7 steps to finished copy (when you’re not in the mood to write)

How to keep going when you’re not in the mood to write

A woman typing to illustrate a post about writing when you're not in the mood to write

Photograph via Death To The Stock Photo

Because, realistically, how often are you in the right headspace to sit down and churn out pages of brilliant copy? Unless you have hours of peace and quiet, with no distractions and nothing else on your mind (er, anyone? ever?) then writing can be a truly frustrating process of false starts and wasted hours. But sometimes we need to get our work done, even when we’re not in the mood to write.

As with anything tricky, it helps to break down the process into steps. The following is the method I use for writing some factual content for a client (usually 500-1000w) but it should work for essays,  reports, etc. You may well find that something slightly different works for you, but there’s no right or wrong – take whatever route you find most effective and try to take note of the steps you’re taking so that you can continue to use the same method in the future.

1. The overview. I think about the main point of the piece I’m writing. What am I trying to achieve? What is the overall message I’m trying to convey? How would I sum this article up in one sentence?

2. I’ll then begin jotting down a few ideas – literally the first thoughts that come into my head. If I’m feeling really uninspired and my mind’s a blank then I’ll start surfing the internet to find something that will spark an idea or two. I’ll Google a few words or phrases and, when I find something relevant and interesting, I’ll start copying and pasting bits and pieces of information. This should help your ideas take some kind of shape, so you can start to focus on the kind of content you want to include and the kind of content you don’t. (NB: always be sure to make a note of your sources – if you quote directly from them then you need to credit them; otherwise, all the phrasing in your final piece of copy should be your own. Not only is this the decent thing to do but Google KNOWS if you copy and paste and it will have a negative effect your rankings.)

3. Once I’ve got a few pages of information and ideas together, I’ll copy and paste those notes into another document and begin to go over them, using them to kick start my own thought processes. At this point, the shape of the piece is usually beginning to form in my mind. The gist of what I want to say is coming together and I’m ready to start working on a rough draft.

4. The rough draft will usually consist of the basic structure of the piece – a few notes and half-formed sentences that set out what I want to say in each paragraph. This is the bones of my article and once I’ve got to this stage I’m usually feeling a lot more positive and in a better mood to write. This is a good time for a screen break, a cup of tea and a celebratory snack.

5. Now to flesh out those bones, as it were. At this point I might have gathered a lot of information or it might be a bit thin on the ground. I’ll try to work out what’s missing and fill in those gaps. This will involve more Googling, and I’ll usually go back to the client to ask if they have more information on specific topics or any other leads or contacts.

6. Once I have got all the facts I need, I can go through the piece, paragraph by paragraph, adding in the relevant information. This is where I really have to exercise those writing muscles – sentences need to flow, the facts must to be clear, and a compelling tone of voice that will lead the reader through the piece, right to the end, is required. Sometimes sentences seem to appear effortlessly, and at other times I can labour for ages trying to think of the exact word or phrasing that will convey my meaning in a concise and elegant way. But I force myself to sit there until I’ve composed something that sounds right, however long it takes.

7. Once the piece is written, I’ll go away for a bit. Maybe a few hours. Then I’ll come back and read it through again, to see how it sounds, and I’ll usually fiddle with a few words or phrases here and there. Then I’ll go away again. I’ll come back with a fresh pair of eyes and proofread the piece, double checking all the spelling and grammar. And then I’ll leave it overnight. Next morning is a final read through and, once I’m totally happy, I send it to the client.