Brian Clark, Neil Patel, Jon Morrow – the biggest names in the blogosphere all agree that Henneke is a powerful force!
She is the Founder of Enchanting Marketing, a blog every writer should follow.
Henneke’s words have a personality of their own. Ever since I came across her work a couple of years back I have been hooked to her writing. Her advice has been instrumental in shaping my writing style.
Henneke often shares valuable tips about productivity for writers on her blog. I had the opportunity to pick her brain about how to become an insanely productive writer.
If you listen to her and implement her tips, your writing productivity will soar!
My conversation with Henneke
You keep sharing lots of valuable productivity tips for writers on Enchanting Marketing. What do you recommend for one of the most common complaints – writers block?
In my experience, writer’s block can have different causes. For instance, you might not know what to write about. The best way to solve this is to keep a notebook with ideas. I have an old-fashioned notebook in which I write ideas down. It’s also important to keep collecting ideas. Pay attention to comments. Note down the questions you get by email. Also, dedicating 30 minutes to generate as many ideas as possible can help you get unstuck.
Another cause of writer’s block is when you know what you want to write, but you just can’t get started. Perhaps you can’t find the perfect words for your first sentence and you feel stuck. The way to solve this is to accept that your first draft will be crappy, so try to shut up your inner critic while writing your first draft, and write it as fast as possible. It may help to start with the easiest parts of a blog post. For instance, writing an introductory paragraph can be difficult, so I usually write my opening lines last. If necessary, start with typing some gibberish. Getting your fingers moving to type some words may sound like a crazy idea, but it can work!
Earlier you used to take 7-8 hours to finish a post, but now, you have brought it down to 3 hours. How were you able to slash it by half?
Yes, I sometimes can write a blog post in less than 3 hours. I implemented several tactics to achieve this.
Firstly, write over a series of days. On my first day, I pick an idea and write an outline. On the second day, I write a first draft. On my third day, I edit and format; and often this is when I write my opening and closing paragraphs, too. When you spread writing over several days, you take advantage of incubation time. You become more creative. Also, your editing goes faster and becomes better when you look at your draft with fresh eyes.
A second big help to writing faster is using a standard structure for your articles. Most of my posts have an opening in which I empathize with the reader and promise how I’ll help them. Then I have a series of tips. And lastly, I have an upbeat paragraph in which I encourage readers to implement my tips.
Sometimes my inner rebel protests at using this proven structure, and I skip outlining and freewrite a blog post instead. This almost always takes me a longer time, but I do think we need to be kind to ourselves, and writing is also a creative process, so we shouldn’t always chase productivity. When you freewrite you can come across surprising new ideas.
Another tactic to writing faster is, of course, overcoming procrastination. We talked about some tactics already with overcoming writer’s block and writing a crappy first draft. It can also help to close your internet browser and put your phone on flight mode to avoid distractions.
I’ve written a detailed post about my writing routine, you can find more details in it: No Time to Write? These 4 Routines Cut My Writing Time By 50%
You are a night owl, but you also write before breakfast. How do you manage to do that?
I read an article that we’re at our most creative when we’re at our groggiest (here’s the article). So rather than get upset about having trouble with waking up (I don’t drink coffee), I decided to just have a shower, make a cup of tea, and start writing. Somehow, writing before breakfast while I’m still half-sleepy seems to shut up my inner critic, so I find it easier to get my writing done. This works especially well for writing first drafts.
Any more productivity tips to share for night owls?
I found that working late was killing my productivity because it was affecting my sleep. Yes, on a Monday and Tuesday night I might get a lot done, but by Thursday or Friday I wouldn’t be able to work a lot because I was too tired. I had to prioritize sleep, so I could remain productive during the whole week. One key change I made was switching my computer off an hour before I wanted to go to sleep. This helped me sleep better, and I could keep my productivity up for the whole week.
Stress happens to be one of the biggest productivity killers for most people. What do you recommend for minimizing stress?
Late 2014, I was diagnosed with a whiplash injury. My injury meant that I found it hard to deal with stress. Moreover, I could only sit a limited number of hours at my desk. This forced me to radically change the way I work. I simply asked myself the question: If I can only sit at my desk for 3 hours on average a day, what shall I do?
