I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer.
Okay, this isn’t Beetlejuice, and 3,000 words aren’t suddenly going to pop out of my head after repeating that mantra three times.
What will it do? Remind me — as I’m furiously attempting to read every single blog post that’s new today from every single blogger — that writers gotta write.
A case of overconsumption
Let me back up. One of my best pieces of advice for any writer, anywhere, is that if they want to be a better writer, they need to read. (It’s actually three of my top five suggestions — it’s that important.)
Yet somewhere along the line, especially as a solopreneur in this freelancing economy, it gets all too easy to be a professional content consumer who is rarely the one creating.
And it’s hard to find a good case for overconsumption. Even in the name of learning. At some point, the pendulum will swing and that third fourth re-read of Stephen King’s On Writing just won’t push you any further, even if he is a genius.
Instead, we need to call all of this content consumption what it is: a fancy form of procrastination. You’re wasting time that could be spent putting your butt in the chair and pounding out your own words.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of great content in this world that deserves to be consumed, and I wholeheartedly believe in supporting what other people put out — especially when we can stand to learn from it.
The goal isn’t to avoid reading altogether.
The goal, friends, is conscious consumption. That is, strategically taking in the content that can best serve you, and not letting it distract from your own writing goals.
The easy alternatives to million-tab syndrome
Let’s start with how you “acquire” and store content, in the first place.
If your Chrome window looks anything like mine, it could stand to use a little cleanup. But you certainly don’t want to lose all those fantastic articles and resources you’ve opened. F
Fear not: Here are a few ways to relieve your browser and create a distraction-free environment that makes room for content consumption after the work is done.
There’s nothing worse than a dress without pockets. That’s perhaps why I’ve taken an extreme liking to this platform.
Also, it’s just plain awesome. Here’s why: With the free version of Pocket and its super-nifty Chrome extension, you can open a blog post, video, podcast page, you name it, and “pocket it” to read later — while easily adding tags for organization.
Reading on your phone? All you have to do is copy the link in your browser, and Pocket will automagically pick it up when you open the app. Easy, peasy.
I’ve set my Pocket to download articles only when I’m on WiFi, which is nearly all the time, making offline reading possible for those times I don’t want to use data or can’t get network access.
Build up your list and organize it by tags, and archive items you might want to go back to later but don’t need in your queue now.
If you’re already using Evernote as your to-do list keeper, this is yet another way to put it to use. Grab the handy web clipper, and all it takes is one click to add whatever page you’re on to Evernote — easily putting it in a notebook and tagging it right from the extension. (OK, it might be two clicks.)
The free version of Evernote will give you the crucial functionality with 60MB of storage and syncing across up to two devices.
Bonus: It’s a great way to take notes on the go when you can’t type and need solid voice recognition.
RIP, Google Reader — we still miss you, but Feedly eases that pain a little more each and every day.
Feedly is an RSS reader that is crucial to keeping your inbox clear and being able to access all your favorite blogs in one place.
Set up categories, and filter your favorite blogs through them. Then, all it takes is an at-a-glance check-in to see what’s new — and it’s easy to save stuff for later.
Pro tip: As a copywriter, I often curate sources for different projects I’m working on within Feedly under categories with the client or project name.
Out of sight, out of mind?
Putting these tools to work is great for eliminating distractions, but hiding these articles and resources away in storage makes it all too easy to simply forget about them.
Again, we come back to the goal: conscious consumption.
If you’re consciously sourcing the content you want to go back to and making a routine of storing it in Pocket, Evernote, Feedly, or another of your favorite apps, the next step is to intentionally make the time to go back and put it to use.
Here’s what I recommend for that:
1. Build a system
Everyone’s system will work differently. Here’s mine: As I’m interacting in different groups and communities throughout the day and encounter new-to-me content, I throw anything interesting into Pocket to read later.
When I’m actually reading through those articles in Pocket or my curated feeds in Feedly (see step #2 below), I’ll clip content to Evernote, categorizing it as either “add to social queue” or “include in coffee + content” (my bi-weekly roundup).
Once per week on Friday, I batch upload new content to my Edgar account to get it into the social rotation, and every other Friday, I write my roundup post.
2. Set aside time each day to go through the content you’ve saved
Once you have a process for collecting content and know what you’re going to do with it, set aside time each day to make it happen.
I schedule 15 to 45 minutes per day to read. Your process will help you go in with a plan, so you’re not just sifting through handfuls of saved pieces while venturing down a rabbit hole of overwhelm. You could take the Tony Hsieh “Yesterbox” approach, only “processing” yesterday’s additions, or you could go in with a specific need — find an article regarding email marketing, for example — and get out when you’re done.
Put your content consumption to use
I’ll say it again: The best way to become a better writer is to read. Also worth repeating: Writers gotta write.
Build a process so you can strike that healthy balance between consuming and creating — because overwhelm and procrastination are two of the greatest barriers to writing, and I want your content in my pocket. (Feel free to use that as your new pick up line.)
How do you manage the many articles and blog posts you want to read?