You wake at 5:40 in the morning to write for an hour before the family circus starts. Several ideas fight for space in your head, eating your limited time. Finally, you pick one and plow ahead. Here, I focus on how to quickly produce an editable and operable blog post when time is tight.
Control Your Workspace and Headspace
Productive writing in restricted, inflexible windows of time requires you to do two things:
- Destroy distractions. When writing, I turn my phone off and upside-down, and close my internet browser and email. Close doors and blinds. Disconnect from Wi-Fi. The enemy is anything that can redirect your attention and reduce relevant word count.
- Give yourself an assignment. Decide, prior to sitting down and preferably the day or week before, what you plan to write about. Plant the seed in your mental soil. When something is due on deadline and must get drafted, we need “no-choice” and the beneficial focus and fertility of planning in advance.
The above guidelines raise “but, what if…” questions. For example, what if something pops up while writing, like you need to check a fact or look up a name? Answer: I highlight the words or “question to self” in yellow or all-caps as a reminder to circle back later instead of stopping to open a browser and search online in the moment. Again, the enemy, especially, when tight on time, is anything that slows us down.
Draft the Post
You decided yesterday to draft a post this morning on “if you lock your keys in someone else’s car” or “if you run out of gas” or “how to clean your teeth with a huckleberry branch.” Now start writing. Dump the contents of your brain on or inspired by this topic onto the page. Write until you run out of juice. Pause to cough, then type more. Sip your tea, then keep stroking the keyboard. Focus on volume over quality. This will generate 300, 500 or 1,000 words (1 to 3 pages), much of it drivel and some of it practical, humorous, or ironic with links to personal past experiences.
Next, read the text and find your themes or key messages. Every salad has its berries. Highlight these sentences as leads for paragraphs. Ideally, you’ll have one to three solid ideas.
Next, cross out the crap and reshape what’s left. We whittle the original draft to the essential worthwhile content. Reorganize what remains around the themes. For me, this usually means I mined two or three themes that will serve as topic sentences for two or three body paragraphs, of which one or two may be formed.
Finally, reshape and strengthen the introduction and body paragraphs. We’ve got a bunch of edited words that need a clean opening, so we put our remaining time into the introductory sentences. This could be a fact, question, or statement, but the first paragraph sets the tone.
By this point, we’ve thought of other ideas or stories that fit the themes, or with better ways to word the themes we have. [I always get these down on paper, sometimes as notes in the margin or bullet points at the bottom of the page because I’ve run out of time…]
You’re an hour in and have a roughly drafted blog post, or the start of deeper essay to build on, or that letter you’ve been meaning to write to your high school chemistry teacher, fessing up for being the one to blow the Bunsen burner. Open your calendar and block time later that day or week to reread, edit, and incorporate those loose ideas into your post before sending it out into the world…
 My total investment in this post (and not including this ~130-word footnote), from idea to writing and editing and formatting and posting, was just over two hours spread out over three sessions. The first was a ten-minute burst of about 150 words several months ago to capture the idea and several bullet points. Most of that content survives in the “Draft the Post” section and was key to driving this. The second was a 50-minute session two mornings ago (at 5:40) to dump my brain, which left me with a rough draft of just under 600 words. The final round was a session of editing, pruning, and formatting for posting the blog itself. Overall, half of the time (about an hour) was actual writing, and another hour plus was spent editing and formatting.