People often ask me this question, and it makes me grin every time:
“James, exactly how do you manage to write such massive quantities? Is there some magic switch we can flick on to write lots of articles?”
Now, sometimes I answer it’s jet-fuel-strength coffee that’s so black, it’s like ink. But the truth is that it’s not the coffee (though that helps) and it’s not a magic switch at all.
Then again, maybe it is…
A writing routine – a clear, set pattern of familiar, habitual activities – trains your brain to write on demand. When the routine begins, your brain perks and recognizes that this is the usual pattern of steps that lead to an outcome.
What’s the outcome? Train your brain right, and it’ll be industrial quantities of well-written words.
Robert Cialdini, Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing (wow!), is famous for his book Influence (and if you don’t have a copy, get one now). In it, Cialdini explains a cool psychological response he refer to as “click – whirr!”
Our brains have built-in, automatic responses to fixed-action patterns activated by trigger features. That means if something triggers our pattern, we run through a sequence of behaviours as predictable as snow in the Arctic.
It’s like hitting a “play” button on a DVD. The movie plays out. You rewind it, hit play, and the movie plays out again. Rewind, hit play… you get the picture. Same movie, same ending, every single time. All you need to do is hit “play” – your trigger.
So if you’ve built a pattern of actions, you’re golden. Hit the trigger, run through them and the scenes unfold until you reach the end: you, writing.
Here’s an example: Every day, I follow the same, fixed routine. I wake up. I grab a cup of coffee. I sit at the kitchen island and read my email. I wake up my daughter and get her ready for school – iCarly, cereal, clothes, prepare her lunch, brush her hair, walk her to the bus stop. I walk back, breathing deep, feeling grateful and thinking only about the writing task I’ve chosen to work on when I arrive home.
I refill my coffee, sit down and – “click!-whirr” – hit the keyboard.
This routine never changes. It’s the same, constant, predictable routine that happens every single day of my life (except weekends, of course). And if something happens that disrupts my routine? No coffee? We drive to the bus stop instead of walking? I get distracted by a call when I come home?
My “click-whirr!” response fails, like a record jostled nastily off the song. Scrrriiiitch!! I have trouble writing, I can’t think easily, and my mind’s a useless sludge.
That’s where the game would usually be over, but luckily, I have a second “click-whirr!” routine I can set off to get back on track. I take a 30 minute break to dissociate from the mental sludge, trigger the new routine and soon I’m back to writing on demand. (And today I wrote 8,000 words – not counting client emails!)
So what’s your writing routine? Can you map it out as clearly as I did, step-by-tiny-step? Can you reinforce it? Make it more constant?
Or maybe you don’t have a writing routine established yet… no wonder you have trouble writing when you finally sit down!
Start building your habitual writing routine today. Get into the habit of a set pattern of predictable activities that never change and that end with you writing. And guard your routine fiercely. Let nothing and no one disrupt it.
Soon you’ll be able to “click-whirr!” with the best…and write on demand, in massive, effortless quantities.