Procrastination might be your friend

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In an interview, Ray Bradbury spoke about writer’s block, noting that it’s a warning that you’re doing the wrong thing:

“What if you have a blockage and you don’t know what to do about it? Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing, aren’t you? . . . You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for. . . If you have writers’ block you can cure it this evening by stopping what you’re doing and writing something else. You picked the wrong subject.”

So, trust your gut.

Could the same be said whenever we find ourselves procrastinating?

I think it could. But things aren’t that simple.

If you’re doing work for a client, the work has to be done. You can’t change the work just because your gut’s telling you something’s not right.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore our gut. It might be trying to do you a favor.

When you feel resistance to doing something, take a moment to ask yourself some questions:

  1. Does this have to be done? Maybe there’s another way to accomplish the same result. It couldn’t hurt to take a moment to consider this.
  2. If the work has to be done, does it have to be done now? Maybe a delay would help you sort out some things that your gut says are a problem.
  3. Am I the one who has to do it? If someone else could do it, that might be a simple solution to what ails ya.
  4. Is there another way to get it done? If the work has to be done, now, by you, maybe you can do it in some other way? How might you do it differently?

Let’s noodle for a moment about that last one.

Suppose you are hired to write an appellate brief but your gut is telling you there’s a problem. You’re blocked, but you know it has to be done and you’re the one to do it.

Instead of writing the brief the way you usually do it–research, outline, first draft, etc.–how about trying a different process? Maybe start with a quick stream-of-consciousness draft of what’s on your mind about the case or the people, before you do any research. Maybe by doing that, you’ll realize some things about the case you didn’t think about before. And maybe this will provide you with a breakthrough and help you turn out a brilliant piece of work.

All hail your gut. It knows things you don’t know.

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Sorry, I can’t finish your case, I have lawyer’s block

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You think you have writer’s block. You don’t. It’s an excuse for something else:

You don’t know what to write about. You don’t think you’re good enough. You don’t know enough about the subject.

The solution? Write anyway. Anything. Badly. Just get something on paper for now and fix it later.

Write quickly, without stopping to think. Get it all out of your head, no matter how cringe-worthy it might sound.

You can re-write it, as many times as you want. You can do more research. You can take a terrible page and make it better.

But you can’t edit a blank page.

There have many times in my career when I have had issues completing a writing project. I’ve had issues with starting, too. The solution has always been to do it anyway, promising myself that I didn’t have to show it anyone until I was happy with it.

When I gave myself permission to write badly and get a first draft done, I almost always found that I had more to say than I thought I did and I had actually done a pretty good job of saying it.

Writer’s block is no more a thing than lawyer’s block. You may not like your client or their case. You may not know the best tactics. You may think you’re in over your head. But you move forward anyway and you figure it out.

Get help if you need it. Confer with another attorney or hire an editor. But move forward, because you must, and because there’s no such thing as writer’s block.

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Getting things done by giving yourself less time to do them

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In an interview, author Jodi Picoult was asked about her approach to writing. She said:

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

Yep. That just about sums up my thoughts about writer’s block. It’s also a good metaphor for other things on our plate, especially things we’ve been putting off or have struggled to complete.

What project would you like to do but have told yourself you don’t have the time? The truth is, you might not be doing it because you have too much time.

I’ve found this to be a bigger issue for me since I stopped seeing clients and started working from home. Not having appointments and deadlines and due dates has resulted in my continually “not having enough time” to do things, and the things I have done have taken much longer than they should.

There’s one project I’ve had on the back burner for an eternity. I wasn’t close to starting, let along finishing. But about a week ago, I gave myself a deadline to finish it before the end of the month. With that due date looming, in one day I was able to make enormous progress and I am certain I will finish on time.

Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands to fill the time allotted for it’s completion,” or something like that. The trick, then, is to allot less time. Perhaps a lot less.

Pretend you’re back in school and everything has a due date and serious consequences for missing it. Choose something on your list that you think might require a week or a month to complete and commit to doing it this weekend.

You might not finish it but you will surely make a lot of progress. You also might surprise yourself and get it done.

