From blogs to articles and social media posts, short-form content is in demand and popular.
But sometimes, short form doesn't work.
Whether you study and have to complete an essay or try to write a book, writing long-form content is a challenge on its own.
”What is so challenging about it?”, you may ask.
- Far from every writer can create 2,000-word content, compelling and insightful to read.
- Many platforms prefer posting short-form content as it's ideal for striking the audience and generating more organic traffic in a short period of time. It's quite difficult for long-form content to strike a reader at once.
- Long-term content will not serve your purposes if not executed properly.
- It's challenging to write high-quality content all the time, maintaining it and not disappointing readers.
- Long-term content has to be resplendent to overcome our shortened attention spans.
- It has to do its best to keep readers' attention for more than 10-20 seconds, making them stay and continue reading the article. Such content works better for Google: the longer you stay at a website, the better its ratings are.
You might be a good writer. Or even a brilliant one.
But it might happen you don't take into consideration psychological aspects of tackling a large project, making long-form content one of the greatest writing challenges you will ever face.
Whether it's planning, creating a style or coping with failures, you have to master certain skills to succeed with long-form writing.
Planning Your Big Writing Project
Planning involves setting deadlines, breaking your project down into smaller, more achievable goals (like chapters), and setting reasonable daily goals.
The first part of planning is scheduling time. You have to know what you need to do each day in order to finish on time. It's also a good idea to plan in about 20 percent of your time for editing.
You'll want to create concrete, definable goals. Saying you want to write every day isn't a goal, it's an idea.
Deciding you want to write 8 pages every day is a definable goal. But, if you’re working full time or studying, you'll probably burn out doing that. Which brings us to our next part of planning, time off.
2. Take some rest
A team led by Roy F. Baumeister found that ego depletion, or the concept that willpower is an exhaustible resource, is definitely applicable.
People in the study who used willpower for things like eating radishes when chocolates were on the table gave up sooner in subsequent difficult tasks than those who got to eat the chocolates.
If you exhaust all of your willpower, you won't have the motivation to keep going.
So, how do you get around this issue?
- Based on the 1993 research findings by Anders Ericson, the most successful results come to those who don't practice until you are blue in the face, but use your energy and willpower in short bursts of about 90 minutes.
- Based on the findings of John A. Caldwell for the U.S. Airforce, those spending 16% of work time on rest are more alert and performed better than those who don’t. Also, practice the most demanding tasks first, when you have the most energy.
- Use tactics like the Pomodoro technique, where you write in 20-minute blocks, followed by a break. It allows you to focus your energy on short, achievable goals. Plus, it requires much less willpower than forcing yourself into a high energy state of productivity for the entire day.
3. Measure goals
Plan realistically, use achievable daily goals and plan something you can measure.
For example, if your goal is to write today, you could sit down and write two sentences and be finished. Plan measurable goals, like finishing a chapter. Or researching the next one.
Most importantly, if you plan out the week’s goals in advance, you can try to tackle the most difficult tasks first to get them out of the way. You'll also be able to skip a few days if you're too busy at work, without failing, which brings us to the next point.
Balancing Tasks and Goal Focus
If you try to follow Stephen King's popular “write every day” advice from his book On Writing, you might fail, unless you're a professional writer with nothing else to do. If you're not, then you have to take another approach.
1. Plan smaller
According to the study, we are more likely to fail a project if we are told to do poorly on a finished goal, not a single task.
Just like dieters who think they've failed their diet when they slip up and have something unhealthy, planning your entire goal around writing every day could be harmful to your motivation if you fail to do so.
Break your goals into manageable and bite-sized tasks, so that if you fail it's not detrimental to your entire process.
Plan smaller, achievable goals, and create milestones for motivation.
Plot out your 25%, 50%, and 75%, and reward yourself when you pass those marks.
Research by Kenneth McGraw shows that getting started is the hardest part of a big writing project. Most of us focus on the goal result, which can be quite intimidating. For this reason, you're highly likely to put off even starting your project, because it seems like too much work.
Doing mindless tasks, like reorganising your desk, or suddenly remembering you have to clean your entire house, is a byproduct of this.
Once you get started, you'll be much more motivated to finish.
In fact, the Zeigarnik effect, or the process where you will experience disturbance or even guilt over unfinished projects, is one of the motivating factors to finishing big projects. But it's not enough to ensure you finish.
3. Break it into stages
Self control is increased by using high level categorisation, abstract thinking, and global processing, which means focusing on the destination. However, motivation often relies on focusing on tasks.
For example, if you're on a treadmill, you can divide your hour into 10 minute sections, and focus on getting through each 10-minute goal one at a time.
This is less daunting than going after 60 minutes if you're not accustomed to running, and the method increases the time that most people are on the treadmill, because the end of each section is in sight, which provides motivation.
Breaking large writing projects down into short, easy to attain tasks allows you to do the same thing. It also helps in case you fail. When you fail a task, you're only failing that, rather than failing the entire project, or cutting yourself short of your goal.
Improving Self Control
Improving self control might seem difficult, but you can get started with a few simple tricks.
- Start with time management. Focus your energy on the hardest tasks, and always follow up writing periods with short breaks.
- Develop useful habits. Do things in the same place and at the same time, as it makes it easier to write regularly. Use a strict but flexible schedule, and hold yourself accountable, it will increase your productivity.
- Use a chart. It will allow to see how productive you are, or if you're wasting your time on things that don't matter. Writing down progress allows you to realistically track your success.
- Stop multitasking. Clifford Nass of the Stanford Research center proved that multitaskers were less productive overall than their non-multi-tasking counterparts.
- Make a to-do list. The best time to list your most important goals for the next day is before you go to bed. Try to make your plans realistic based on what you can achieve. Writing down your goals increases the likelihood of you completing them according to the APA.
- Split large tasks, such as writing a chapter, into smaller ones, such as research, outline, initial draft, second draft, and editing.
- Use goals, such as finishing a chapter, for example, to find motivation for completing short tasks.
- Don't set yourself up for failure. If you don't have the time to do 4,000 words per day, don't plan to. Be realistic.
Tackling big writing projects can seem intimidating, but with the right approach, you can motivate yourself to keep going and finish your project.
About the writer:
This post was written by Mike Hanski who did a couple of big writing projects for Bid4papers, and many smaller ones for his freelance clients. He reads a lot, plays guitar and constantly searching for new ways of writing more (better) words in less time.
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