Boost your writing productivity with Theo Pauline Nestor

If you’re like me, you sometimes start writing something, but get distracted partway through it. I’m trying an exercise in Theo Pauline Nestor’s Writing Is My Drink to break that habit. Well, maybe I can’t break that habit. However, I believe that I can improve my writing productivity with the help of her exercise.

Writing productivity assessment exercise

Here’s the exercise:

Start noticing the times when you stop working. Is it when you get stuck on something? When the writing starts to feel “too hard”? Is it when you get thrown off your routine because something unexpected comes up? Is it when you’re on the verge of taking your story to a deeper level? Keep track of your sticking points. You might even want to take a few notes about these stopping points.

I like the idea of doing research like this to help solve the problem. I tested this exercise by doing it myself. I discovered some patterns of when I stop writing. Here are some examples.

PROBLEM 1: I discover something that I want to research. For example, perhaps I have a usage question about whether I should use “each” or “both,” so I leave the page to research it. When I open my browser, I see tabs I’ve left open earlier in the day. I figure it’ll only take a minute to check Twitter or LinkedIn, but then I see something I want to share or reply to. I get distracted.

PROBLEM 2: Something that I write reminds me of something I need to do for a purpose other than the piece I’m writing. I figure it’ll only take me a minute or two, so I abandon my writing.

PROBLEM 3: A Microsoft Outlook reminder makes a noise. I go to check it out.

Writing productivity solutions

I am trying to manage my productivity challenges better by:

  • Reminding myself to stay focused
  • Keeping my “to do” list handy so I can jot down tasks to perform later, instead of abandoning my work to perform them
  • Clicking to delay reminders until after I’ve completed my writing work
  • Promising myself a reward, like a half-hour with a mystery novel that I’m enjoying

What writing productivity solutions help you? I know some people use apps like RescueTime to track their productivity and even block distracting websites. Nestor is a fan of using a timer, a technique that I discuss in “15 minutes to busting your writer’s block.” Nestor also recommends reading Virginia Valian’s essay “Learning to Work,” which you can download on Nestor’s blog. It’s a long—almost 15 pages—essay, so I downloaded it, but didn’t read it while I was drafting this blog post. I knew it was more important for me to finish this draft than to read the essay.

I discuss more productivity techniques in “‘Deep Work’ rules to help you write more.”

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

 

Book author tips from my experience

If you’re looking to write a book, you can learn from my experience writing, publishing, and marketing Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients. If you’re a book author planning to self-publish your book, you may find my tips particularly helpful.

Below you’ll find links to my posts for book authors.

Writing a book

6 lessons from my book writing experience” discusses goes beyond the writing process to discuss decisions that you make during the writing process—such as the use of images—that will affect the ease with which you eventually manage turning your manuscript into a published book. My writing group was the biggest contributor to my completing my manuscript. Its members, who were mainly fiction writers with little knowledge of financial topics, urge me to write a book. They also held me accountable for turning in chapters for them to critique. They spurred many tweaks to my text, as well as my changing the order in which some of the chapters appear.

If you want to write your book using multiple devices, you may be interested in the solutions mentioned briefly in “Write your book on multiple devices.

Publishing a book

When you self-publish, you’ll need to make many decisions that you can avoid if you work with a traditional publisher. I discuss many of these in “7 steps toward picking your self-published financial book’s formats and formatter.” For example, you’ll need to decide whether to publish an e-book (and in which of the many formats) or a printed book as a paperback or hardcover. I hope that my tips can help you avoid a fiasco I experienced along the way to publication.

As part of the formatting process, you’ll need to create a cover for your book. I outsourced to a professional book designer for Financial Blogging, used my website guy’s designer for Investment Writing Top Tips, and created a cover myself using Canva for Investment Commentary. I also used crowdsourcing to help select the cover for Financial Blogging, as I discuss in “Tips for crowdsourcing self-published book covers.” Crowdsourcing also influenced the ultimate title of my book.

Marketing and selling a book

I cover the basics of book marketing in “How to market your self-published book: Lessons from my experience.” You’ll learn the process I followed to launch my financial blogging book.

Your pricing will affect how you market your book—and how many books you sell. I discuss some considerations in “How to price your self-published book—lessons from my experience.” The good news is that you can change the price, if the price you use initially doesn’t achieve the results you desire. You can also offer temporary discounts.

If you want to sell your book directly to readers, you’ll need a virtual shopping cart to handle the transactions. I use E-junkie. I’ve written up “Selling PDF e-books online: Tips from my E-junkie experience.” I also use E-junkie for selling my coaching, as well as my financial blogging class and investment commentary webinar.

What else would you like to learn?

If you share your questions with me, I may be able to answer them in a future blog post.

Cracking eggs for your writing

You have to crack eggs and get your hands dirty to create a delicious dessert. Sometimes the same thing is necessary to create an effective blog post.

