The Best Second Draft Writing Technique

Enhancing your ability to write a second draft is key to stepping up your writing game. But turning a critical eye on your own writing is excruciatingly difficult, especially when you have no time to put space between yourself and that first draft.

And it isn’t even an ego thing. Taking yourself out of your own perspective is just really difficult. For many writers, getting through the changes that must be made during the second draft is damn near impossible.

I felt the same way. I still don’t always have the time to do a full second draft without client feedback. When you build rapport with clients, it’s nice to get those second eyes on the draft.

But if you’re trying to make an impression with a new client, you want that “first” draft as clean as possible. And if you need it turned around quickly, you’ll need the best technique available to you: redrafting.

Rewriting is your best friend.

This can be a tough sell for new writers. After all, why would you go back and redo what you just did? It took you long enough to do it the first time.

I’ll tell you why you rewrite what you just did: because there’s no such thing as getting it perfect in the first draft. One-draft writing may produce strong results, especially after you’re familiar with the wants and needs of your client (and your client’s audience). But the perfect first draft is a total myth, a lie we tell ourselves to preserve our natural laziness.

Questioning what you’ve created is important, albeit extremely difficult. When you get in there and do a rewrite, you can skip the questioning part and start from scratch. The content will be fresh in your mind. Even if the rewrite isn’t radically different than the first, you’ll have two documents to mix-and-match the strongest content.

We don’t always get it right the first time. How do you revise? Share your strategies with us in the replies.

Read Good? Write Gooder

There’s no understating the importance of a healthy, balanced diet of strong reading material.

Seriously. It’s one of the best things a writer can do to keep those fingers pumping out fresh material. Stephen King, one of the most prolific writers of our generation, says that good writers read four to six hours a day.

Sound overwhelming? Just a tad. That doesn’t mean you can’t set other goals that are perhaps a bit less lofty but still ambitious. These days, we’re trained to think “unwinding” requires you to crash in front of the television with a bag of pretzels.

The next time you plan to do that, imagine Papa Hemingway is standing at the entrance to the room, judging you. Were he alive today, he would be.

On second thought, he’d probably be out wrestling a bear. Or in his study, reading and writing.

Zoning out in front of the television–turning your brain “off”–is a total myth, and one that you don’t need to buy into. Sure, the occasional episode of Breaking Bad may help you hone your storytelling skills. But that’s intelligent TV (or a quick mental break). Zonking for four hours before bed is as unproductive as it is unhealthy.

Wherever you want to succeed in writing, you must read. Lively fiction, engrossing academic, practical how-to–whatever the discipline, it’ll have a positive impact on your writing.

Start small. Schedule an hour a day for reading. Then, scale it up.

To help supplement my reading, I like to try and catch myself whenever I wander to a mindless site. When I do, I shut the tab and read a couple of pages out of whatever book I’m working on.

What kind of books have an impact on your writing?

Turn Off The Noise: How To Deal With Information Overload

Does your brain hurt at the end of the day? Mine sure does. Constantly consuming information takes a lot out of you. The human brain wasn’t meant to digest so much in such small windows of time.

Just how much are we consuming on a daily basis? According to Robby Walker of Cue, we consume some 63,000 words on an average day. That means you finished a short novel today. Go pat yourself on the back, have a beer and brag to your friends.

Where’s your god now?

Don’t have the sense of accomplishment you thought you would, eh? That’s because it’s very difficult to pull the thread of a narrative or progressive case-building out of that mess of words. Each block of content we consume is related to a different area of interest, stimulating a different portion of your brain, causing a new wave of dysphoria and, in some cases, shutting your thought process down completely.

Where does it all come from?

Imagine that your daily routine is an intricate spiderweb shimmering across two tree branches. Now try to follow the path of a single thread from the center to the edge.

This is especially difficult because the lines run so close together. The spider followed a linear path to create the web, just as your day followed a somewhat linear path of its own. But digging up the tiny details that contributed to each new thread of information is damn hard.

We simply aren’t always aware of where the internet will lead us. You start off reading a scholarly article about inner city sociology and end up perusing pictures of Channing Tatum’s new haircut. Unlike the detail-oriented spider, we weave tangled webs.

How did you get from point A to point B? Ask yourself these questions to become consciously aware of how you process information.

