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Don’t Ever Write Without this Writer’s Warm-up

This guest post is by Karol K of Online Business Design blog.

What is a writer’s warm-up? I hear you ask.

I’m going to answer this question in a minute, but first let me get an initial “yes” from you.

Did you ever notice that your initial piece of writing on a given day is not the best you can do, and you’re actually aware of that? Is that a “yes”?

Of course, there can be many reasons for this, but the main one might be simpler than you think. First of all, just because you don’t like what you’ve written doesn’t mean you have a plumber’s writer’s block. Nor does it mean that apparently it’s not your most creative day, nor that the topic doesn’t seem particularly comfortable for you, nor anything else like this.

What if, maybe, you’ve just been writing without warming up first?

Why a warm-up is important

Writer's warm-ups

Image copyright Robert Kneschke - Fotolia.com

I’m sure you know the value (actually, necessity seems to be a better word here) of warming up when it comes to any kind of physical exercise or sport.

You can’t lift heavy weights without starting with very small dumbbells to get you going. And you can’t run a marathon without some prior stretching (and probably a lot of other stuff I know nothing about since I’ve never run a marathon).

Well, it’s not just sports. What was interesting to me when I first went to a vocal class was that it always started with a warm-up too. This lets your voice prepare for the upcoming effort. Staying on the mouth—related topics, warm-ups are also nothing unusual for competitive eating professionals. From what I know they start their “training” by eating a modest one kilo of grapes…

Why is it, then, that most bloggers start writing their posts without any kind of warm-up?

I see four reasons:

  • Up until today they didn’t know about such a thing.
  • They feel warmed-up enough.
  • They don’t see the value.
  • They don’t realize the risks.

Let’s tackle them all at once, starting with the last one.

The risks of not warming up before writing

We all know the risks of not warming up before sports. Lack of a warm-up is the fastest way to an injury or a serious muscle pain that could take away the whole joy of doing sports. On a professional level, lack of a warm-up significantly lowers the performance and can even lead to a career-ending injury.

What about blogging? Well, you’re not going to break any bones, so the risks are not that obvious, but they are still there.

For instance, the most common result of writing without a warm-up is the amount of time you’ll spend staring at a blank screen. Everybody knows that getting started is the most difficult part, and many people struggle to get the words rolling.

Even though you have your post’s topic well researched, and you know what message you want to convey, getting those ideas to a digital piece of paper can be hard.

Thankfully, this whole process can be sped up a lot if you just take care of some basic warm-ups.

You see, no matter the activity, warm-ups are all about getting started. A warm-up is always a set of the most basic, simple and easy movements possible for a given activity.

Therefore, due to its simplicity, no one ever has problems with getting the warm-up done. No one is ever stuck on the warm-up because, practically, that’s impossible.

At first it seems counterintuitive, but warming up actually saves you time. You do begin writing later, that’s true, but you are more likely to finish earlier and create a better post along the way.

To be honest with you, I had my share of can’t-get-started problems in my short blogging career. There were times when I was sitting in front of a blank screen for up to an hour. I felt I couldn’t start writing anything decent even though I had the topic researched.

For me, the cause was simple: writing the mysterious “quality content” is not easy, just like doing a 300-pound bench press is not easy. Even when you posses the necessary skills, both these challenges require some warming up.

How to do a writer’s warm-up

Okay, so what’s the most basic thing you can write, one that doesn’t require any preparation whatsoever, and is impossible to get stuck on?

Writing an essay on the meaning of life is one thing, but I’d advise something different—a personal journal.

It fits the description perfectly. Everyone can write about how their day was, or what they have in plan for the evening, or what they think about other people and situations, and so on. Just like everyone can talk about these things to a friend.

So, every day (or whenever you’re doing your writing), start your writing session by firing up your personal journal (Penzu, for example is a great online journal tool) and jotting down whatever is in your mind.

There are no rules to writing a journal. Whatever you do, you’ll be doing it well. Besides, a personal journal, like the name indicates, is a purely private thing, so no one will ever see it.

I, personally, always write at least one journal entry before starting to work on an article. It takes me five to ten minutes to put down 300-800 words (I wish I could write some decent posts at this rate).

After I have my entry done I immediately switch to writing a post. And since I already have the right mindset, I can usually start without any hesitation lasting longer than two minutes or so.