That simple question completely changed the way I work. I now work about five hours a day, but the principle remains the same. Instead of relying on a to-do list and trying to cram as much work into a day as possible, I had to learn how long it took me to do various tasks, and then ruthlessly focus on my priorities—on the tasks I could do in the time available to me.
As I learned how long it took me to do various tasks (and it was quite an eye-opener to find that things took way longer than I thought), I could schedule my work. Each day would have a limited number of tasks that I knew I could manage in the time available to me.
In addition to my to-do list, I created a not-to-do list. These were the things I wanted to do, but they weren’t priorities. I decided not to spend any time on them for at least 6 months, and then revisit.
This way of working has meant that I can virtually work stress-free. I work a limited number of hours and know what I can achieve in those hours. I simply do the work.
What productivity tools/apps would you recommend for bloggers and writers?
I use Evernote to keep track of articles and quotes I find interesting. When I started writing, I also maintained a swipe file (a collection of good headlines, blog openings, and closing paragraphs) on Evernote. But I still like an old-fashioned paper notebook to write down ideas for future blog posts; and when outlining articles, I use a sheet of paper (and colored fine liners!).
For longer writing projects such as books, I’ve used Scrivener. When writing together with someone else, Asana can be useful for project management, and you can work together in Google Docs, so you can eliminate emailing back and forth.
I use Google calendar to write down deadlines, so I don’t miss anything. Then I use a sheet of paper to schedule my work on a weekly and daily basis. I like the process of checking off tasks by hand.
I use the Focus Booster as an online kitchen timer (I never work more than 30 minutes at one time before taking a short break). Otherwise I don’t use a lot of apps.
Any final thoughts for bloggers and writers who want to become more productive?
Writing is a creative process and we can’t always be super-productive. Good writing requires clear thinking, and sometimes thinking takes time. Staring out of a window to distill ideas is also writing. So when you’re feeling stuck, it’s important to understand what the issue is.
For instance, if you can’t write because you’ve run out of ideas, then goof around in forums or hop on Skype to get new ideas. If you’re a perfectionist, then learn to embrace the power of shitty first drafts, and find a way to silence your inner critic (since I’ve invited my inner critic for a cup of tea, we get along a lot better!). If you’re exhausted, then it’s time for a break—read a random book or go for a walk.
Whatever you do, don’t compare your writing with bestselling novelists and popular bloggers who’ve been writing for ten, twenty, thirty years. Becoming a productive writer requires training—just like you can’t train for a marathon in one day, you can’t become a super-productive writer in one week. Be kind to yourself.
Make it Easier
Want to make it easier to write great content? Listen to Henneke, implement her tips and watch your productivity soar! Which of these tips will you apply today?
9 thoughts on “How to Become an Insanely Productive Writer: with Henneke Duistermaat”
Thank you for inviting me to contribute, Peter!
It’s wonderful having you on successiswhat again Henneke! Thanks 🙂
Great advice! I am an early morning writer. If I don’t do my original writing first thing in the morning, it doesn’t get done. I always had something to write about, so that was never a problem for me. I used to have a hard time knowing where to start, but then I started using various brainstorming techniques that got the ideas out of my head and onto paper. My mantra is “write it now, edit it later.
Great post & tips, love Henneke’s work! 🙂 I want to improve my own writing productivity so I got some really great insights.
Thank you for stopping by to comment, Camilla. I’ve found that one of the key things is to experiment and find out what works for you. There’s a lot of advice about productivity, but it doesn’t all necessarily work for everyone. For instance, the advice to get up early doesn’t work for me at all! But writing before breakfast did work.
Just want to point out that subtle differences can often be very misleading. Love the way you clarified the distinction between writing before breakfast and getting up early! Thanks Henneke 🙂
Whoah! I just clicked your comment from Jon Morrow’s blog and then I was redirected to another awesome blog.
I’ve been struggling with productivity as a writer for years, and I found the advice about accepting that the first draft will be crappy really helpful. Thanks for this post.
Will go now ang read your other posts. 🙂
Understanding the principle of crappy first drafts has helped me a lot, too! Although, in the beginning, I still had to find ways to silence my inner critic so I could get on with writing that crappy draft 🙂
Happy writing, Jon!
That’s an interesting coincidence Jon! I discovered Henneke from one of her guest posts on Jon Morrow’s blog too!