  • What are the sites I visit the moment I lose focus? For many of us, the primary answers may be Facebook, Deadspin, Pinterest or Twitter.
  • How much time do I spend on useless information? The best way to measure this is to focus on how much time you spend processing and creating useful information. The rest of the time is most likely spent screwing around.
  • How organized are my social media channels? If you have a Twitter account, for instance, do you split the accounts you follow into lists? This can be an effective approach to focus your browsing.

Focus on focusing.

I usually lose focus when I haven’t organized or structured my day. Here are a couple of strategies I use to stay focused.

  • Create a to-do list and cross off items as you finish them. Closure on each little task is more satisfying than hours spent on “happy information”, or information your brain is magnetically attracted to.
  • Set short and long term goals. This tactic is intrinsically tied to the to-do list. Longer term goals (weekly, monthly) help you get a bird’s eye view of your productivity.
  • Use software features to stay in the zone. I recently discovered the “focus” setting on my MS Word “View” tab. Presto! Your document now dominates the entire screen. Productivity software like Vitalist, Todoist or RescueTime can help in other ways.

Embrace Awkwardness — Your Comfort Zone is Too Small

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

You want stuff to happen for you, right? Let down your guard. Pop that bubble around you. Emerge from your cocoon.

Get uncomfortable.

I’m uncomfortable just knowing Pitbull can leave his home state of Florida.

People are drawn magnetically to their comfort zones. We’re resistant to change and surprises. Your comfort zone is a magical place where nothing happens unless you expect it to. It’s the place where you dwell when you’re happy with the way things are. It’s also the place you sometimes retreat to when you’re unhappy.

When we go to our comfort zones, we wait for something to happen. And as we established before, nothing happens in a vacuum.

Putting yourself outside of your comfort zone is one of the most enriching experiences life has to offer. It’s why we travel — to explore places that don’t offer the familiar comforts of home. New experiences excite and inspire. For writers, nothing is more important than finding that inspiration.

Pick your ass up off the couch and put yourself into an uncomfortable situation. The new ideas will electrify your writing.

Below are a couple of simple ways to leave your comfort zone.

  • Ride public transportation. You can lose yourself in your own thoughts while surrounded by a whole new world of people and inspiration. Back in Chicago, I took the el and buses all the time. I was harassed, coughed on, preached to, glared at, propositioned, rubbed against — and when action didn’t affect me directly, I got to observe a whole world of new awkwardness and discomfort. I consider myself the better for these experience.
  • Write standing up. Both Hemingway and Nabokov preferred to write standing up. And they weren’t the only ones. We could conjecture for hours on why this strategy is effective and probably still never reach a fully comfortable conclusion. But I’m okay with that, because this post isn’t about comfort. One of the positives here is definitely that you can avoid fatigue by standing up. Your brain is much more likely to shut down on you while your body is in a comfortable position.
  • Say yes more often. It can be hard to say yes to certain social activities that don’t gel with your idea of a good time. Maybe you aren’t particularly fond of the people involved. Or you just don’t dig baseball. If your first impulse is to say no, flip that impulse on its head. Say yes. You may find out you enjoy the experience. Or you’ll find some inspiration. At the very least, you’ll be a better person for riding out your discomfort.

5 Lessons Walter White Can Teach You About Becoming A Freelance Badass

Through four seasons (and change), Breaking Bad has convinced me of one thing: Walter White is the ultimate freelancer. If you’re ready to get in touch with your truly badass side as a freelancer, there’s a lot you can learn from the King.

Think about it. You’re talking about a guy who struck out on his own, became the best at what he does, made a ton of money doing it and answers to no one. Isn’t that the freelance dream?

Like any good freelancer, he understands that pants are optional.

Of course, Walt’s also faced with an ethical dilemma every step he takes. Freelancing shouldn’t be as melodramatic as all that. Still, there’s plenty you can learn from the King about how to become a sultry freelance badass.

Here are five lessons you can learn from Heisenberg himself.

1. Doing things differently helps you stand out. Sure, Heisenberg cooks the best damn meth on the market. But more importantly, that meth is blue. It attracts attention from potential partners like Gus Fring, sells like crazy, spawns copycats and gets the authorities on his case. (In your situation, the authorities you’ll attract will hopefully be after you for positive reasons.)

You want to create an addictive service offering? Do things a little differently than the competition. It’s one of the main things that drives successful business.