Most good blog posts aren’t fully formed before you start writing. They’re not like the products of soulless, mass-produced cake mixes.

You have to assemble ingredients—your ideas, statistics, and other supporting evidence.

You don’t dump your ingredients into your blog post in any old order. The result would be impossible to read. Instead, you add them in the right order. You may decide on that order using different techniques, such an outline, mind map, or discussion with an editor or writer. In a sense, you’re creating a recipe with the right chemistry.

You blend your ingredients. The writer’s equivalent of blending is the editing of your first draft. that’s the stage when you check that your post passes big-picture tests for its organizations.

Then, you bake. For writers, that means line-editing, proofreading, and, perhaps, getting feedback from other people.

Complete these steps, and you have a blog post that’s ready to be consumed by readers who’ll appreciate the care that you’ve put into it.

Want help learning how to bake a great blog post? Check out my financial blogging class!

 

Top posts from 2018’s fourth quarter

Check out my top posts from the last quarter!

They’re a mix of practical tips on writing (#1, #4, #5, #9, #10), blog (#2), proofreading (#3), investment commentary (#6), newsletter (#7), and grammar (#8). If you’d like to quickly improve your writing, check out #1! The #2 post is a practical checklist for writing more than just blog posts.

I’m only listing one Mistake Monday post, although more were among the most viewed, because one Mistake Monday post is much like the others. Check out my Mistake Monday posts if you’d like to improve your proofreading skills!

My posts that attracted the most views during 2018’s fourth quarter

  1. 5 things my English teachers failed to teach me
  2. Financial blog post test—do you pass?
  3. MISTAKE MONDAY for December 24: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?
  4. Down with (The Index) parenthetical notes!
  5. My 2018 reading, with recommendations for you
  6. My best tip for improving your investment commentary
  7. The e-newsletter problem you don’t know about
  8. Being right about grammar isn’t always good enough
  9. Write like an effective lawyer
  10. 4-step process to define your audience

Don’t fix your grammar

Want to write well? Then, don’t fix your grammar. I don’t mean don’t ever fix your grammar. I mean that you shouldn’t fix your grammar too early in the writing process.

I thought about this when reading How to Write and Present Technical Information by Charles H. Sides. He says,

Often writers get overly concerned about the nit-picking details of grammar and punctuation in a document before they have got it written clearly.

Sides say this means we writers “will not change what we should, and the read will suffer for it.” In other words, the writer won’t fix big-picture errors of logic and organization.

I’m a big believer in starting the writing process by organizing your thoughts. That should be your top priority in the beginning. In the early stages, grammar is a distraction.

Here’s the process that I suggest:

  1. Organize your thoughts before you write.
  2. Write your first draft.
  3. Do “big picture” editing to fix the article’s organization and flow.
  4. Do line editing. This is the stage when you fix grammar and other writing style issues.

Of course, it’s easier said than done to leave grammar tweaks to the end. One way I prevent myself from tinkering too soon is by writing the first drafts of some blog posts by hand, as discussed in “No batteries required: My favorite blogging technique.”

If you like more help developing your writing process, read my book Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, or take my on-demand financial blogging class.

 

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

Make your bullet-pointed lists more powerful

“Articles” that rely heavily on bullet-pointed lists can overwhelm readers. Their attention flags after three or four bullets. I call this “bullet fatigue.” However, you can boost the power of your lists with this tip.

Two easy steps to better lists

Knowing about bullet fatigue, you can break up an article that consists mainly of a long bullet-pointed list into separate lists. Here are the steps:

  1. Group the bullet points by topic. Make your topics narrow enough that, ideally, no more than three or four bullets apply. It’s OK to go longer if each bullet point consists of only one or two words.
  2. Write a topic sentence that introduces each group of bullet points.

Better results from your lists

The result? You end up with a multi-paragraph article that is easy for readers to skim because its topic sentences identify the focus of each group of bullet points. Your results will soar with a minimal investment of time.

Wondering about how to punctuate bullet-pointed lists?

I’ve discussed this in “How to punctuate bullet-pointed lists.

Bloggers, start with what interests you the most

In the first of her The Writing Coach podcasts, Rebecca Weber mentioned that she often starts an article by writing the part that interests her the most. Then, she says, it’s easy for her to fill in the other parts, especially if she already has an outline. That’s a great way to overcome writer’s block, in my opinion. It may also be a great way to find a new focus for your blog post.

Benefit from your passion

Blog posts benefit from passion. For starters, you’re more likely to enjoy writing them. That cuts your tendency to procrastinate.

Also, when you write about what interests you, you’re likely to convey your enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm will give your readers a better sense of who you are. If they care about the same things—or if they like your positive energy—you will captivate your readers.

