How to be a prolific writer... at work
March 6, 2018 11:47 AM   Subscribe

In my new position, I have to do a lot more writing (for external audiences) than I ever had before. How do I do it more quickly or efficiently?

I recently changed positions, which has been a perfectly good thing. I'm still in the honeymoon period and I like the organization, my new colleagues seem to like me well enough, and I like my new role.

I work in non-profits, but I've jumped from a program management position to a more communications position. While I still do a lot of project management, I am also charged with composing more written pieces, like social media, promotional material, and newsletters for external audiences.

I like writing, and when I get the projects done they are well-received... but it takes me forever! I find myself procrastinating, stressing out about deadlines, and when I get locked in to the writing process, I feel like whole days blow by. Do you have any suggestions for more efficient, fast, prolific writing in the workplace?
posted by RajahKing to Work & Money (10 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Do you have an assistant who is a reliable proofreader? If not, can you get one? I output a fair amount of written work product, and being able to do a second draft for content/style but not a third or fourth for line-item proofreading edits is a major time-saver, but it takes having someone else you can outsource that work to.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:28 PM on March 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't do this type of job and never have but if I were in this situation, I'd try taking a writing class (maybe a community college course on creative writing).

If that didn't work for me, I would consider hiring a coach/tutor to give me tips on breaking through writer's block professionally.

I work with enough copywriters to know that there's a science behind getting inspiration to clearly articulate written information.
posted by toomanycurls at 12:28 PM on March 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm in a similar situation the last year or so, and I find it goes so much better when I don't sit down and try to write something all in one go. I scribble down my initial thoughts first without worrying about structure or making it sound nice, then close the file and put it aside, preferably until the next day. More often than not I come back to it with a sense of dread and am pleasantly surprised at how much I already have to work with. After this happened a few times I started to feel more confident that I actually can crank these things out pretty efficiently, and I don't stress and procrastinate nearly as much as I used to.
posted by something something at 12:38 PM on March 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have spent most of my working life writing one thing or another. I have also at times, written for my own pleasure. Those are two different things to me. I allow myself to be unoriginal in my work writing. I'm not going for the perfect phrase--I often reuse phrases--I have no problem "stealing" from myself. The point, to me, of my "work writing" whether it is a longer white paper to justify new spending or a new position or it is a quick web article or talking points for an executive, or a Tweet, my only goal is to clearly and concisely lay out whatever information or argument I'm going for. I also have no ego attached to the work writing I do. I have no problem (particularly if I'm learning the likes/dislikes of a new internal "client") getting something back that is slashed to pieces the first time. My goal is to figure out what they want and deliver that. Currently, the bulk of writing that I produce is "passenger bulletins" for BART riders to let them know about construction work going on at a station, new policies, etc. I follow a very formulaic style that I've developed over time because I need to write to approximately an 8th grade reading level and for people for whom English is not their native language. I can bang one of those suckers out in 15 mins. to a half hour (that is with time to read through for meaning and then read through for mistakes). Once it is done, it is done. I publish online and in print and move on to the next.

So remember with work writing, you are not trying to impress with style or creativity. Save that for your poetry on the weekends.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:40 PM on March 6, 2018 [7 favorites]

How do you write? Sometimes, I write more prolifically if I can talk out loud about it and then dictate stuff I'm thinking about and then have it transcribed, either by me or by something like transcription software. This is how I wrote my whole Masters.

It can also work really well if you record your thoughts throughout the day, in between doing some other things. I wrote my best pages based on a conversation I had with my advisor about my thesis at a coffee shop/bar.
posted by answergrape at 12:40 PM on March 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Templates. Anything that's "advertising" the organization has a template, and throughout the week or month (however often you're producing social media bulletins, promo materials, and the newsletter), you're adding probable items-to-be-included to a running list for each writing job.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:38 PM on March 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I do a lot of copywriting for non-profits and political campaigns (largely fundraising emails and social content), so definitely feel you!

I will say that you'll get much quicker as time goes on in this role -- some of it is just practice. You write more, become more familiar with messaging/various formats, and it'll all come easier! Make sure, especially as you're getting up to speed, that you have the necessary inputs to produce good content. (I didn't always know what to ask for at first, and am better able to succeed now that I can advocate for the correct inputs before I spin my wheels turning something around.)

Also, if you haven't already, maybe try the pomodoro technique? It's something I'll use when I'm feeling drained and want to force myself to spit something onto paper.
posted by kylej at 2:17 PM on March 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

I find it easiest if I try to have a habit of writing for 15-20 minutes every morning right after I get up (assuming I'm not sleep deprived). Time allowing, I'll hit the exercise bike for 10 minutes and think about what I want to write, then put it to paper.

There's something about that time that helps my creative juices flow and making a habit helps me keep with it. If your employer is flexible on hours and your family life accommodates it, give it a shot.
posted by Candleman at 2:27 PM on March 6, 2018

When I started a new role similar to yours, I was really helped by this quote from Susan Orlean:

"I also think if you’ve got writer’s block, you don’t have writer’s block. You have reporter’s block. You only are having trouble writing because you don’t actually yet know what you’re trying to say, and that usually means you don’t have enough information. That’s the signal to walk away from the keyboard, think about what it is that you don’t really know yet, and go do that reporting."

I think writer's block and speed are somewhat synonymous in this case.
posted by matrixclown at 9:01 PM on March 7, 2018

To add to the excellent advice from something something, you might find it easier, or get more momentum, if you break every writing project down into small tasks:

* brainstorm basic ideas - 5 minutes
* turn that into 5 bullet points - 2 minutes
* depending on how long this piece needs to be, repeat above two steps for each bullet point
* turn bullet points into paragraphs - 60 minutes
* review and revise - 20 minutes
* final proofread - 10 minutes
posted by kristi at 12:51 PM on March 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

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