3 Ways to Supercharge Your Writing This Year

by | Jan 4, 2013

There’s such a clean slate to the year, looked at from this early January vantage point, that it’s hard to resist making plans, resolutions or other agreements with ourselves about how this year is going to be, well, different.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

If you can make today—right now—different, you don’t have to worry about a whole year of different.

Starting something new, it might be useful to think about May 1 or October 1. You might then be asking yourself, “What will propel me to do what I said I’m going to do now, since it isn’t all shiny and new and novel the way it was early in January?”

But with writers, a new year isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

That’s because if you’re the kind of writer who publishes books, or is thinking about it, you write longer manuscripts that can’t be contained so well by events that only occur on the calendar.

Most books takes months and, more likely, years to come to fruition and make it into print or onto the market. That in itself makes writers somewhat immune to new year schemes.

But still, there’s no denying that at the beginning of the year we have a different perspective, and we want something new.

So here are ways to kick your own writing into a new gear this year.

3 Ways to Supercharge Your Writing This Year

  1. Spend time every day writing with a pen on paper. I spent years freewriting with a pen in notebooks I have sitting next to my desk. I recently ran across the same advice from uber-blogger Chris Brogan, and I’m here to tell you that it works.
    The speed of writing with a pen (you might prefer a pencil, and that’s fine, too. It’s the physical act that’s important.) makes it possible for me to keep just ahead of my own mental process, which is ideal for freewriting and blog writing and any other kind of first-draft writing, too.
    Something about the physicality of the writing process also triggers my brain differently than writing at a keyboard. You should definitely try this, it’s a great practice. For some reason I find this practice just cements me to my own creative stream, where everything just flows.

  2. Make a mind map of your most recent great idea. Mind mapping has become an amazing resource for me over the last couple of years. The dynamic nature of a mind map, the fact that you can expand and collapse the map, and its ability to grow in lots of directions at once, make it iirresistable for brainstorming.
    But it’s not just for brainstorming. Even blog articles fall into place and are more coherent when I’ve mind mapped them before sitting down to write. Sometimes the mind map is nothing more than a list of topics or key words, and sometimes it goes to many levels of detail. In either case, using mind maps can give you a creative jolt just when you need it.
    My favorite mind mapping programs are Mindjet Mindmanager for the Mac and iThoughts HD for the iPad. But if you’re just getting started or want to experiemnt, try one of the free programs like Freemind.
  3. Find your 10 minute sweet spot. Once you learn how to drop quickly into connection with your own creative flow (see idea #1, above) you can accomplish quite a bit in a short period of time.
    I found that there was always a 10 minute slice of time I could grab for creative work. Arriving early at a pick up, for instance, or stopping on the road on the way to the office have both worked for me.
    Sometimes the creativity bursts that happen in these “stolen” moments are momentous. Sometimes you end up describing the oak tree you’re staring at for 10 minutes. It doesn’t matter. As long as your pen (or your fingers on your keyboard) keeps moving the entire 10 minutes, something will come.

These are three ideas you can use today, and I guarantee they will make a difference in your writing life.

And if you do one of them tomorrow, that will make tomorrow better, too.

One day at a time, we write our way to the truth, the crux of the matter, to our own redemption as writers.

Celebrate the journey by doing something different today, and the whole year might turn out different, too.

What are your best ways to supercharge your writing? Any writing plans for the new year? I’d love to hear.

Photo bigstockphoto.com

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  1. Sofia Perkins

    I like this post! Thanks for these tips!

  2. Jos Artin (@JosArtin)

    Hi Joel
    I’ve been reading your blog and posts with interest over the past few weeks. I must agree, the concept of free-writing with the trusty old pen/pencil in a note-book or notepad can’t be over-sold! Apart from the odd person like Michael who cannot decypher their own handwriting, it’s just a good, well-oiled process which the creative mind can keep harmonious pace with.

    I sometimes get “lost” writing this way, and only really comprehend what exactly I wrote once I snap back to reality to re-read my piece..

  3. Jason Jones


    Thanks for the ideas. I publish one book and got out of the habit of writing everyday. (Shame on me). Even though I have worse handwriting than a doctor, I find it helpful to use a pen and paper. I’ve taken up the habit of blogging to keep in the practice of writing everyday and promoting my projects.

  4. Larry Wilson

    Nice tips! Although I can’t read my own handwriting, I do find that pen and paper gets my flow going. I’m less certain about finding the little spaces. I knew a surgeon who was an expert at this. I’d see him on the floor writing while waiting for the anesthesiologist to get ready! It takes me ten minutes just to get my head in gear.

    I’d be interested in hearing more about how you use mind mapping. My head just spins whenever I see one of these charts! I do like to be organized, but I think I have more of a filing cabinet mind, unlike my playwright daughter who has a collage mind. But I do need something to capture the storms in my brain. It just can’t get in the way, or be more difficult to use than it’s worth. Maybe pen and paper are better for that.

  5. Frances Caballo

    I forgot to mention that after I posted that first comment, I downloaded iThoughtsHD on my iPad. I’m looking forward to using it. Thanks for the tip, Joel.

  6. Roemer McPhee

    Retro has enormous advantages: in the act of writing, in cars, in bicycles, in telephony; it is actually shocking how often technology not only delivers blowbacks, but actual failures to advance and improve, and even reversals.

    Content is almost everything; so, of course, people are fixated on delivery systems.

    “57 channels and nothing on.” –Bruce Springsteen.

  7. Frances Caballo

    Chris: I am also impressed. I’ve had “blog editorial calendar” on my to-do list all week and still haven’t gotten to it. Your story is inspiring. Kudos to you! (I’d like to come up with a blog editorial calendar for two months …. just to start.)