Perhaps there’s more that you can say about that topic to develop it into a complete blog post. Not sure how to expand your topic? Try mind mapping or freewriting, both of which are discussed in my financial blogging book. See where those techniques take you.

Avoid turning off readers

If parts of your outline touch upon topics that don’t excite you, that may deaden the tone of your writing. Your readers may pick up on your lack of enthusiasm. That’s a turn-off.

Of course, there are times when you can’t avoid writing about dull stuff. After all, some of it is essential.

Do your best to write in a reader-friendly manner. Focus on the benefits to the reader, and you may still achieve good results.

Another take on refining your focus

I’ve written about the usefulness of pursuing your interests from a different angle in “Writing tip: Pop the balloon or make it your focus.”

Down with (“The Index”) parenthetical notes!

Have you noticed how many financial documents have unnecessary parenthetical notes? I mean phrases like the XYZ Fund (“The Fund”) or The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (“The Index”). Those parenthetical references strike me as unnecessary. However, I assumed that lawyers insisted on those parenthetical references.

Parenthetical notes NOT required by law

To my surprise, I found two respected legal stylists arguing against such parenthetical notes. Here’s what Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage and The Elements of Legal Style, wrote in Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges.

Give the reader credit for having a brain—and show that you have one, too… If your brief repeatedly refers to the Secretary of Transportation and mentions no other Secretary, it is silly to specify parenthetically the first time you mention the Secretary of Transportation “(hereinafter ‘The Secretary’).” No one will think that your later references to “The Secretary” denotes the Secretary of Defense, or perhaps your own secretary.

In  short, you don’t need those parenthetical references to (“The Fund”) and (“The Index”). Of course, you should consult with your firm’s legal and compliance professionals before eliminating them. Unfortunately, however, it’s rare for legal and compliance departments to get in trouble for saying no to simplification requests.

I hope this quote from Scalia and Garner will help you purge these parenthetical references from your publications.

Some parenthetical notes work

However, sometimes parenthetical references are good, as I explain in “Plain language: Let’s get parenthetical.”

 

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

My 2018 reading, with recommendations for you

Here are some of the books I read (or referred to) in 2018, divided by categories. I hope you find something useful in my reading.

Business

The Million-Dollar One-Person Business: Make Great Money, Work the Way You Like, Have the Life You Want by Elaine Pofeldt has an over-the-top title, but some good advice on picking a focus for your business and prioritizing.

Here’s one quote that I liked:

Uncovering an idea that you will enjoy thinking about every day—whether that is when you are writing copy for your website or answering a customer’s question about it—is the secret.

I feel that way about writing. I doubt that I’m going to turn my writing into a million-dollar business, but I could become more efficient with Pofeldt’s tips.

Personal finance

Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine—Levine’s story about her year of living frugally may give you ideas for topics to blog about. At one point, she’s wearing $15 Nike slides, and writes, “Next to the vacationer strolling down the $40,000-a-night beach in her diamond flip-flops, I am Gandhi.”

Personal organization

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson—Like many people, I sometimes receive gifts that I don’t need or want. I liked this statement by Magnusson:

If you receive things you don’t really want from your parents or someone else who wants to reduce the number of their possessions in their home, you should be honest and say, “No, thank you. I don’t have room for this.” Just moving things someone does not want in their house to your house is not a good solution for anyone.”

Garner's Modern American Usage

Reference books for writers

These two references will always be on my reading list.

* Associated Press Stylebook by Associated Press

* Garner’s Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner—This has become a “go to” reference for me.

Upbeat books

Some people can be upbeat in the face of challenges that overwhelm others. Here are some examples.

Dying: a memoir by Cory Taylor—Taylor wrote this book in the year before she died from cancer. Anticipating her death, she says, “…my circumstances were less a cause for sorrow than an opportunity to feel thankful for my unearned good fortune.”

Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can’t See Clearly by Isaac Lidsky—Lidsky’s TED talk, “What reality are you creating for yourself?” is on my to do list, but I may never get to it because I prefer written to video content. Lidsky went blind, and built a successful career. I liked the first part of the book, where he tells his personal story, the best. The book isn’t as compelling when he speaks more broadly about how you can apply the lessons from his life.

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide by Toni Bernhard—Bernhard has a friendliness practice. She says, “When I leave the house, I resolve to be friendly to everyone I see, including people I don’t know. I look at each person who comes into view and silently say, ‘May you have a lovely day’ or ‘I hope this day will be fun for you.'” I’d like to try this. As Bernhard says, “Kindness to another person, even if we only offer a heartfelt smile, takes us out of being preoccupied with out own lives.” Is there anyone who couldn’t benefit from that?

Writing

How to Write and Present Technical Information by Charles H. Sides. This book has inspired some posts for my blog.

Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges by Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner. I refer to this book in several 2018 blog posts.

Looking for more recommendations?

For more recommendations, see my reading list from 2017.

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.