a consistent routine. They also cover tools and apps to help increase the number of words you generate, and then, they talk about editing strategies.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. This is Digital Marketing Madness. This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We’re a digital marketing agency in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Today, I’m here with our President John McDougall, and we’ll be discussing how to develop good writing habits and write more words per hour. Welcome, John.

John McDougall: Good morning.

The Importance of Good Writing Habits

John Maher: So John, how important is it to develop good writing habits?

John McDougall: So whether it’s Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Maya Angelou, everyone that speaks on the subject and has written books on the subject that I’ve heard says that it’s essential. If you don’t have a very specific habit for writing, you probably won’t be really a professional writer. You might spontaneously here and there get some good stuff done, but if you want to be more professional, you’re going to need a specific habit.

Strong Writing habits Are Critical, Regardless of Genre

John Maher: And you’ve written a couple of business marketing books, but you also write blog posts and pages for the website and things like that. So you don’t necessarily have to be writing a novel in order for writing habits to be important, right?

John McDougall: Yeah, absolutely. I am writing a novel right now, but it’s the stuff that I read in advance of writing a novel that I wish I had known for the business books and some other things. So it really applies across the board. It really doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are.

One book that I read recently, Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh’t by Steven Pressfield, and that’s with a S-H-apostrophe-T. It’s an awesome book. And he worked in ad agencies multiple times and then quit and he’d write a novel and go back and then quit again. So he’s famous for books like War Of Art, basically talking about how you procrastinate because you have this internal conflict about creativity. I haven’t actually read that yet. I’ve just heard a lot about it. So I started with the other book I just mentioned by him. But he was an ad agency guy. So he’s written great and famous business books, but also famous novels. He wrote Bagger Vance.

John Maher: Oh, yeah.

How Writing a Modest Number of Words Every Day Can Turn Into a Book (If You’re Consistent)

John McDougall: Yes. And some other things that have been made into pretty good films, but he and others say that you have to have a specific time of day, stick to that time of day, if you can, say 8:00 to 10:00 in the morning. In fact, a lot of people who are famous novelists had full-time day jobs. So they would write from 5:00 to 7:00 in the morning or whatever, and say 1000 or 2000 words a day. If you write 100 words a day, you’ve got 30,000 words a month. And if the average novel is 50, 60,000, for fantasy, maybe 65, 75,000 or more, but certainly a novel can be 50,000 words. That’s 50 days at 1000 words a day.

So if you have a habit and you’re like, “Okay.” A lot of those writers will write 1000 words an hour or better, but let’s just say it takes you two hours to write 1000 words. But you still, if you give yourself from 5:00 to 7:00 in the morning or 6:00 to 8:00 and then you go to work, you’re still getting a 1000 words a day, in 50 days, you’ve got a novel. You could write a novel every 50 days, technically. I mean, then you got to edit and do all that. Stephen King, on writing,  he says he likes to write novels in about three months. And how can he do that? He’s writing 2000 words a day before 11 o’clock or so, and he is done for the day, but it’s just a routine.

That habit and that routine is critical. A lot of people talk about writing in 20 minute sprints. So instead of just saying, “Oh, I’m going to write for two hours.” You can get overwhelmed. But if you break it into chunks, sort of eat the elephant one bite at a time, it can be easier with that kind of writing habit. And a lot of people also talk about triggering things off with something like a habit, like getting your morning coffee or tea, and then that triggers you. Your brain just sort of knows that right after or as I start drinking my coffee, I start writing. So those can be great ways to get started.

How to Create a Writing Routine

John Maher: Right. I’m thinking of my kids… they always said in order to get your kids to go to bed, have a bedtime routine that leads up to that.

John McDougall: Yeah.

John Maher: So like, “Okay, now we’re going to read a book and then we’re going to brush our teeth and then we’re going to give Mom and Dad a hug goodnight, and then you’re going to go to bed.”

John McDougall: Yep.

John Maher: And then that kind of helps them to like, “Okay, now we’re winding down.” And then it leads to sleep. In the same way you’re saying like, “Okay, having a sort of a set of routines beforehand. Okay, I’m going to have my breakfast and maybe have a cup of coffee. And then I sit down to write.” And that if you do that every day, that just becomes part of that habit.

