How to write an article in one sitting
A concise guide on how I do it
Writing didn’t use to be a natural occurrence for me. Back in high school, I struggled to produce even a mere 300 words. Then during my University years, essays used to take weeks to write. Nowadays, I can easily produce a coherent and content-rich story in 40 minutes or less.
Articles and stories that require more than 40 minutes usually involve research prior to and during writing. But apart from those stories, here is how I do it.
Create an audience — even when you don’t have any
If you’re anything like me, back in the day when I had Facebook, I would often write long responses to news articles — some spanning over 800 words or more. I would somehow get into debates and arguments with strangers, pointing out their logical fallacies and holes. In those moments, I always had something to bounce on and write.
When I started writing without an audience, it initially became harder to produce something. It’s like you’re talking to a wall — but the ability to write has always been there and just needed to be honed for the situation required.
It’s sort of like when you’re talking to someone you like or click with, or have a strong opinion towards something — there are words to be said. The missing link between those situations and when you’re writing by yourself is the audience.
It felt strange at first but I started writing as if I was talking to a mirror version of me — because when no one is reading or responding to stories and articles, I know I will always have me.
We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.
— Tim Minchin, UWA Address
The thing with having an audience is that some are lurkers who don’t say anything at all. They are no better than not having an audience at all. You have to get used to the idea of writing without a ready and vocal audience.
Feedback is nice but we mustn’t always expect it.
In those moments of silence, I will always have myself to look back upon my own words and take them apart.
The power of time constraints
Remember those high school exams? Somehow, we all managed to churn out something readable and coherent within the given time frame — quality not guaranteed.
With enough practice, you get good at the ‘first draft, only draft’ mentality before handing in your final (with a quick grammar and spelling check) piece to your marker.
It’s the same thing with college essays. The things we spend the less time on is probably the thing that brings the highest grades or returns. It’s the weird way the world works.
Or not really.
The thing with time constraints is that it forces you to focus. It makes your sentences shorter. It makes your words sound snappier. It makes it easier to read and digest. You get to the point faster and move onto the bit quicker. There is more value given in the words you’ve written — sometimes returning even more than when you’ve spent hours trying to wrangle something together.
My time constraint is the length of the toddler’s morning nap time. It could end at any moment beyond the 40-minute mark. There is no negotiation — especially when I want to try and publish something every day.
There is no time to fluff around on Facebook or choose which music I want as background noise. I just put on my earphones (with nothing playing) and just start typing.
Letting my subconscious do the heavy lifting
Snippet of my unpublished drafts as of 3 Feb 2019
I spend a lot of time doing things other than writing. There are things that come and go during my day that inspires an opinion or thought in me. Those things are often fleeting but significant enough to grab my attention.
But I don’t have the time or enough material to write about them just yet — so I let my subconscious do the heavy lifting.
My drafts are generally in the form of a headline and tagline. There isn’t any much else attached to them — but they do make good writing prompts for when I do sit down to write.
Every night before I go to bed, I scroll through the list and provision some stories to be written the next day. I give myself options because some topics are easier to write than others. Some need a bit more time to brew. Some require a few drafts and attempts to write before they are ready for publishing.
The subconscious is a lot more powerful than we often give it credit. We are aware of its existence but don’t know how to properly use it. When I look at my draft titles and taglines before bed, it’s like saying — hey brain, tomorrow I’m going to write about this. Be ready.
In the beginning, the brain didn’t really play along but I kept at it every day. By day 4, it started to get the memo. 95% of the time nowadays, the brain complies and allow me to write on demand — on condition I give it time to process and come up with something.
Writing as a habit
When will power and everything else fails, habits are the fail-safe method we all default to for running our daily lives.
We are creatures that often opt for the path of least resistance. Habits are often that path.
I have a consistent time and flow I perform to get into my writing mode. The toddler is usually down by 9:30am. I have my cup of coffee, put on my earphones with no music and select one of my headline drafts I primed my brain for from the night before.
The headphones act as a physical force that tells my brain — hey, it’s time to write. It’s also a physical flag for my partner not to talk to me. It tells him that this is my intense concentration time.
I don’t usually have anything playing nowadays. I find the music too distracting sometimes and take me out from my thought flow.
The act of making coffee and putting on my headphones is like brushing my teeth — it’s automatic now and I do things in a certain order without thinking. I also keep a sharp eye on the laptop clock to ensure that I stay on task and don’t get tempted to go scrolling through the rest of the Internet.
Defining my personal writing structure
Everyone has their own flavor of writing. If you’ve been following me, you would have noticed that I’ve settled into an intro, 3–5 headline + few paragraphs sections and final words structure. Sometimes I would add a quote to a section to break up large bodies of text.
A lot of people write their stories differently — all with their own personal infused style. This is mine and it’s working for me. It keeps my writing focused and tight. I can quickly judge by the length of a section if I’m rambling or not. I write about three to five paragraphs in each section — which makes each section around 200–450 words long.
In a way, I’m writing a series of connected mini-essays. It’s just how I write. When you start writing consistently, your brain eventually figures out which is the most efficient way for you to create without the dreaded writer’s block.
At the beginning of January, I decided to start writing every day. The first few days were hard but the act of writing is like going to the gym for the first time in a long time. You‘re rusty and your muscles are never ready for any kind of workout. They will protest and complain but eventually, if you stick to it long enough, it becomes easier.
My first story for the year was on Jan 4 was only 1 minute long. This piece is now bordering on 6 minutes reading time. You don’t really see the increments until you look back when there is a substantial time frame in between.
40 minutes is a constraint that’s worked for me. Everyone has their own personal flow and daily routines. It may be pockets of 15 minutes or a lengthy session before bed — whatever it is, make it your time to consistently create and stick to it. You can’t get good in one day but you can get better at something through the compounding impact of consistency.