We ran a workshop for Praxis participants and alumni last night on how to write fast.  I had a hunch that one of the reasons many of them had struggled to get blog posts out (participants all take on a daily blogging challenge in the bootcamp) quickly was because of option overload.

You stare at the blank blog editor and think, “What should I write about today?”  That’s a terribly unhelpful question.  It gets you further from hitting publish than if you never ask it at all, because it reminds you of the infinite possibilities.  Of all those things, which is THE one I should pick?  Cognitive overload.

We opened the workshop with a series of exercises I thought might reveal this problem and help overcome it.  First, I told everyone to write as many words as they could in 3 minutes on any subject.  Imposing the time constraint and the goal of word maximization would get things flowing, as urgency would overcome analysis.  People hammered out a range of 30 or so words to 150 or so words, and we read a few.  They weren’t bad either.

Then we added a constraint.  Same exercise, but the topic was chosen for them at random.  I chose ‘baseball’.  This time, the lowest word count was more like 50, and the highest near 200.  We read a few, and they were good!  Participants said having the topic chosen made it easier to crank out content.

Next we tried to write exactly 50 words on the topic of Tortoises, and finally a Haiku on the topic of Outer Space.  Both resulted in rather high quality stuff, and it wasn’t that torturous to do it.

In about 10 minutes, everyone had written four things, any of which could be blog posts.

There are plenty of other ways to improve speed and overcome writer’s block, but few are more effective than the freedom of self-imposed constraints.  Doesn’t even matter what they are.  They can be totally arbitrary.  Something about gamifying and putting limits on the creative process turns up the speed and volume.  To me, speed and quantity matter more than quality, because the best way to improve quality is to do the thing over and over and over.