Anatomy of a Writing Session

Oct 12, 2015 | Better Writing

I’ve been writing for publication for almost fifty years now. I’m obsessed with personal productivity. Put those two facts together and you have someone (me) who’s constantly tried things to find the best way to work.

Here’s what my ideal writing session looks like. I hope it sparks ideas about what you can try to get more productive.

Go to the cave

You can probably write anywhere, but you will probably write better if you have a writing cave. It should have a door you can close. It should be where you keep your writing tools.

Perform your pre-writing ritual

Develop a pre-writing ritual. That’s a series of acts that you do religiously, the same way every time. Mine involves removing distractions and turning on my writing music.

If I’m working on a short piece, like a blog post, I review my work notes. If I’m working on a longer piece, like a book or white paper, I re-read the last few pages I wrote.


Put down the words. Wrestle meanings onto the page.

I find that it takes me a few minutes to get into the rhythm. After that I write steadily for about forty minutes to an hour. Instead of stopping to check the spelling of a word or other small things, I just keep writing. I produce more good words that way.

Clean up

Now it’s time to make the writing better. Get the spellings and facts you need. Read your writing aloud. Revise. Repeat. This usually takes me about fifteen minutes.

Prepare for the next session.

Before you end the session, get ready for the next one. Determine what research, if any, you need to do. Check your supplies. Plan your next writing session. Don’t quit until you know exactly what you will do next.

Take a break

Go do something different. My breaks usually run somewhere between twenty minutes and a half hour.

Sometimes you will need to push through to make a deadline. But in general you will be more productive over the course of a week or month or years if you alternate periods of intense writing with breaks.

A final thought

These elements make up a system. The writing cave and the ritual and the writing and the revising and the breaks all reinforce each other.