The gist: Writing is a powerful communication tool. But it takes a system to polish your work. Here’s how to create that system so you can write faster and be more influential.
As an introvert, I sometimes struggle with communication. It’s hard to get my ideas out in a useful way in conversation. One place I excel, though, is writing. When I write, I can take the time I need to craft my message just the way I want it. Everything comes out polished because I have time to edit and think about what I want to say.
But just because writing is my strength doesn’t mean I always do it well. Sometimes, I’ll read one of my older pieces and think to myself, “These need more work.”
My ideas usually require a lot of thought and attention before publishing. It used to stress me out. The second an article was done, it was time to start the next. It became normal to stay up too late to finish writing only to be disappointed in the results.
One solution I tried was cutting my production in half. I started publishing weekly instead of twice each week. It didn’t fix the problem. Stress was lower, but quality didn’t improve.
Turns out, I didn’t have a writing problem. I had a system problem.
My writing system was broken. Instead of procrastinating twice each week, I just did it once. It was a welcome change, but not good enough. If I wanted my writing to improve, I needed a system that would help me spend more time working on my writing instead of wasting it on something else.
So, I built that system and, ever since, it’s helped me improve my craft in several important ways:
- I now have a workflow that helps my thoughts become clearer before I start writing.
- I have time to carefully edit and critique my work before publishing.
- I can create helpful illustrations to make my points clearer.
Below are the steps I followed to set up my writing system. If you’re an introvert like me, you might find it helps you take your strongest communication style to another level.
I also created a checklist you can use to speed up the process of building your own writing system. Just sign up to the newsletter and I’ll send it to you.
Three Phases of Great Writing
When you have something important to share, you have to give it the time and attention it deserves to be communicated well.
Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people. – Jim Rohn
These are the three phases of what composes a great written message and what you need to do to make sure each phase is completed flawlessly.
1. The Publishing Cycle
The first step in improving your writing is knowing when you’re going to do it. Whether you’re a freelancer who writes every day or you just want to gain influence at work or with your peers, part of becoming more professional and improving your craft is committing to a schedule.
There are a few important things that happen when you commit yourself to a schedule:
- You know the amount of time you have to work on any piece of writing.
- The creation schedule (described in phase three below) becomes obvious.
- You’re no longer beholden to the whims of inspiration to create.
That last point is the most valuable part of the system.
If you want to write, you have to actually write. If you rely on random and fleeting inspiration to drive your writing, you won’t create very much. Putting a deadline on your writing will make you more creative and force you to put in the time required to actually improve your craft.
2. The Checklist
There are few things that can improve a process as much as a checklist. That’s why they’re used in so many businesses and professions.
They make sure your doctor operates on the right body part and doesn’t leave any tools in your stomach. They guarantee your flight crew identifies hidden problems with your plane before takeoff. And, of course, they make your writing clear, concise, and persuasive.
To improve my writing, I identified four distinct areas of the writing process I would need to perfect to be sure every article I produce is the best quality I’m capable of.
- Pre-writing: The things I need to do to write without interruption and be sure what I write is accurate and useful.
- Writing: The steps I take to get my thoughts out without stalling or procrastinating.
- Pre-publishing: This is everything I need to do to craft a first draft into a finished piece I’ll be proud of for a long time.
- Promotion: The easiest part to skip. Having a checklist to be sure as many people as possible read my work has not just improved my writing but increased its reach, too.
There are many steps in my process—too many to list here—and you’ll need to organize your own steps in a way that works for you. If you want to get started quickly, though, join the Riskology newsletter using this form and I’ll send all the pieces of my checklist to you:
3. The Creation Schedule
This is the part where it all comes together. You know how often you’re going to publish, and you know the steps you have to complete. Now comes the task of figuring out where it all fits.
Without doing this part, it’s easy to procrastinate and leave everything until the deadline.
That leads to substandard work because you rush through the process and end up skipping the steps that seem less important. But those “less important” steps are the ones that provide the polish that takes your writing to the next level.
Your creation schedule is basically a writing plan. And planning—boring as it can be—is a proven strategy for overcoming procrastination. 1
Your goal is to fit the things in your checklist into your daily routine so that, as you go through each day, you’re completing the smaller actions that will build up to a great piece of writing when they’re all complete.
They’re the atoms of your writing molecule. You don’t have to schedule each checklist item, but you should have a daily plan that incorporates all the major pieces from phase one: pre-writing, writing, pre-publishing, and promotion.
Here’s what my creation schedule looks like (though I’m frequently tweaking it).
The success you have here will depend entirely on how well you integrate these tasks into your daily life so they don’t pile up and become overwhelming.
Final Thoughts on Better Writing
The most important lesson I learned while improving my writing was less about the writing itself and more about procrastination and process.
I tend to waste my free time unless I have a plan for how I’ll use it. That’s why switching from writing twice each week to once lowered my stress but didn’t actually improve my writing.
What changed things was building a system that included small bits of work that would become automatic by fitting with my other daily habits.
When I follow the process, I’m proud of what I create. When I don’t, I usually look back and think, “I could have done better.” It really is as simple as that.
If you want a copy of my writing checklist to speed up your own writing process, just join my newsletter using this form and I’ll email it to you.
- Read this research paper for more about planning and procrastination: Overcoming Procrastination through Planning