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Thirteen Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Done

October 12th, 2009 by bakerkline

writers_block2Gretchen Rubin is the guru behind the phenomenally successful blog (and soon-to-be book) The Happiness Project.  In this post she shares an inside glimpse at her process.

One of the challenges of writing is ... writing. Here are some tips that I’ve found most useful for myself, for actually getting words onto the page.

1. Write something every work-day, and preferably, every day; don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Staying inside a project keeps you engaged, keeps your mind working, and keeps ideas flowing. Also, perhaps surprisingly, it’s often easier to do something almost every day than to do it three times a week. (This may be related to the abstainer/moderator split.)

2. Remember that if you have even just fifteen minutes, you can get something done. Don’t mislead yourself, as I did for several years, with thoughts like, “If I don’t have three or four hours clear, there’s no point in starting.”

3. Don’t binge on writing. Staying up all night, not leaving your house for days, abandoning all other priorities in your life -- these habits lead to burn-out.

4. If you have trouble re-entering a project, stop working in mid-thought — even mid-sentence — so it’s easy to dive back in later.

5. Don’t get distracted by how much you are or aren’t getting done. I put myself in jail.

6. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that creativity descends on you at random. Creative thinking comes most easily when you’re writing regularly and frequently, when you’re constantly thinking about your project.

7. Remember that lots of good ideas and great writing come during the revision stage. I've found, for myself, that I need to get a beginning, middle, and an end in place, and then the more creative and complex ideas begin to form. So I try not to be discouraged by first drafts.

8. Develop a method of keeping track of thoughts, ideas, articles, or anything that catches your attention. That keeps you from forgetting ideas that might turn out to be important, and also, combing through these materials helps stimulate your creativity. My catch-all document, where I store everything related to happiness that I don’t have another place for, is more than five hundred pages long. Some people use inspiration boards; others keep scrapbooks. Whatever works for you.

9. Pay attention to your physical comfort. Do you have a decent desk and chair? Are you cramped? Is the light too dim or too bright? Make a salute—if you feel relief when your hand is shading your eyes, your desk is too brightly lit. Check your body, too: lower your shoulders, make sure your tongue isn’t pressed against the top of your mouth, don’t sit in a contorted way. Being physically uncomfortable tires you out and makes work seem harder.

10. Try to eliminate interruptions — by other people, email, your phone, or poking around the Internet — but don’t tell yourself that you can only work with complete peace and quiet.

11. Over his writing desk, Franz Kafka had one word: “Wait.” My brilliantly creative friend Tad Low, however, keeps a different word on his desk: “Now.” Both pieces of advice are good.

12. If you’re stuck, try going for a walk and reading a really good book. Virginia Woolf noted to herself: “The way to rock oneself back into writing is this. First gentle exercise in the air. Second the reading of good literature. It is a mistake to think that literature can be produced from the raw.”

13. At least in my experience, the most important tip for getting writing done? Have something to say! This sounds obvious, but it’s a lot easier to write when you’re trying to tell a story, explain an idea, convey an impression, give a review, or whatever. If you're having trouble writing, forget about the writing and focus on what you want to communicate. For example, I remember flailing desperately as I tried to write my college and law-school application essays. It was horrible – until in both cases I realized I had something I really wanted to say. Then the writing came easily, and those two essays are among my favorites of things I’ve ever written.

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  • http://surgebin.blogspot.com/2009/09/3ww-tip-velocity.html Bernard S. Jansen

    I found this to be both interesting and motivational. Thanks.

  • http://www.writeitsideways.com Suzannah

    Great tips, thanks :) I often go for walks or read if I get stuck with my writing. At least it still feels like you're doing something worthwhile.

    You make a good point in #7, too. I find it's best to get the bones down first. Otherwise, I get caught up looking back at a draft, thinking it's horrible, and not wanting to continue.


  • http://www.nameberry.com Pam

    Excellent practical ideas and all very effective -- at least the ones I've actually tried are. And now, to go WRITE.

  • http://www.gingerbcollins.com Ginger B. Collins

    I followed a friend's link to this blog and am glad I did. Your #13 hit home. I'm gearing up for NANOWRIMO, (National Novel Writing Month) gathering thoughts and ideas for my novel. The story has been perking in my head for a while, getting deeper and richer as it developed. But I had never stopped to think, "What have I got to say?"

    Now I've answered the question, and when I get hung up or hit a fork in the story's road, I'll look at that statement and I'm confident it will break the jam and push me in the right direction.

    Ginger B. Collins

  • debra

    I REALLY needed this. Thank you.

  • http://perfectlycursedlife.com/ Kimwithak

    These are great ideas and great motivation.

  • http://dionneford.wordpress.com dionneford

    Thanks so much for the great advice. Just today, I hit an impasse working on my new novel, took a break and really thought about what I wanted to say. That brought some clarity.

  • Pingback: Let’s Get Some Writing Done « The Writers Circle()

  • http://www.godsygirl.com GodsyGirlTeri

    This is soooo timely! I feel like I'm home here. I'm currently feeling my way through the blog world. Plus I've started my first book. Deadlines are a booger!

    Thank you for this blog and the practical ideas for a newbie like me!


  • http://www.jameskillick.co.uk James Killick

    Great post - strong advice and the post itself was easy to read and well-written - with the amount of advice available on the blogosphere, having something easy to digest that keeps you reading is as important as the content. Thank you.

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