You know what? I guess the “writer’s training program” is straightforward after all: five minutes of warm-up with a proper writing session afterwards.

I’m only asking for one thing here—have a little faith and try this yourself. Everyone who I’ve ever given this advice to has agreed that it’s one of the most effective things you can do to improve your writing. And for me, it’s been a true game changer.

What do you think about this whole idea? Are you using a similar technique? Maybe you’ve been doing this sort of writer’s warm-up without even knowing it? Feel free to speak up in the comments.

Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland and a grad student at the Silesian University of Technology. He hates to do traditional business but loves to train capoeira. Tune in to get his blogging advice and tips on starting an online business.

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Comments

  1. Faizan Elahi says:

    Good tip. I have to admit I never thought about warming-up before writing. I think it can be quite useful.

  2. What I find as a blogger is that we are writing so frequently that I am not sure of the benefits. I was just talking about how my writing habits have changed in the last two years as a result of blogging. I found I could never, in one sitting, write and publish a post. As writing has become part of my daily routine, I have found my efficiency has improved greatly without the sacrifice of quality. My writing has actually improved from the early days.

    So for someone who is using my writing muscles so regularly, I am not sure a warmup is necessary. That said, I also run “cold,” without stretching and don’t have running injuries as a result. Maybe I am not one to take warm up advice!

    • Karol says:

      Well, I can’t tell for all people, maybe it is the case for you :) Even though I write quite a lot every day I still find it very helpful to start with a journal entry just to get the words flowing.

  3. Caylie Price says:

    Hey Karol,

    Great post. I attempted the NaNoWriMo rebels challenge Content Palooza in November. I found it much easier to get started writing when I just blabbed about whatever was challenging me. Always got off to a better start this way. Staring at a blank screen can be so demoralising so I encourage everyone to follow your tips.

    Cheers, Caylie

  4. Flora says:

    I do this sometimes, but I should definitely do a writing warm up more often. Cold starts are always really unproductive for me.

    • Karol says:

      Same for me. It’s staggering how different in terms of quality two posts can be when the first one is written cold and the second one after you’ve already put 1500 words on the screen.

  5. Warming up is a fantastic idea but I’m not sure a personal journal is the best way to do it. In my experience many writers have just as hard a time going from personal-journal-writing to work-writing as they do starting WITHOUT a warmup. To me, the best warmup possible is a mindmap. This is FUN to do and keeps you on the right topic. I give a free booklet on how to mindmap to anyone who signs up for my free weekly newsletter (which is super short) so if that interests you, please sign up! There’s a signup button on the top right-hand side of all of my web pages.

    • Karol says:

      Sure, mindmaps are great. I use them all the time, and I actually think there’s no better way of outlining a post than by putting it in a mindmap.

  6. Bethy says:

    Totally agree with journaling. I started reading “The Artist’s Way,” and it suggests that every morning write three pages of whatever comes to mind. And I must say that when it came to write a post later on in the day it became a breeze because I wasn’t weighed down by whatever else was going on in my life.

    I’ve yet to write a blog post immediately after doing my morning journaling but I’m sure it would work even more effectively for me.

    • Karol says:

      This is actually a great point you have there. Being weighed down by all the things that are going on in life is probably one of the major obstacles when you sit down in front of a screen and try to be productive (writing). Having a clear mind is a great remedy.

  7. Very good! I’ve practiced this warm-up, just didn´t know. My creative process always begins with some insight. After that, I write random phrases and ideas related to the theme, considering a logical sequence: the construction of a consistent lead, the development of the idea and the final outcome. The research on the topic, sometimes I do after the insight, sometimes only after I have all my thoughts organized on paper. This methodology makes the writing process much easier for me. Thanks for the tips!

    • Karol says:

      Your technique is a nice one too. Sometimes I write in a similar way too. Once I have the outline I write different parts of the post (starting with the conclusion, for example, if I have a strong one in my head already) and then put them together into one consistent piece.

  8. This is spot on. As a blogger, what I am admitting might not be good for my blog but I also have written many times without the warm up. Many posts have been there that have been written half heartedly and could have been better with one more review

  9. rahul says:

    I have never consider warming up before writing a post for my tech blog when i find something interesting I blogged it may be I should consider it but it doesn’t suites me

  10. Saif Afridi says:

    Nice Tips.

