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The Four Cornerstones to Writing More: Write with Focus

by | Jul 30, 2018 | academic writing, time management

After helping hundreds of academic women write and publish more, I had an epiphany.

It happened in the shower, where all my best thoughts happen.

I realized that everything I teach about developing a writing practice can be boiled down into four core teachings. Because they are four, I decided to call them “cornerstones.” You can go ahead and build your writing practice on top of this solid foundation. 😉

For the next four weeks, I’ll be deep-diving into the four cornerstones of writing more.

Today we’ll tackle: Write with focus.

Writing coaches often say that to really develop a robust writing practice, you have to write every day. The philosophy here is that you get X number of words on the page, and then you severely edit. It doesn’t matter if you write 1000 crappy words, somewhere in there are 200-300 brilliant words. You just need to write a lot and edit back.

This works for some people. It has never worked for me.

Instead, when I coach academic women who want to write and publish more, I teach them strategies to write with focus.

We are all short on time. I don’t have time to write 1000 words to get 200.

But it’s not just that. Writing is so much about how we feel. And writing 1000 words to get 200 can feel icky.

Worse, doing something every day is sometimes just impossible. If we set that unreasonable expectation for ourselves, then we could be setting ourselves up for feeling like failures when we can’t meet it. And nothing shuts down writing faster than feeling like a failure. Or a guilty failure. Yuck-o.

Instead, try these three strategies for writing with focus.

Nothing shuts down writing faster than feeling like a failure.Click To Tweet

Focused Writing Strategy 1: Tiger Time

I borrowed the term “tiger time” from entrepreneur Amy Porterfield who uses it to describe your best, most focused time of day. The concept behind tiger time is that you’ll get more done in less time if you use your most focused energy toward creation.

I want you to fiercely protect your tiger time for writing. If you can write for 1-2 hours a week during your tiger time, you can move mountains!

On the flip side, the idea of writing during your tiger time also mandates that you shouldn’t even try to write at other times (as one Write More Workshop participant called it, your “sloth times” ;)).

By following these rules, you are released from feeling guilty when you’re not writing, because it is actually counter-productive to write outside of your tiger time.

Writing during your tiger time foments flow and momentum. Avoiding writing at other times eliminates guilt. Yay tiger time!

Focused Writing Strategy 2: Write First Thing

“But Cathy,” you say, “I don’t have a tiger time.” Or your tiger time varies. Or you forgot what it felt like to have focus and mental clarity when you had children.

That’s ok, the next two strategies are for YOU.

In lieu of tiger time, write first thing in the morning.

Here’s what “write first thing in the morning” means: Writing will be your first work-related task. The first thing you do when you sit down to start your work day. Plan for 45 minutes to an hour.

Before you write, you may not check email or social media. If it waited this long, it can wait one more hour.

You may have to trick yourself into distraction-less morning writing. One way to do this is to write your first paragraph on paper. This helps you avoid computer distractions and get your writing flow going first thing. Another way is to leave yourself “breadcrumbs” in your previous writing session–little word clues that remind yourself what to work on next.

Again, you don’t have to write first thing everyday. Aim for 1-3 hours per week if you can. If you are just starting out, start with one hour and gradually add.

Focused Writing Strategy 3: Write in Community

Another way to get focus in your writing is to write in community. There are many ways to do this in person, but here I’ll explain how we do it in our online community, The Academic Women’s Writing Collective.

In the Collective, we have weekly co-writing sessions. We all join a Zoom call, mute ourselves, and get to work. You can see people writing and they can see you (you can also turn off your camera, of course!).

And something magical happens.

Because we are all writing together, we get focused. We feed off of each other’s momentum. We lift each other up.

It is a beautiful thing.

You can do this yourself by finding friends who want to co-write with you, and then using any online meeting tool to write together. Zoom is free for meetings of 45 minutes or less, but you could also use Google hangouts or even Facetime.

If you’re interested in co-writing with a community of like-minded academic women, consider joining The Academic Women’s Writing Collective. In addition to weekly co-writing (several sessions are planned to accommodate different time zones–I’m looking at you, Australia!), we have:

    • Monthly take-action workshops: 30-minute writing and time management workshops with an additional 30 minute Q&A. It’s like a webinar + group coaching call and it will be the MOST inspiring hour of your month.
    • Once-a-semester day-long writing retreat. Your writing deserves your attention for at least one full day per semester. We’ll meet virtually for a six-hour session of pomodoro-style writing bursts and breaks. Then we’ll debrief together at the end.
  • Supportive, private online community for goals and accountability. I’ll be asking you to check in at least weekly and tell us how you’re doing. Find others who have goals like yours and become accountability buddies. Network, connect, get cross-disciplinary feedback on your writing ideas. Most of all, discover that you are not alone and feel supported by other amazing academic women like you.

Sound like a way to break out of the writing rut? Then let’s do this. Together. 🙂

Click here to join The Academic Women’s Writing Collective!


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