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By: Riley McBride Smith
In marketing and communications, writing is arguably one of the most critical skills to master. Yet, drafting messaging, a blog post, a complex press release, a speech or a byline is often just listed as another item on our to-do list rather than being recognized as a task that requires a unique environment and significantly more time.
Early on in my career, I struggled to find the time and the mind space I knew was needed to write well in the hustle of an agency environment. However, along the way, I’ve learned some best practices that have helped set me up for success.
Don’t Rush the Process
The communications industry is fast-moving and deadlines are pretty much always ASAP. However, while some tasks can be expedited, more time should be allotted for complex writing projects. If you’re drafting a longer piece of content in 30 – 45 minutes without the opportunity to set it down and revisit, there’s a good chance it won’t be nearly as polished, thoughtful, or well-written as a piece written over several hours. Managers can help by giving writers on their teams enough lead time to tackle complex writing projects and by also weighing the time needed to complete the assignment appropriately and reallocating work as needed.
Set Aside Dedicated and Uninterrupted Writing Time
One thing that makes writing different than other tasks is the level of focus and uninterrupted time required to write. Spending ten minutes here and 15 minutes there in between calls and answering emails will lead to disjointed work that inevitably will take longer to draft. Writers will find they are much more efficient when they’re able to draft without frequent interruptions. Finding your rhythm and focus is important and so try to set aside several hours (depending on the length and type of writing project) so you can pull together a complete first draft or a full section. In our line of work, several hours of uninterrupted time will rarely emerge in your busy day, so the onus is on you to find ways to create that interrupted writing time in your schedule. Whether that means getting into the office earlier or finding a block of time in the evening, it’s important to create the environment you need to produce your best work.
Time of Day Matters
I recently attended the Digital Summit in Washington D.C. where social scientist Daniel Pink delivered a keynote inspired by his recent book “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” which provides a fascinating look at how time of day impacts cognitive function and ability. The research overwhelmingly shows that the most productive time of day for most people is in the morning. During this time of the day, people are more focused, able to ignore distractions and generally more positive and optimistic. Unfortunately, research shows that productivity begins to decline in early afternoon during what Pink calls the “trough” of your day. During this time, your mood and focus are both at all day lows and as a result, concentration and efficiency will suffer. You begin to recover later in the day and, while you won’t reach the peak of productivity you had in the morning, your mood will improve and you will become slightly more flexible, collaborative and creative. While each individual is different, keeping this in mind as you prioritize your writing projects may help. Most importantly, try to focus on what time of day YOU feel best. There is a small subset of people that are true night owls and can produce some of their best work in the evenings. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg notoriously works past midnight!) It’s up to you to find those magic hours when the writing comes easiest.
The Secret to Great Writing is Rewriting
The more you reread, redraft and refine your writing, the better it will be. Sometimes getting the first draft down on paper is the biggest challenge. Take a mental break and revisit it with fresh eyes, spend more time wordsmithing and streamlining. You may be shocked by how much your writing can improve between the first, second draft and third drafts. Also always try to pass it along to a third party, as even the best writers can benefit from an outside perspective.
In the agency world, there are times when you won’t have the luxury of uninterrupted time to deliver great writing, but when you do, try to create an environment that will set you up for success.
Riley McBride Smith is an account director in Allison+Partners’ Washington D.C. office.