Here’s a funny story – at the end of grade 11 I was failing English. True story! There are a few reasons why, but the real takeaway from this is, now, I work as a travel writer (yeah, that’s right, I’m referring to myself as the pro travel writer in this situation). The blog is one small part of the work I do, as I freelance for a whole bunch of travel publications now (including CNN and Lonely Planet!)
I’ve learned a heck of a lot since I last wrote my, ‘8 helpful tips to improve your blog writing, pronto!’ blog post and feel like I’ve got a whole new set of writing tips to share. While I’m going to be writing a bit about travel, these tips are also useful for anyone writing something important.
For me, getting my writing done is all about the process. This may not work for everyone, but it’s what work’s for me. So, here’s my process for getting my writing done and a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way.
Start with a word bank
Often, I find myself writing about a place I visited a while ago. When you’re trying to write about something you aren’t currently experiencing, it can be hard to properly feel it, know what I mean?
So, I always start by creating a word bank. It helps take me back there but also gives me a whole lot of great words to use when I’m writing. I write the name of the destination on a piece of paper in a nice bright colour then start scribbling down anything and everything that comes to mind when I think of that place. I close my eyes and really let my mind transport me back there. I write down smells, sounds, colours, sights, descriptive words, things I felt – everything.
Then, I pick out a few keywords, the ones that really resonate with me and capture the essence of the destination, and I use a thesaurus to look them up and get even more words. At this point, it’s also a good idea to list down any key things you want or need to include in what you’re writing.
Prepare to write
My next step is to get ready to write. I’ve got this great word bank waiting for me, I’m starting to remember more about the place, so I want to give it some time to marinate in my mind. I use this time to prepare. Make sure your workspace is clean, neat and tidy. It has to be a clear, open space with plenty of natural light and fresh air, if possible. A cluttered desk, for me, equals a cluttered mind. Eliminate all distractions!
Eat something before you start writing, a nice healthy snack (NO junk food), and get yourself a big jug of water and a glass. Go to the toilet. Turn your phone on silent. The last thing I like to do is have a nice hot shower, put on some fresh clothes and brush my teeth. When I feel really fresh and ‘put together’ I’m more focused.
The last step of my prep is to get it all out of my system and, by ‘it’, I mean the internet. I scroll through Facebook, check my Instagram, watch a couple of YouTube videos I’ve been hanging out for and reply to emails. Then, I close it all. No extra tabs, no phone. I close everything and only have open the document I’m working on and any internet pages I absolutely need.
This is definitely the hardest part, to actually sit down and start writing, especially when you know you have a lot of words to get through. Here are my tips on how to get through your writing:
- Be positive. One of the most important things I’ve learned is how powerful your mindset is. If you have to write 3,000 words and you start and, in the first hour, only write 100, and you berate yourself like, “Shit! I’ve only written 100 words! WTF is wrong with me?! I hate myself!” you’re going to have a really rough time. Instead, you have to be positive and celebrate each word you write, like, “Yes! 100 words down, woohoo! That’s 100 less I gotta write – look at me go – I’m like greased lightening, bitch!” The difference this can make is huge.
- Food. You absolutely, 100%, have to use food as a motivator. You gotta treat yourself like a dog-in-training. No stopping for snacks or taking a break to go out and get some food for dinner, you work until you’re done and then you can eat. It takes a bit of self-discipline but, trust me, once you master it, you’ll find yourself flying through your writing cos you’re so dang hungry.
- Trust yourself. Trust your first instinct and just write something. I’m usually really bad at starting writing but once I get going, I can’t stop. So, for me, the key is always just to write whatever comes to my mind first and then, once I’m done, go back and clean things up when I proofread and edit. Usually, the thing I wrote first is pretty damn good, I was just too ‘in my head’ about it and thought it sucked. So, trust your instincts and just write something down, you’ll be surprised how things become clearer and easier once you get on a roll.
- Deep house. If you’re one of those people who can work with a little background noise, I strongly suggest listening to deep house. With no lyrics and just a rolling stream of beats, you kinda get lost in the music. It kind of puts me in a trance and I get a real momentum going, losing hours! It’s great.
- The first 15. I always set myself the mental challenge of working for 15 minutes, if I can just push through those first 15 minutes of work, I’ll be over that weird, tantrum feeling of not wanting to work. After the 15 minutes is up, you’re kind of in a groove and it doesn’t seem quite so bad.
- Red wine. Sometimes I find myself in a real weird place. I’m all, “Damn, I suck. There’s no way I can do this. My brain isn’t working. Nothing’s flowing.” In moments like those, I turn to red wine. A glass of red just mellows me out, I feel way more chilled and give less craps. Look, is this great life advice? No. But it does help me loosen up a little and get it done, so…
Edit the life out of it!
You don’t have to do things perfectly right away, that’s why we have editing and proofreading time. When you go back and re-read things, you’ll find other ideas pop into your mind. You’ll realise you didn’t say something quite right or could’ve explained it better. Use your editing time to tighten things up, read your work from the perspective of someone who hasn’t seen it before.
A great editing and proofreading tool I use is Grammarly. Matt introduced me to Grammarly a while ago and at first, I was a bit skeptical but now I’m all about it. It’s free (yay!) and it’s basically like spell-check on steroids. There are two ways I use it – there’s a version of it that can proofread your writing on web (WordPress, emails etc) and also a version that can proofread your word documents (perfect for important freelance work).
Just write it how you’d say it
This is always my #1 tip for anybody trying to write anything ever. I included it in my last writing tips post and I’m also putting it in this one because it’s absolutely essential.
So often, people get hung up and overthink things because they’re trying to write a certain way or sound fancy. Doubts get into our minds and then you start spiraling out of control. When that happens, take a breather (don’t look at Facebook or go get a snack though). I like to walk a few laps around my kitchen, shake it out, throw a tennis ball or jump up and down. Take a few deep breaths, come back, and just write it exactly how you’d say it to a friend. Keep it simple. My success as a writer has happened because I write in a way people can understand, so don’t assume you have to write super fancy to do well. Just be yourself (and proofread that shiz!)
Watch the other time I turned to wine!
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.