When you walk into an ice-cream parlour, something weird occurs. We look up to the board and find twenty or thirty flavours of ice-cream. And to most of us, this doesn’t even seem weird. We expect to have tons of choice.
But notice what you’re doing as you step up to order your ice-cream
Your’e scanning the board, looking through all the different flavours. Why on earth would you do that? Most of us already know what we’re going to eat long before we order it. But our brain still goes through the list.
Have you figured out what your brain is doing?
It’s eliminating. That’s what it’s doing. If you have 20 flavors and you’re going to choose just one, it has to eliminate 19. And that’s work. A lot of work. This same concept plays out when writing articles. We have way too much choice and this choice factor works against us. So let’s stop and explore where we go off target, shall we?
The three problems of aplenty
1) Too much time.
2) Too much knowledge.
3) Too many topics.
1) Problem 1: Too much time
You’re either laughing madly at this idea, or shaking your head in disgust because we don’t seem to have time. Time, it seems, is the most precious resource and we run out of it—well, all the time. So how can we have too much time?
But we do.
When you sit down to write, you don’t have a fixed amount of time
So sit down with a timer. Because now you’re going to write in a fixed amount of time. Let’s say you allocate an hour for writing. Well, how is that hour split up? Right, you’re going to think for about 25 minutes, aren’t you? And then in a classic ice-cream situation you’re going to battle with the topics. And the clock doesn’t care. It ticks away ruthlessly.
But what if you did a bit of an outline in advance?
What if you sat down and made a list of the next 6 articles you’re going to write. And briefly outlined those articles. And let’s say that took you that full hour and you ended up not writing a word.
Well, that’s time well spent, because when you next sit down to write, you’re going to spend that full hour writing. Not thinking or meandering, but writing. And when that timer starts, you’ll be off the mark.
When it finishes, amazingly, you’ll be done with your work
And if you’re not 100% done, well that’s fine. But you’ll find that the timer—and the planning works for you. Which takes us to Problem No.2, eh?
Problem 2: Too much knowledge
We know too much. We just do. Even when we’re just starting out in our careers, we have thirty-five flavours of ice-cream floating in our heads. And that ends up in a sort of icy puddle on paper when we sit down to write.
But it gets worse…
We then sit down to research. Hours later we’re tired and frustrated and have gone nowhere in particular. So the key is to simply write down your topics, narrow it down to a small section and then write. e.g. Instead of writing about “pricing” (which is a main topic), write instead about “the danger of reducing prices by 20%”. See the focus? You can’t waffle. Everything is now focused on that specific of 20%.
So now you’re using your knowledge to your advantage, which as you can tell is a good thing. But that’s easier said than done, because lurking in the shadows is the problem of too many topics.
Problem 3: Too many topics
When I sat down to write this article, I realised something very quickly. There are tons of topics to choose from, on the topic of article writing. Instead I chose just the concept of “limitations”. And then I could stay with just one limitation and drive home that point. Or take two or three limitations, and explain every one in a bit of detail.
But that’s not how I used to work
Instead I would let the topics float in my head endlessly. That’s why it used to take me two whole days to get an article done. Now I can write five articles in a morning. And you will find that the best way to go about things is to list all the topics down on paper and spend that hour (see Problem 1) listing down what you’re going to write about.
So if I were writing a personal history of my family, for instance, I would list all the topics that I could possibly write on. Just the list. Then I’d attack every topic and create a small outline.
And then I’d have limitations
I could only write about that one topic, and my “research” would be done long before I wrote a single word. And my timer would tick away, secure in the knowledge that once my allotted time quota was done, my article would be done.
But what about the structure of writing?
Surely that helps. If you understand the structure, doesn’t your writing improve a lot more? Sure it does, but remember the topic of this article? It’s about limitations. It’s about what you have right now, not what you could have in the future.
If you already understand the structure of writing, then go right ahead and use it. But if you haven’t, you don’t need a course right now. All you need is what you know. And you’ll write a lot better and faster.
I know, it sounds like magic…
Yet most amateur writers just sit down to write an article. And that’s like walking into an ice-cream parlour with ten thousand and three flavours. And then having the dilemma of picking the right one. It’s tiring, frustrating and mostly a waste of time.
But work with limitations of time, topics and knowledge and you’ll be writing faster and better.
What else could a writer wish for?
P.S. The Brain Audit Workshop is coming to Amsterdam this June!
(Only 50% of the seats remain)
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