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The Biggest Mistake Writers Make? 5 Tips for Writing More, Writing Better

The biggest mistake writers make isn’t ignoring the rules for good writing! These five tips for writing more and writing better are about cultivating a laser beam-like focus.

As a writer, the biggest mistake I make is multitasking. I careen wildly from Twitter to writing blog posts to researching my latest health article to packing up my house for our big move (tomorrow!!).

It’s beginning to look like I’m cheating myself of my most prized commodity: time. And energy. Here’s what publication coach Daphne Gray-Grant says about multitasking:

“I work mostly from home and I’m the mother of triplets. In some ways, I think I’m a marvelous multitasker. Heck, I practically defined the term. When my kids were small, I could feed two babies, change the diaper on the third, talk on the phone and plan dinner, all at the same time. So please take me seriously when I say I know multitasking. But when it comes to writing, I think it’s a bad idea.”

If you want to be a more productive, creative, successful writer, read Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (it’s one of my favorite books about writing). And, here five tips from my favorite publication coach…

The Biggest Mistake Writers Make?  5 Tips for Writing More, Writing Better

Guest Post ~ Daphne Gray-Grant

In theory, multitasking sounds brave and competent. Truth be told, however, it’s more accurate to describe multitasking as “being distracted.” I think there are five main ways in which writers try to multitask (and I suggest you avoid ALL of them while you’re writing).

1. Checking email. This is probably the most disruptive — and compelling — distraction of our day. According to a calculation by Merlin Mann on 43 folders, if you check your e-mail every 5 minutes, then you’re checking it 12 times an hour. Multiply 12 times an hour by 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year (assuming you take two weeks of vacation and not counting your at-home email habits) and that means you are checking your email some 24,000 times each year. That’s awesome — in a bad way! As Mann asks: “What are you not working on during that time?” (you’re not writing more or writing better, that’s for sure!).

2. Surfing the web. How often are you checking Facebook, Twitter, blogs or just generally surfing the web? Sure it’s attractive (I adore Twitter for example), but I don’t let it control my life. All computer related habits should be delegated to set times of the day. Start by trying to limit yourself to once an hour for each. From there, reduce even further to only once or twice a day. Or, possibly, use this “distraction” as a reward for when you finish your writing.

3. Talking on the phone. Here’s a hard one. Not only can it be fun, it can also be essential for your job. If there’s a call you can’t afford to miss, it takes nerves of steel to ignore a ringing phone. To solve this problem, try to schedule your writing as an appointment — and then treat it like a meeting with your CEO. If necessary, leave your office and perch in a coffee shop or at a boardroom or library table. (One of the biggest mistakes I make as a writer is not getting out of my home office once in a while. Writing elsewhere increases my creativity and productivity).

4. Doing research while you write. Please, don’t ever mix your writing with your research. These are two separate tasks and the research should always come first. That doesn’t mean there won’t be information gaps when you write but don’t use them as an excuse to stop writing. Instead, insert a blank “marker” in your text — like this ________ or this XXX — and then research how to fill it/fix it later, when you’re editing.

5. Eating lunch at your computer. This is a bad idea — not just for you, but also for your computer. Crumbs and liquid can kill your keyboard. My daughter lost her laptop when she spilled a glass of orange juice over it. But it’s also bad for you. When you’ve been working hard writing, you deserve a break. So, pat yourself on the back and go eat your lunch (or your snack) elsewhere.

Multitasking. It’s not just being an extra-hard writer. It’s being a distracted one.

Do you multitask — and is it the biggest mistake you make as a writer? I welcome your comments below…

Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website; subscribe at The Publication Coach

Gray-Grant also contributed 8 Stress Management Tips for Writers and 5 Ways to Salvage Writing Disasters, here on Quips & Tips for Successful Writers.


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9 thoughts on “The Biggest Mistake Writers Make? 5 Tips for Writing More, Writing Better”

  1. so funny – i was actually eating breakfast at my laptop while reading this, having found it via a link from twitter, with my email inbox open in the background. The only one I *don’t* do is talk on the phone, just because I’m not a phone person. Doing “research” instead of writing is my FAVORITE – I can justify spending weeks looking into some obscure point for a paragraph I end up cutting anyways.

  2. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments! I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t stopped multitasking….Daphne needs to keep banging me over the head with the perils of constantly checking email, Twitter, blog stats, and various forums.

    Seriously, I believe multitasking is the biggest mistake I make as a writer. I need to be more diligent in turning off the email and focusing on whatever I’m working on.

    Writers, unite! Stop multitasking, and develop a laser beam-like focus on writing!!

  3. Excellent post. I’m guilty of everything listed above! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this.

    – Corra

    The Victorian Heroine

  4. Multitasking could be my worst mistake, though it’s because I check Facebook and Twitter and read blogs rather than any other item on the list. I forget to check my email (oops) and, when in the zone, often entirely forget to eat because that’s just how intelligent I am.

    My other multitasking gaffes are of a somewhat different nature. I have multiple novels going on, since one is in edits and I need something to work on when I go out and can’t take my laptop or forget to print off more chapters to edit. At least, that’s my current reason. I started other ones when I’d only just started to take my writing seriously two years ago and got bored quickly. As I became more engrossed in my main project, I managed to stay focused better but I still sometimes slip.

    I suppose it partly comes down to my age, especially when I started my first book, since I wasn’t used to focusing on one task for a long time. I had a talent for putting off school projects until the last minute, which is something I still do.

    I’m going to stop now before this comment gets any bigger 🙂

  5. I am a total amateur when it comes to writing even if I wish not to think so compared to all you great guys on “Authors helping authors” but want to be rubbing shoulders for I feel doing so might make a difference to my writing.

    Multitasking is a mistake and probably the reason I am so unsuccessful when it comes to writing.

    When I sit at the PC I do all the things I should not be doing, including eating, drinking coffee, listening absent-mindedly to some good background music, checking my mail,going over Facebook, doing research.

    I lose myself in a world of my own and at the end of the day find I have written just about nothing worthwhile.

    You have a great set of pointers there Daphne Gray-Grant and thank you for them.

    I found a good way to avoid multitasking is to use a laptop that is not hooked up to the net and work isolated, alone, in the relaxed atmosphere of your bedroom, with just about nothing to distract you. It works!

  6. The research one resonates. I’m having to do a lot of research for my book and all I want to do is write, so I find myself typing away at a chapter and then breaking away to look something up or double-check a fact. No wonder I’m finding it so hard to focus (and I thought since I was researching for the book, I was still technically in the zone). 🙂

    Thanks for the post!

  7. I read this post on my email while writing an article last night — and got right back to writing. Yup, checking email is the worst! Bad, writer!


  8. Hi Laurie,

    I wouldn’t say that multi-tasking is my biggest mistake. I’ve got a lot of contenders for that prize spot. These are true points however. Maybe folks should consider them multi-distracting 😉

    “If you’re going to take Vienna, then take Vienna!” – I don’t remember who said that, but it kinda fits.


  9. I made a New Year’s resolution to check e-mail only once per day (and to make neat lists instead of plastering my desk with post-its). I’m down to twice, which – trust me – is a substantial improvement!