Get more things done by getting better at delegating. This will help

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A simple way to find hot ideas for blog posts

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Are you running out of ideas for blog posts or newsletter articles? Do you want to zero in on topics prospective clients want to know about?

No problem. Your competition can help you. Ideas are just a few clicks away.

Go find a few popular blogs in your niche. You can find legal blog directories here, here, and here, just to name a few. While you’re there, submit your blog. Get you some links and traffic.

When you’ve found a few popular blogs by lawyers in your practice area, (in any jurisdiction), visit those blogs and have a look around. Subscribe to their feeds. Follow them on social media.

Then, look at their sidebars, “Start Here” pages, and lists of “Popular Posts”. Look at the posts that have received the most “Likes” or shares and comments.

These are the posts visitors are reading and sharing. They are likely to be about topics they have been searching for.

Got ’em?

Now, what do you have to say about that topic? Do you agree? Disagree? Think you could do a better job?

Is the law different in your jurisdiction? Any pending legislation you know about? Have you had any cases on these issues you could write about?

Chew on these posts and brainstorm ideas and get writing.

For more ideas for blog posts, traffic, and getting clients online, get this.

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How to finish a writing project when you’re stuck

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Attorneys write a lot. At least we’re supposed to. We have deadlines to meet and bills to pay and we have to keep cranking. But sometimes, we get stuck. We may be half-way through a writing project and find ourselves unable to finish.

“7 Ways to Finish Difficult Writing Projects” is about how to finish a writing project when you’re stuck, and I’ve used most of the 7 ways. Reading my draft out loud and going for a walk to clear my head, for example, have helped me figure out where I am in the writing and where I want to go.

One of the suggestions is to make an outline, which I usually do, but sometimes my outline is the reason I’ve become stuck. Like a mis-calibrated GPS program, the outline took me to the wrong destination.

If I know what’s wrong, I’ll write a new outline. But sometimes, the piece isn’t working and I can’t figure out why.

When this happens, I write a outline of what I’ve already written. I may do this in a linear list with topics and sub-topics, or in a non-linear “mind map”. Reverse engineering the draft lets me see what’s missing or what I need to re-arrange to make things work. I then compare this outline to my original and from these two, create a third outline that allows me to move forward.

But sometimes, I’m still stuck. I know something is wrong but I can’t put my finger on it. What do I do? I go for a drive.

Once I’m on the road, I start talking and record myself. I pretend I’m speaking to my intended reader and I tell him what I want him to know. Speaking it out this way helps me get to the essence of the material. “I know I’ve got all these pages written, but here’s what I really want you to know. . .”.

In fact, sometimes, I do my first draft this way. I don’t write an outline, I just jot down a handful of topics I want to talk about, press record, and talk. Not only do I get the first draft done quickly, it’s often much better than what I might have written because the ideas flow naturally, instead of being forced to fit the structure of an outline.

If you ever find yourself stuck in a writing project, or you don’t know where to start, stop writing and start talking.

Earn more without working more. Here’s the formula.

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How to write something when you don’t know where to start

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It’s November and you know what that means? NaNoWriMo!

What’s that? You don’t know about National Novel Writing Month? I wrote about it last November when I shared some thoughts about “Writers’ Block”.

You may not aspire to be the next John Grisham, but if you’ve ever struggled to write something you’ve never written before, and you don’t know where to start, I have a possible solution.

When I was in high school, my parents had a friend who created several TV shows, wrote screenplays, non-fiction, and music. He also did some acting. Anyway, he didn’t have a musical background, but he wrote some very clever songs. One day, my father asked him how he did it.

He said he took an existing song he liked and used it’s structure as a template. He changed it, note by note, until he had an original piece that was nothing like the one he started with, except maybe in length, key, and tempo. (Since he couldn’t read music, he recorded himself humming his new tune and had someone transcribe it.)

For the lyrics, he took the original words and changed those word by word, or he found another song he liked and changed those words to create a new song to go with his new music. He used the same technique for creating screenplays.

Instead of writing from scratch, he re-wrote something that was already written. He didn’t plagiarize or steal ideas. He took the original, pared it down to it’s skeleton, and added new flesh and sinew to give life to a completely new creation.