2. Discipline pays off. Walt is an incredibly disciplined cook who pays attention to the smallest details of his craft. As a result, he creates the purest product on the market. His success stems from pride in his work.

To become a freelance badass, keep a disciplined structure to your business. Stay organized. Work 9-5 at least. And when you need to, put in that extra effort to ensure you’re pushing out a consistently high-quality product.

3. Taking a chance is the best way to succeed. The entire storyline of Breaking Bad starts with the fact that Walt has nothing to lose. As a result, he takes chances that are dangerous but end up paying off in big ways.

Of course, taking chances with your business has smaller stakes than the life-or-death choices of Walter White. His choices tend to be selfish, leading to some negative consequences. Keep your audience at the front of your mind when you take chances (instead of your own desires), and you’ll make great waves with your business.

4. Confidence is crucial. Cockiness puts you in the line of fire. In the first few seasons, we get to see Walt make confident decisions that advance his efforts to become a leader. More recently, we’ve seen Walt’s cockiness lead to a distorted, risky chain of events.

Business walks a fine line between confident and cocky. Walk that line, but err on the side of confidence every time. A confident approach inspires clients and readers with respect for your work. A cocky approach may turn clients and readers off.

5. Disloyalty can be your undoing. Alright, so Walt hasn’t taken the fall yet. But all signs point to his eventual demise. The build-up starts with Walt’s first serious transgression with Jesse — the death of Jane. Walt continues to pile more transgressions on top of that. Last season’s conclusion saw Walt slipping poisonous berries to a child, building up an even bigger case for Jesse to take him out.

Unlike Walter White, you’re not catapulting yourself towards an untimely end. To keep yourself out of the crosshairs, stay loyal to your clients. Loyalty gets you a lot in business. It helps you keep an ethical line and builds trust between you and people who may become contacts for life.

Does Listening to Music Make You More or Less Productive?

Four out of 5 scientists agree that music sounds better when you play in the nude.

I’m a music fanatic. I bet a few of you out there share my passion. These days, we’re so obsessed with multi-tasking that I’m not sure anyone ever stops just to listen.

Seriously: people used to just listen. They used to sit down, put a record on and listen. Who does that?

Like many of my friends, I’m usually spinning something on Spotify during the workday. Not everyone can enjoy a harmonious workday. But writing is a job of isolation, and I’ve met plenty of us who like to type in time to the beat.

But is it good for productivity? I’ve heard different opinions on whether they consider music a distraction or a complement to work. According to the science, it’s actually that complicated: some people can function with music in the background, and some can’t. And the “why” is pretty surprising.

Words vs. Words

Writers who listen to music place their brain in the crossfire. It’s a battle of words.

Clearly, words in their own right are good things for writers. Reading the written word has a powerful effect on how strong of a writer you are. But in a medium like music, they can be disastrous if consumed while you try to put original words on the page.

You require all of your faculties when it’s time to create. A lyrical onslaught buzzing insistently in your ear can hinder that. And it isn’t just writers.

According to studies in Taiwan, “listening to music with lyrics was linked to lower scores on tests of concentration in a study of 102 college students.” It isn’t the music competing for that brain-space. It’s your brain subconsciously attempting to decode the words it’s absorbing. And your prefrontal cortex is fighting an uphill battle where it attempts to block out stimuli unrelated to the task at hand.

It can help, too.

Sure, listening to music while you work can be productive, too. But the benefits are just in your head.

In reality, most of the studies attempting to link music and concentration have proven quite the opposite. The biggest question is whether listening to music helps you block out other sounds. Some argue that wearing noise-cancellation helps block out the noise of the office.

If you’re working from home, outside noise is probably less of a factor. What becomes a major factor is how much you enjoy music. Another study in Taiwan showed subjects with strong feelings about the music they were listening to affected concentration negatively. Indifferent listeners tuned it out.

Here are a couple of tips I find useful in my daily writing experience:

  • Listen to songs you’ve heard a lot. It’s easier to use the tried-and-true songs to as a complement to your writing because it’s easier to block out the lyrics.
  • Try to listen to classical music and other songs without lyrics.
  • Turn the volume down so the tunes aren’t overwhelming your brain.

Hey, you! Check out my article over at the Content Marketing Institute today, Should You Curate Content? The Essentials Every Content Marketer Needs to Consider.

