The editors at Write Anything asked each regular contributor to perform a skills audit and gap analysis; a reflection on what we do well today and where we see need for self-improvement as it relates to our writing.
Here’s exactly how it was postured to us:
Seems easy enough an exercise, right? Well, not exactly. For me, the exercise consumed approximately eight hours of effort over a two week period. I scribbled down notes in the early mornings, puzzled through solutions sitting in traffic, and would repeat the cycle daily during my regularly scheduled writing time. It was tedious. It was laborious. And it was worth every second of my attention!
Now that the exercise is complete, I hold two key tenets, personalized for me but shared with you as writing tips, that I am certain will accelerate completion of my future writing projects. They are:
- Set your quality standard at 60% when writing your first draft
- Set writing milestones and be held accountable if missed
I know what you’re probably thinking, but let me counter with the statement credited to Mark Twain:
Therefore, the exercise was less about the destination and more about the journey. Reading these two tips from someone else’s article would be less impactful to me then discovering them on my own. So, let me now explain how I came to formulate these two statements.
On completion of the exercise, I learned that writing, grammar, and spelling have always come easy to me. Perhaps it’s some combination of luck, brilliant past English instructors, and genetic predisposition that allowed the lessons from my elementary school education to take root so deeply. I may not remember all of my grammar, and I sure as heck wish the punctuation rules wouldn’t keep changing from what I was taught some twenty five years ago. That aside, I feel I have a strong foundation in writing.
When it comes down to it, I can usually dump paragraphs of words on the page quickly and effortlessly. With just one or two revision passes, I can massage my words into a relatively cohesive message. I still have that moment or two of staring at a blank screen before putting down a single word. All in all though, writing for me is easy. Writing is mundane.
Wait—did I mention the above two paragraphs only apply to my non-creative writing projects like e-mails, articles, and hardware store lists?
The exercise helped me realize that I have little difficulty completing writing projects when they relate to my professional business career. Analyzing this, the answers were fairly simple.
First, every writing project I work on within my professional business career has a timeline—an unrealistic, tight, and just gosh-darn ugly timeline. This means I’m forced to target only 60% of my quality standard when producing work associated to my professional business career. Because of the accelerated up-front effort, I generally manage to find a few extra hours to massage the final deliverable up to 70-80% of my quality standard. I’m not always completely pleased with the result, but the deliverable is usually effective for its intended purpose.
The second point comes down to accountability to meeting milestones. There needs to be something to lose. Again, within my professional business career, I am held accountable for meeting milestones. If I don’t, I’m penalized by embarrassment in front of my colleagues, or in the ultimate worst-case scenario, I get fired and lose credibility for the future of my working career. The stakes are real as they are high!
Now thinking about my creative writing projects, I see clearly that there are usually never milestones, accountability, or penalties. As a result, I get caught trying to have every piece of writing target 100% of my quality standard on my first draft. I just churn, and churn, and churn, focusing on a small chapter or act of a play instead of trying to flesh out the big story.
Does any of this ring true to you as well? If so, how can we pepper accountability and penalties into our writing projects? I think the answer is simple. Find a writing buddy or two and set some penalties. Maybe commit to sending each other x pages of draft material within every y period of time, otherwise you’re penalized by buying the other dinner, coffee, perform an embarrassing stunt, or donating a sizable and proportionate chunk of cash to charity.
If neither of this rings true to you, why not complete your own skills audit and gap analysis—hold your own cat by the tail?