Stop Chatting, Start Writing

Be a writer creating work that lasts instead of just chatting.

Writing that will last past Tuesday

How much of your time do you really spend on writing and how much do you spend on tasks with no leverage?

I am tempted to simply paste in a short post by Seth Godin from back in 2011 on the importance of writing instead of succumbing to the distractions all around us. But that wouldn’t be nice. So first go read what he said here: In and Out.

I’m serious. Go click on that first. It’ll take you all of 30 seconds to read the succinct words of wisdom but it may change your life. It could certainly make you a far richer writer.

Now, for every person who says they owe their success to Twitter and Instagram, there are 1,001 people who have frittered away hours of their day they could have used to do something productive.

Sure, you can justify all that time as “networking,” but who in their right mind spends hours a day, every day, on networking? How many of those people you follow (or who follow you) can really help you make more money in the next 12 months, or even the next two years? A dozen? Maybe 20 at the optimistic high end? In business terms, that’s activity that has very little leverage.

Take Time to Let Your Mind Breathe

Here’s an experiment to try. First, don’t go online even once this coming Saturday or Sunday—take your pick. That should be dead easy unless you’re a true addict.

If you get some writing done instead, great. A double bonus. If you’re feeling under-stimulated, then read a book, meet some friends for no-mobile-phone drinks, or take a hike in the woods. You’ll probably come up with a half-dozen new ideas that were just waiting for a chance to pop out. They just needed some open space to get separated from the noise.

Next, pick a four-hour block one weekday to go offline. Go to the park, your roof deck, or a cafe with no Wi-Fi. Write until your battery runs out on your laptop. Or go old school and use a notebook.

Writing away from distractions

Unsplash photo by Doug Robichaud

You’ll probably be flabbergasted at how much work you actually get done, how crystal clear your goals have suddenly become. That daunting article deadline or blog posting schedule suddenly won’t seem so daunting. You’ll probably find yourself jotting down a dozen or more things to work on. You’ll find yourself going from “What am I going to write about next?” to “Where did all these ideas come from?”

Here’s another experiment. If you’re on a press trip or writing excursion, try devoting no more than a half hour a day to communication: e-mail and social networks. Only respond to what’s truly urgent. Put your phone in your daypack and stop reaching for it impulsively. Use the extra time to wander, observe, take notes, and talk to real people who live there. You’ll probably write the best travel article you have put out in ages.

You see, back in the old days before the internet, we writers had major disadvantages for sure. We couldn’t fact-check with a mouse click. We couldn’t say “no thanks” to press kits or USBs because we knew we could look up everything we needed from home. We had to call someone in a distant land to get opening hours or an address. So being online certainly saves you loads of time and hassle as a writer.

Being online also brings on a million distractions, however, so the key to real success as a writer has one new added dimension: willpower.

Break Your Addiction and Become a Better Writer

If you’re addicted to alcohol, meth, or heroin, naturally people would say you’re going to have trouble succeeding long-term as a writer—or as a spouse or parent. But for some reason the same people will see no problem in you being addicted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and whatever the latest “make me feel important” social media flavor of the month may be.

Most bloggers and freelancers I know who struggle financially are the ones that are spending most of their time on things that don’t really matter past tomorrow. Sure, some people make money being an Instagram “influencer,” but several hundred times more people make a comfortable living as writers. If you really aspire to be known as someone who posts pretty selfies with hashtags, go for it. But if you want to be a travel writer, then be a real writer. Exhibit willpower, and focus on what’s important.

Five years from now, people will still click on a great article you wrote or even a great blog post. If you’ve got enough to say to write a whole book, people may still read it 10 or 20 years from now. If it’s really good, even after you’re dead.

In contrast, how long do you think people will be reading that last tweet, text message, or status update you posted? Two hours from now? Maybe?

Will you really miss anything if you just turn it all the distractions for hours? Will your life or career go into decline if you go cold turkey on social media for a day, or even for a week?

Nope, it won’t. I’ve gone off the grid for a week or more multiple times and my business is still cranking. I think it’s safe to say hardly anyone even noticed. But thousands of people a month are still reading the articles I wrote when I came back. They kept buying my books.

Spend your days writing something that matters. Create work with a long shelf life. You’ll have a far more lasting impact and you’ll find your bank account getting fatter as well.

If you want to get twice as much done without working more hours, I’ve got a few hours of advice for you on that topic. Check out my online course that has already helped a few hundred time-starved bloggers and freelancers: Productivity Power for Writers. It may be the best small investment you’ve ever made if you really want to go pro as a writer with something to say.


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