The Kiss of Death: Losing Clients and How to Deal with It

As a freelancer, you avoid much of the day-to-day corporate BS. But freelancing comes with its ups and downs. Some clients won’t be happy with your work, even if you consider yourself a rock star of the writing world.

It’s hard to deal with rejection. But rejection is what makes you a better writer and a stronger businessperson. So when that client comes to you with a verbal pink-slip, the best thing you can do is to dwell on how to improve your craft and your business, instead of dwelling on the fact that no one loves you.

I knew it was you, Fredo. Even though you tried to blame it on the dog.

The kiss of death comes in many forms. It may be a lack of new projects or weekly communication from a nervous point-person. Some clients will come to you explaining that they lack the resources or the projects to continue the relationship. Perhaps you’ve been replaced with a less expensive writer or someone who knows the industry better.

Whatever the cause, consider losing a client a minor setback. I used to work for a PR agency that literally hemorrhaged clients every month. As soon as it was clear a client had one foot out the door, the CEO sent his new business people after the competition. Granted, losing clients was often tied to low quality of work. The head of the company was just a really, really strong salesman.

Regardless, he did everything in his power to keep clients, but he never freaked out when they walked. I had problems with many facets of my employer’s mindset, but I always stood in awe of his ability to shake off rejection. Perhaps it was because he knew we’d performed low quality work and didn’t care. But the message was clear: in the world of business, how you deal with rejection defines how quickly you get back on your feet.

When you lose a client, focus on the positives. Get your bearings and plan your next steps.

  • First, take a deep breath.
  • Realize that you have an opportunity to replace that client with a higher-paying one or more interesting work.
  • Try to pinpoint the reasons the relationship went sour — but don’t obsess over it.
  • Reaffirm the relationships with your existing clients and work extra hard to continually prove yourself.
  • If you lost a high-volume client, ask existing clients for more work.
  • The next time you wake up, make sure you start your day early. Grab breakfast & coffee, take a shower and get to work.

7 Unmissable Blogs for Writers and Marketers

The key to strong writing is plenty of reading. Plan to waste some time on the internets today? Make that time productive by checking out some blogs that’ll help you improve your craft.

Copyblogger

Copyblogger is THE go-to blog for copywriting tips, tricks and best practices. Rooted in WordPress, the company features a slew of different tools for content marketing. But the content on the blog features some of the best stuff for writers. It goes beyond copywriting to cover content marketing, blogging, SEO and general communications.

Content Marketing Institute

The brainchild of content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi, the Content Marketing Institute is one of the web’s premiere resources for up-to-date how-to content. Beyond knowing their craft, it’s important for writers to understand the vehicle they’re driving with their writing. CMI does exactly that. BONUS: You may see some of my own writing popping up here in the near future. Stay tuned.

Problogger

Everything you need to know about blogging, organized in one place. Copyblogger is an extremely popular resource for bloggers of all shapes and sizes. It’s all about visibility and making money at Copyblogger, where you’ll find tons of resources on how to do both effectively.

Cracked

Where to start with Cracked. If you need an intellectual, fact-based and hilarious break from work, Cracked never fails to deliver. It doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the resources on this list simply because it doesn’t offer tips for writers. I think it’s a strong study for writers looking for applicable examples of strong publishing on the web. It’s a great place to find some inspiration and get a good laugh.

Make a Living Writing

Carol Tice is a successful freelance writer who shares tons of great insights on freelancing through Make a Living Writing. Another great feature of this blog is her guest-blogging policy; submissions that get published earn $50 for their work. That’s a breath of fresh air in a world where your guest posts will get you squat.

Men with Pens

Men with Pens is a great resource for freelancers and copywriters alike. It contains similar material to blogs already mentioned on this list, but you’ll find a unique flair here.

The Rant

The Rant is entertaining writing laced with informative content. Not your typical writing blog, John Carlton’s personal vehicle for sharing insights is still a great place to learn from the best.

How To Prioritize Big Rewards Over The Little Ones

The human brain is a complex masterwork of evolution. It’s also a total bitch when it comes to exercising those writing muscles.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to writers. If you’ve ever held down an administrative gig — or practically anything that involves a computer — you’ve done battle with your stubborn brain before.

Two men breakdance-fighting their brains in the forest, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For creative types, however, your brain’s compulsion to do everything except what you want it to do is especially strong. It craves an activity that requires it to process and store information. What you want it to do is pull up archived information to influence the creation of something new and previously unknown to it.