Now don’t get me wrong, the guy had talent. Lots of it. He simply used his note/word-changing technique as a starting point. If I ever write a novel, that’s exactly how I will start.

After all, isn’t “getting started” the hardest part of doing something new? Once you have a first draft, you can make it better. But so many aspiring writers never get started so they never have a first draft they can improve.

If you wanted to use this technique to write the first draft of a novel, find one you like (in the appropriate genre and voice, i.e., “first person detective”) and create a “step outline”–a sequential list of the plot points. Note the number of major characters, when they are introduced, and their role (i.e., friend who encourages, villain, love interest, and so on). How many chapters are there? How long are they? When does the crime take place? When do we meet the hero?

Now you have a story skeleton, but of course it’s for someone else’s story. Your job is to change things, point by point, element by element, to write your own.

Your setting will be different. San Antonio instead of San Clemente. Your characters will be different. If the victim in the original was an insurance investigator who is murdered to cover up a fraudulent claim, your victim might be an accountant who knew too much about his crooked client’s business activities.

You write your own novel, using the structure of the original, but nothing else.

Now I didn’t say yours would be a good novel. That’s easier said than done. But your novel will at least be the right length, number of characters, and have the requisite elements in it. You’ll have a workable first draft.

You can use the same technique to write something much less ambitious, like an article or report. Decide on a topic you want to write about and find a model. How many paragraphs? How many main points? How many bullet points? Use this as a template.

Doing something new is much easier when you have a place to start. Fortunately, you don’t have to invent the place the start. You can follow someone who already finished.

Would you like a template for marketing your legal services? Use this

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Write or Die: A Simple Solution to Writers’ Block

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cure for writers blockI’m not sure I believe in writers’ block. I believe in “no talent” and “no ideas” but writers block? You don’t have trouble speaking, do you? I don’t mean public speaking, I mean vocalizing your thoughts out loud to another human being or into a microphone.

No such thing as “talkers’ block” so why “writers’ block”?

And yet, people who can write, don’t.

It might be perfectionism. I lean in that direction. You don’t want to show anyone your writing until it’s perfect and it never is. But, if writing is important to you, you get over this.

It’s often a lack of time. Attorneys are busy people. All day you’re on the run, and at the end of the day, you’re tired. Weekends, you have chores and you need some family time. You want to write, you know you can write, but days and weeks go by and it doesn’t get done.

You need a deadline.

When you have a deadline, it is amazing how much you can get done. You need to get a pleading filed by a certain date, you do it. You promised an editor you’d finish an article, you do. A deadline holds you accountable. Just ask the IRS.

An example of what can be done when there is a deadline is National Novel Writing Month, aka, “NaNoWriMo”. Every November, participants from around the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. In case you don’t know, writing 1,667 words a day every day for a month is a tall order; writing 1,667 novel-worthy words is simply astounding.

And yet each year, thousands finish a 50,000 word novel within the 30 days.

The 30 day deadline imposes a daily word quota. Participants use their word processor or text writing app to make sure they write enough words each day so they don’t fall behind. You could do the same thing. Pick a number of words you will write each day and don’t stop writing until you do.

Another technique writers use is to set a timer for ten or twenty minutes and write without stopping until the timer sounds. Then, they are done for the day or if they haven’t met their word quota, they go for another ten or twenty minutes.

This is the Pomodoro technique, which can be used for any kind of task. The idea is that you can do anything for ten minutes, no matter how much you might not want to or how busy you might be. Many books have been written in blocks of ten or twenty minutes a day.

I’ve written about the Pomodoro technique before, and recommended Focus Booster, an app I sometimes use when I need to concentrate.

In reading about NaNoWriMo, I learned about Write or Die, a timer app for writers. It allows you to set a word quota and a time quota. It also allows you to impose a penalty. If you don’t meet your quota or you stop writing before the time limit, the app will play a loud and annoying sound. Weird, but it works.

You can configure the app for different word counts, times, and penalties. In one setting, if you don’t make your quota, whatever you have written up to that point gets deleted. How’s that for accountability!

The app is free and there are paid desktop versions. If you need some help sticking to a writing schedule, Write or Die could be for you. Or, you could have your mother in law call you once a day to ask if you got your quota done.

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