John McDougall: Yeah. And the more you’re in that routine, the easier it becomes and things speed up.

The Value of a Specific Writing Space

John Maher: What about having like a separate space, you have maybe a separate space in your house or a different desk or something like that, where you’re just only utilizing that for your writing?

John McDougall: So that’s another thing they say is essential and something I did in the process of refining this stuff. I try not to write creative stuff at my work computer. And I started with a laptop on the couch, even with an iPhone, with an iPad, just trying all kinds of stuff. I did find that I like it better with a separate desk. I have one in my living room that is a separate computer that is stripped down. I actually had a computer repair guy wipe the computer. I put just Microsoft Word on it. And I log into my email only via a web app. I don’t have Outlook. I just don’t use basically anything but my writing tools on it. Somebody, I think it was Chris Fox in How To Write 5,000 Words An Hour, this book, I think it was him that mentioned John Cleese wrote something about having a tortoiseshell environment, really not only a separate environment, but really working on having it be impenetrable.

Stop the Distractions So You Can Focus on Writing

John Maher: Right. No distractions.

John McDougall: Yeah. Turning off notifications. If you’ve got family members that are going to disturb you, be very careful where it is. Lot of specifics on that.

John Maher: Shut off your phone, don’t let the text notifications come in. Things like that.

John McDougall: Yeah. I have to go check it out. I think it’s a YouTube video where John Cleese actually did this whole thing about that.

How to Increase the Number of Words You Write Per Hour

John Maher: Okay. Now you mentioned that some people can write 1000 words an hour or, or even more. How do you speed up your writing so that you can write more words per hour?

John McDougall: Yeah. So I think 1000 words an hour is fairly common. There’s this guy, Chris Fox, who wrote a book, something like 5,000 Words Per Hour. One of the ultimate ways, I don’t do this method, he likes a method which is to audio record yourself. So imagine writing a novel just talking, but not even Dragon Naturally Speaking, but just recording the audio, then having it transcribed, because when you’re using Dragon Naturally Speaking or voice recognition software, you have to stop and correct things. Or at least make sure that it said it right.

John Maher: Add punctuation and all that.

John McDougall: Yeah. So if you want to go the ultimate fast, he claims that’s how he gets 5,000 or more words an hour. You just talk and you got to just let go. And that’s how a lot of people say to get your first draft of a novel or short story out is just let it rip and then come back and worry about it later, because otherwise the more you slow down for commas or even just to think too hard about the story, it’s just not going to come out. But I haven’t tried that really yet, blab into a microphone and transcribe it later because I can’t picture not seeing it yet. Like, “Oh I got to go pay, like we do for rev.com, to transcribe it or throw it through Descript, a tool like Descript, where you can just software transcribe it. I’d be a little anxious to get it back and see it.

John Maher: Yeah. And that’s probably part of the process too, would be looking back at what you just wrote so that you know where you’re going next. If you can’t do that, it might be difficult.

Apps to Increase Writing Speed

John McDougall: Believe it or not, there are apps actually that will on purpose erase if you don’t write at a certain speed. There’s some crazy apps. It will go backspace you and start erasing. So you’re like, “If I don’t want to lose what I just wrote, I better write faster.” I don’t know. I’m not quite there. I find, again, a lot of these Ray Bradbury and Steven Kings are happy with 2000 words a day at, like 1000 words an hour or so, something like that. So I think they weren’t using Dragon Naturally Speaking. They’re just fast typers. So a lot of writing geeks like that will get a fancy keyboard or just get better at typing. I mean, that’s an obvious thing, but I’m quite terrible at typing. So I prefer personally Dragon Naturally Speaking.

I’ve done Google Docs. Some people say that that has great voice recognition. I don’t find that. I didn’t find it was great. I was using my iPhone and iPad to write. I’ve written multiple chapters in the note feature. For a while, I was doing that, just writing a chapter in iPhone Note or iPad Note or in Google Docs. All of the above work, but I find Dragon Naturally Speaking, you can’t compare it. Even though again, some people say, “Oh, Google’s AI now has all this great voice recognition for Google Docs.” I haven’t seen it. And Siri is good but not great. You know like when you send a text to someone and it’s like half screwy. You don’t really have a lot of that with Dragon Naturally Speaking.