As a result, you’ll find yourself drawn magnetically to Facebook, YouTube, news sites, blogs — anything that takes you away from the task at hand. We’ve pointed out in the past that these types of mental stimulations cause little shots of dopamine in your brain.

It’s All Hyperbolic Discounting’s Fault

One of the most difficult tasks in my daily life is seeing the future good in everything I do. In fact, humans are hardwired to take the cheap thrill. It provides immediate rewards and, as a result, often destroys the bigger rewards that you see in your mind’s eye but never truly pursue.

This is a human behavior called hyperbolic discounting. We want the smaller rewards now. Our modern culture of pleasure-on-demand doesn’t help things, either. As a result, we tend to ignore the bigger rewards available to us down the road if we could just focus on the damn blank page.

Hyperbolic discounting results in procrastination and a failure to reach those big goals we envision in our minds’ eyes. The more we procrastinate, the more we reward ourselves for that behavior, causing a Pavlovian response that reinforces it.

Classically Conditioning Your Way Out of the Rabbit Hole

To rise above hyperbolic discounting, we have to condition ourselves to focus on the bigger future benefits. You’ll need a bit of self-deprecation and a shitload of discipline. Up to the challenge?

It actually isn’t all that challenging. Simply reward yourself every time you take positive steps towards long-term goals. Maybe you’re writing that book that will break you to the mainstream one day. Give yourself a daily goal of 500-1,000 words. The first time you reach that goal, reward yourself by taking the rest of the afternoon off, grabbing a beer, watching your favorite movie — whatever gets your juices flowing.

Have a nondescript beer on me, courtesy the righteous and forthright tap that is Wikimedia Commons.

Setting daily goals and channeling the discipline you require to meet them is another way to focus on the future. Planning ahead, your rational brain can set out a successful path for you. It’s in the heat of the moment that we tend to lose sight of our goals. That’s why scheduling your day is such a powerful way to find success as a freelancer.

Start off by making a to-do list that includes your daily goals. Build those into separate weekly and monthly goals. Put a little order to the chaos and you’ll find yourself more motivated to go after those big rewards.

Why It’s Important for A Writer to Keep An Open Mind

Recently, audiences across the nation were enthralled by my post on cultivating creativity. Now, I’d like to talk about one of the strongest factors in creativity.

Open-minded people are hard to come by. Many of us try to be more open-minded on a daily basis. But we all have bias. As humans, we tend to put too much weight on first impressions. We make judgments based on those impressions, closing ourselves off to further contact and experience.

Wait, what does this even mean? These are just masks glued to a wall! You call that art?

But creativity is heavily rooted in open-mindedness. Neuroscientists have tested the connection. After all, creativity requires new ideas. And new ideas aren’t often the product of a closed mind.

Cynicism and Aging: How Do We Curb It?

Part of the challenge of staying open-minded is age. It follows naturally that the more experience we gain, the more firmly rooted we become in our beliefs. Getting older and growing cynical pretty much go hand-in-hand.

Have your parents changed their political affiliation over the course of your life? Does your stubborn uncle think technology is the downfall of America? The older we get, the harder it is to adapt to change. After learning and relearning ideas, technology, social norms and the like for years, your brain eventually gets to a point where it says “Enough’s enough!”

These factors and more lead to a natural decline into closed-mindedness. The best ways to avoid this are to challenge yourself and make changes on a regular basis.

Of course, staying open-minded is a conscious decision in itself. Prioritize it above other firmly-rooted beliefs and it’ll help you keep your creative flair.

Stay In Touch with the Weirdness

A little weirdness lives inside all of us. It’s what makes us truly unique as human beings. Sometimes, you have to suppress that weirdness to make friends, get a job and live a normal life. Highly intelligent creative people recognize that the best way to express weirdness is to channel it in outlets.

Too weird, scale it back!

Of course, you can’t let that weirdness get away. That’s what separates the leaders and the followers. Some people stay in touch with their weirdness and are more open-minded as a result. Others get dry and cynical. Whatever happens, you must not only hang onto it but nurture it as well. To accomplish this, consider things like:

  • Take an introductory class on something you have no experience or interest in
  • Watch a show you’ve vowed never to watch (as long as it isn’t Jersey Shore)
  • Try to learn a new language
  • Perform some mental gymnastics regularly (like these exercises)

Keep it weird, my friends.