  11. Slim Jackson says:

    Found this helpful. My suggestion would be for folks to give 750words.com a try if they haven’t done so already. It can serve as a great warm up place to see where your mind is and how you’re feeling. I use that to capture stuff that I don’t intend to put on my blog and sometimes end up with something post worthy as a result. Will definitely try this warm up exercise and see if it has a positive impact. It never hurts to try!

  12. Thank You Karol.
    I wish i had read this article last year. Nevertheless i am going to use this technique it sounds practical to me i never thought of the similarity between warming in any other activity with writting.

    Thank you again for mentioning Penzu, i just got two great tips on blog article.

    I’m glad.

  13. Once you get into a groove it is easier to keep writing, and write well.

    • Yes, I haven’t journaled before writing a post, but I definitely find subsequent posts are stronger and come much more easily after I write the first one. Journaling before hand is something I should try.

      On a somewhat related note, my goal for this month is to finish all of my posts AT LEAST 24 hours ahead of time. Having that extra time to step away from a piece and come back to it with fresh eyes goes a long way toward increasing quality.

      • Karol says:

        I have to agree with you on this one. Going back to a post after one day can be surprising. And sometimes even frightening when you take a look at all the stuff you edited out.

    • Drewry says:

      writing well comes naturally, as bloggers move forward daily in your persistent online writing efforts :-)

  14. I love this tip! I have maintained a personal journal on and off since I was little, but I had never thought of using it as a warm up. Journal writing is such an easy, free-flowing exercise, it makes sense that it would sort of loosen you up before digging into something more serious and professional.

    This technique might also help during a bout of writer’s block. You could continue writing and staying focused, while also detaching from whatever was stumping you.

    Thanks for the advice!

    • Karol says:

      You’re right about fighting writer’s block. Writing a journal is so easy that no matter how stuck you are you can always craft a journal entry, and get this one step further towards unblocking yourself completely.

  15. Brandon says:

    Great advice. I usually come up with even better ideas DURING the journal entry or ‘free-write’.

    So now I just learn to ‘free-write’ everyday (spilling everything on notepad) with no formal post agenda in mind and all these ideas come up for a post during the time I do a journal entry. That flash of insight could come up anywhere between a few seconds to an hour.

    But nonetheless it comes and the result is a nice post for the day.

    • Karol says:

      This is something I’ve experienced a number of times too. Some journal entries turn out to be quite interesting blog posts. My favorite journal-born post was “What Being Drunk Can Teach You About Marketing and Life” – don’t even ask where the idea came from. :)

  16. mlac57 says:

    This is a great tip. I am going to try out this method before I write my next blog post.

  17. Michelle says:

    I think I’ll try this. I do have a blog which is rather “personal” and not marketed to anyone. I find I can write anything there at all. I’m not worried about content and such as it’s just for my friends who keep up with my life. I’ve gotten to the point where I blog there twice a year. How sad. This could be the perfect suggestion! It will get me to post THERE as a warm up to actually writing.

    Any suggestions on this problem:

    I write a post. I read and re-read and re-read and read it again. Then I finally post it or it comes out when scheduled. When I read it..suddenly I see (every time!) the corrections needed. Why don’t I see them the first dozen times I read it? Why suddenly does my wording seem incorrect or could be better? Why, now, do I see that I typed “th” instead of “the”?

    • Karol says:

      I think it might be a kind of “tired eye” problem. Try writing the post (without any editing) and then come back to it one day later to do the editing (Don’t write and edit all at once.). You should be able to notice a lot more things.

  18. Benji says:

    Brilliant idea. I’m gonna give this a try. There was some site that encourages you to write 500 words a day, and actually had a counter-type system in place, but I can’t remember what it’s called. Oh well.

  19. Patrenia says:

    Thank you so much! I find it very hard to write “cold”. I’ll definitely be trying this!