So I’m happy in that medium ground where I fire up Word. I do have Dragon Naturally Speaking installed on that computer I mentioned where it’s just stripped down, Dragon Naturally Speaking, Chrome, and at the end of a session, I’ll email myself a copy, but, again, there’s no Outlook, so I’m not tempted to go do a bunch of work-work on there. But I can go at the end of a writing session, email myself that day’s work, because you don’t want to have stuff crash. I tried using LivingWriter, which is what a lot of people use. There’s Scrivener. There’s a big learning curve to Scrivener, which is more advanced word processing and has all these features to write a novel. I didn’t want to get over the learning curve. So I tried LivingWriter, which was a real pared down version. And one day I went to log on and my first five chapters of the novel were just gone. The whole site was down.

John Maher: Oh, geez.

John McDougall: It was gone. And I had been fairly regularly saving it as a Word doc, which you can do in LivingWriter. But I hadn’t for like a week or two. And I was pissed. I was like, “The freaking site is down.” And this, oh, the very safe cloud.

John Maher: Right.

John McDougall: Like the triple backup cloud claim. I was like, “That’s total BS.” I bailed on it. I just went back to Word and I just email myself at the end of every session because I’m like, “I’m not screwing around.” I got a thumb drive and every now and then I also put it on a thumb drive. But every day the latest version, I’ll write in one Word document to keep that pared down so that’s not bloated, I’m at 50,000 words now. So that’s kind of a bloated Word document.

But just write a chapter in Word, speak with Dragon Naturally Speaking, rip through it. At the end of the session, put it into the master manuscript. But anyway, so those are things to speed things up and then artificial intelligence is another one, but I don’t use that for creative writing. I have used Jarvis, now called Jasper, for writing some business stuff. Not terrible. It’s pretty amazing if you just want to write about like plumbing services or something, you can do that. Yeah, for creative writing I prefer spitting it out through Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Tips to Improve Business Writing

John Maher: What about more for business writing? Do you have some specific tips in terms of creating outlines or how you go about picking a good title and things like that?

John McDougall: Yeah. So a creative brief or an outline of a blog post is a great way to speed up writing it because if you know you’re going to hit these five key things, you’re not going to just waffle and meander. The other thing is you can just make it a list post, like busting the five myths about SEO or something. And then you just jot down the five in advance, think them through a little bit, and then write an intro, a little bit about each of the five things, a conclusion, and you’re done. I mean, that is awesome. Nothing better than a list post for speeding it up. But even if it’s not a list post, like seven things about X, a creative brief will at least let you know what points you need to hit in the post and then write them and get out.

Stephen King is famous for being a pantser on the creative side, which means you fly by the seat of your pants. And if you’re Stephen King, that’s great. If you’re Jon Morrow or Brian Clark or you know, famous bloggers that just kick ass, they could potentially do that. Although I think that they like outlines. So just be aware that there’s a thing called a plotter and a pantser in the creative world. A plotter would be what I’m recommending. Instead of just winging it for every blog post, if you are more like a plotter and plot out what, what that post is, I think that will really speed things up.

Tools to Streamline Editing

John Maher: Right. What are some key tools that you’ve used to streamline your editing process?

John McDougall: Grammarly is a good one for spelling and basics and you should pay for the professional version of it. And what’s amazing to me is we have some junior writers, I mean, some people right now working with us in our class. One person that I noticed they’re not even using Word’ checker. At the very least run spelling and grammar in Word.

John Maher: Right.

John McDougall: Grammarly is a better version of that. And then ProWritingAid, I’ve only just dabbled with it, but you can get more advice on making your writing better, not just grammar and spelling, but your style and things like that. And hire a proofreader. A proofreader can just take that weight off your shoulders after you get the essentials done. And lastly, I would just say, have something like Evernote or Google Docs where you can store things or a thumb drive and make sure you keep your files organized.

Contact McDougall Interactive to Learn More

John Maher: All right. That’s all really great information, John. Thanks again for talking with me today.

John McDougall: Sounds good, John.

John Maher: And for more information about digital marketing visit mcdougallinteractive.com. And please subscribe, rate and review this podcast on Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening. I’m John Maher and see you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.

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