    For me, writing on my iPad and PC work best for my nonfiction writing. But for short story and novel, having pen and paper works best. Interesting, right?

    I’m determined to publish another nonfiction book this year, squeak out some eBooks, write a third nonfiction book next year, and then return to my novel.

    • Joel Friedlander

      That is interesting, Frances. I write nonfiction on my keyboard but fiction and memoir longhand. Wonder why that is? Also good luck with your publishing goals for 2013, you are ambitious!

  8. Carl Grimsman

    Great post, Joel, and Happy New Year!

    I wrote the first draft of my first book longhand on paper. Now I use pen and pad for brainstorming, notes, and outlines on new projects. You’re right, it’s a great way to let the creative spirit flow!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Carl. I wrote my first book longhand and then typed it on a manual typewriter (also a good and visceral writing experience). The book went through 4 complete drafts, so each time it had to be re-typed on the little Olivetti I had at the time. I was very happy at the end to send it to a typesetter.

  9. chris

    I’ve kicked my writing into over-drive this year by spending two days brainstorming blog post topic ideas. I now have titles / topics for over 100 blog posts for 2013. I’ve got them all on a calendar so I know when they need to be written and when they will be published. I’m finding myself now outlining each article and scheduling them using the wordpress plugin Editorial Calendar ( https://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/editorial-calendar/ ).

    The hardest part, for me, is picking a topic for my regular articles. Now that that’s done, I can focus on research & writing instead of being stuck with writers block when I can’t decide on a post topic.

    Also, a quick plug for mindmapping. I use Xmind (another free one). Any time I have an idea for something big, everything goes into the mind map. Love it.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Wow, Chris, that’s great. Blogging is a bit like cooking for me—I’m happy to do it and enjoy doing it, but deciding what to make is the hard part. You’ve inspired me to try something similar and maybe there won’t be as many late night deadlines in 2013.

    • Alicia Young

      Great post, Joel and all the best for the New Year!

      Chris, you’ve inspired me. I did this too, on a smaller scale, over the holidays and got a few dozen topics. I’ll delve in again and get some more in the works.

      Also, how many of us add our current blog topic to our email signatures? I just did today and who knows, it might catch someone’s eye and drive a bit more traffic to the site. It takes only a moment to update after you post something fresh.


      Alicia Young
      Parasol Press
      Current Blog Post: Living with Intent

  10. Ernie Zelinski

    Over the years I have put together over 15 books. I have used several different approaches.

    Let me share one: My best-selling book so far has been “The Joy of Not Working”, which I started writing on January 1, 1991. I made an agreement with myself that I would have it completed in rough by July 31 of that year and have it published by September 30.

    At that time I would do most of my writing using pen and paper in coffee shops during the day and then transfer the writing to my home computer from midnight to 4 AM. When I could hear the birds singing in the morning, this was my cue to go to bed. I also used mindmaps for ideas as well as jotting down new ideas when I would be out for an hour or two-hour bike ride. In fact, some of my best ideas came when I was out on an intensive bike ride. I always carried a pad of paper and a pen so that I could quickly stop and write down the great ideas.

    Using this approach, I was able to complete the book in rough by July 30, beating my deadline by one day. I had the book self-published and in stores by September 15th.

    Incidentaly, this book still sells 4,000 to 5,000 copies a year and makes me about $12,500 a year. It has made me around $9 a word since I first published it. (It has about 75,000 words).

    Whatever approach I have used, and regardless of how erratic it is, it has always involved my doing my best and most of my writing in coffee bars. And for those who will try to take me to task and say writing in coffee bars is silly and unproductive, I say nonsense.

    All my creative works were done in coffee bars. Here are the results of my working in cafes and coffee bars.

    * Have written 15 books with each having at least one foreign-rights deal.
    * Have had three true international best-sellers (each with over 100,000 copies sold).
    * Have negotiated 111 book deals with foreign publishers around the world.
    * Created over 25 websites related to my books, several that rank on Google in the Number 1, 2, or 3 spots for important search terms.
    * Had 750,000 copies of my books sold around the world.
    * Have earned around $1.75 million of pretax profits from all my books.

    Whatever approach you use don’t forget this: Once you have written a book and had it published, you are about 5 percent of the way to making it a success. Whether the book is self-published or published by a major publisher, you must promote it. The best promotion for a book is not done by publishers, publicists, distributors, or bookstores; the best promotion is done by the author.

    In the academic world, it’s publish or perish. In the real world of being an author, it’s PROMOTE or PERISH.

    Writing a great book takes creativity; effective promotion takes ten times as much creativity. (And by “creativity” I mean doing a lot of things that no one else is doing.) Five years after I wrote “The Joy of Not Working”, I was still promoting the book with the same intensity as when the book was first released. Without this sustained promotion, it would never have eventually become an international bestseller.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • Joel Friedlander

      There’s a whole lot of wisdom in this comment, Ernie, thanks. And I find we have some similar habits.

      I do almost all my first draft writing in coffee shops, and have for several years. I find the level of distraction just right because it forces me to focus on what I’m writing and that makes me very productive.

      And mountain biking gave me many opportunities for what I call “long thoughts” especially during long uphill climbs, although I never stopped to take notes on the trail.

      I’ve even spent quite a bit of time writing in my car, which also works quite well especially with the tools we have now.

  11. Michael N. Marcus

    >>Spend time every day writing with a pen on paper.<<

    No good for me, Joel. I even have trouble reading phone numbers I've scrawled on Post-It Notes. I couldn't possibly decipher and then type a sentence, paragraph or chapter.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Okay Michael, you can skip that one and stick to your keyboard.



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