  20. Drewry says:

    talk about warming up in your blogging efforts, a majority of bloggers warm up every single day online, while learning along the way. Like you said, blogging is nothing more than an online essay writing. With that in mind, it should motivate anyone to keep writing, as they are silent gains to be made in getting:

    Blogging $ gUaP $

    That alone should motivate anybody to move forward in their online writing efforts day by day :-)

    • Karol says:

      For me it’s not exactly online essay writing :) During my school years, essays were something that had to be written even though no one wanted to neither write it or then read it (teachers only did it because they were paid to do it). Blogging is a lot more positive thing… you want to write it and people want to read it… for fun, entertainment or education. :)

  21. will says:

    Thanks. Penzu is a simple journal site. I like it :)

  22. Alisha Ria says:

    My warmup is to plan out most of my post, word for word, before typing it out. I’ve used this for most kinds of writing, even at school when I was doing essays. It works great for me :)

    • Alisha Ria says:

      Oh also – I read a blog by someone else whose style I like – helps me write more nicely :)

      • Karol says:

        I agree, getting inspiration from others is important too. I, for example, read Jeremy Clarkson’s books for that exact reason. Well, and of course the fact that I enjoy his writing very much.

  23. Slim Jackson says:

    Great read. I never tried this approach before. Will give it a whirl and see if it works out. Have definitely been the person sitting and staring at a WordPress page wondering how to translate what’s going on in my head to text on a page.

  24. Ana says:

    This one looks really effective, and not just for blogs!

    I’ll try it out this weekend – I have a few essays I need to write and even though I have all my research down, I couldn’t get started on them.
    I believe this will help!

    • Karol says:

      It’s also good to divide your writing into two totally separate parts: writing and then editing. It sounds obvious but what I actually mean is not to do those things at the same time.

  25. Good input. It makes sense. I never tried it but it is certainly worth the try. Now thinking back about it, you’re right, I never have a problem babbling on my personal diary writing some whatever comes to mind. Thank you for connecting these 2 dots for me. Success!

  26. Drewry says:

    How long exactly is it OK to mess up for , when starting out in blogging? LOL

    • Karol says:

      As long as you feel suitable :) Sounds vague but there’s actually no person with enough authority to tell you whether you’re still messing things up or not. If you enjoy blogging then you enjoy blogging, not really anything else matters.

  27. trailsnet says:

    Thanks for the Penzu suggestion. I just tried it out & loved it. Their email reminders will be a great motivator to get me writing on a regular basis.

    • Karol says:

      It’s actually funny when you go back to your journal entries a while later, and see all the strange things you were writing about. Very entertaining. :)

  28. At Zen to Zero, I take a different approach.
    Since I’m a translator, I apply my translation approach: a) first draft, b) revision, c) 2nd revision and d) ongoing tuneups. Part d) is not applicable to translations, obviously.
    In Zero Land, all stages are published and subject to progressive facelifts .
    I’m not in it for money, so I do what I please.

  29. Chris McCoy says:

    Great stuff, I haven’t wrote anything personal since I was young haha, should be a nice way to spend some of the festive period!

  30. Joe Duncko says:

    I’ve never heard of Penzu before! It looks and feels pretty good – this might be just what I need to do some sort of daily journal, something I’ve been wanting to do for years~

  31. amit kumar says:

    I use them all the time, and I actually think there’s no better way of outlining a post than by putting it in a mindmap.

  32. khaja moin says:

    Started my new journal at penzu, real warm up before writing an article.
    thank you

  33. Ahmad says:

    Hi Karol,
    Nice post and a valid advice. I do face this difficulty sometimes, but having analyzed my inner / mental situation at both times, when I write fluently and times when I can’t even start writing, I realized there’s a direct relationship between how much I’m focused on a topic and how much I could articulate my thoughts to start writing on it. So if I find myself stuck in words, I don’t force my brain to articulate, I just start reading more about the topic and come back to writing later. Sometimes the inability to write is because my brain is preoccupied with certain or random concerns, and here it becomes imperative to clear my mind. One very effective technique that I learned and which does not involve jogging or any physical workout, is Math. I just start making simple calculations in my mind: multiplying double-digit numbers, then three-digit numbers for a few minutes. Practicing this mental trick helps you develop a better command of the brain overtime. In a few weeks I noticed a tremendous boost to my ability to focus on whatever I want, ridding my brain of any emotional or mental constraints. It’s important to be conscious about doing mental warm-ups, in whichever way one finds suitable. The trick is to befriend the rather wild brain by inducing its cooperation rather than forcing it.