The Ultimate Guide to Writing When You Don’t Want To

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The habit of writing 5,000 words a day will likely make you a successful author. Doesn’t that make you a little bit mad? There are writers out there who not only accomplish this feat every day, but they’re also blogging about it. Heck, some of them even write books about how they’re able to accomplish this seemingly impossible feat day in and day out, 52 weeks a year.

There’s no way to guarantee that you’ll be able to increase your writing output to this high number. Something you can do, however, is make sure that you spend your writing time doing one thing and one thing only: putting words on the page.

It takes a lot of training to get yourself to want to write for a certain number of hours per day. At first, you’ll seek out any possible excuse, such as cleaning the kitchen, playing with your cat, or anything else that’ll take you away from your laptop. Don’t cheat yourself. Even when you don’t feel like writing, you need to get your butt in the chair to unpack those sentences from your brain.

Here are seven ways to force yourself to write when you feel like you have nothing left for the day:

1. Set a Timer

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There’s nothing like a deadline to get your pen moving. Think back to high school and college. Miraculous 10-page research papers seemed to materialize out of thin air when they were due the next day. A deadline for your fiction or non-fiction writing can have the same effect.

Even the simple matter of setting a short window of time for yourself (i.e. 10 minutes) can force you to avoid wasting time. For instance, say you’ve been staring at your screen or surfing the web for the last half hour of your writing time. Once you’ve caught yourself in the act of procrastination, set a timer for 15 minutes. During that time, you must write in a steam-of-consciousness style until the timer goes off.

Sometimes, you need to simplify things for your brain. You’ve given it one task to do for a specific length of time. That can be the difference between an unproductive two-hour time frame and the most productive quarter hour of your week.

Use an online tool like E.ggTimer to set up your countdown clock. Train yourself up from five minutes until you have a timer going for your entire writing session.

2. Disconnect The Internet

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Distractions are not your friend when you don’t want to write. The Internet is like the flashing red button that gives you a boost of endorphins every time you push it. There’s so much to learn out there and so many terrible celebrity articles that you could easily spend every writing moment engrossed by these tempting words and pictures.

Famous writers, from standup comedian Louis C.K. to fantasy author George R.R. Martin, have discussed their Internet-free writing time. Whether you buy an ancient computer, test out an electronic keyboard like the Hemingwrite, or you have the willpower to shut off your connection manually, your productivity will skyrocket without the Internet to consult.

While there are many programs out there like Freedom and Leechblock that will limit your Internet usage to certain times of the day, it’s best to go with the nuclear option. Find a way to use a device without Internet entirely. If you can also turn off your cellphone or put it on airplane mode, then so much the better.

3. Play Instrumental Music

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Creative writing is all about getting into your flow state. This is the rhythm your mind takes on when you naturally move from word to word and sentence to sentence. Writers who consistently churn out 1,000 or more words per hour have figured out how to get into their flow state over and over again.

One method for finding that sweet creative spot in your mind is to play instrumental music while you write. Piping in this wordless melody during your writing sessions can serve as just enough distraction from the outside world to keep you focused on the task at hand. Classical music, movie soundtracks, and meditation tracks drown out the self-doubt and over-thinking that plagues most prematurely-ended sessions. Subscribing to Pandora One or Spotify may provide you with the music you need to keep your flow going.

Another solution is to use a white noise app like WhiteNoise or Lightning Bug to keep you from getting distracted while you churn out the words.

4. Escape To Another Location

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It’s easy to get used to your routine; good or bad. If your typical writing location is plagued by stops and starts or interrupting conversations with friends, then even applying the above three tips may not penetrate the way you’re used to writing. When you stumble over the same problem in the same location multiple times, it’s time to plot your escape.

There are many different locations you can run off to when your go-to spot seems to be sapped of creativity. Start within your house by looking for nooks and crannies where there are few distractions. Temporarily set up shop in an attic, basement, or laundry room. The ideal location is a place where you can close the door to block out noise or people breaking your creative flow.

If the house is out as an option, and you’ve gotten permission to flee the premises, scout out locations in your town. The coffee shop is a standby for many writers, and the white noise of customers and espresso machines may help you kill two birds with one stone. Libraries will give you quiet or the ability to listen to your own collection of music through your headphones. One location that isn’t often considered is the car. Simply inch up the front passenger seat and type or write on your lap to take advantage of the quiet and distraction-free vehicle.

To ensure that you always have a third writing location beyond home and work, you may consider renting out office space in your area. Some cities have co-op spaces for working and in rare cases you’ll even have a devoted space for writers nearby. Search online or call around to local writers’ groups to see if there’s any such location in your neck of the woods.

5. Get Your Juices Flowing

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Writing is often a sedentary sport. The warriors of the word may find themselves sitting for hours at a time. While some are masters at maneuvering prose without moving, others need to get the blood flowing every so often.

Walk, jog, run, bike, swim, dance, stretch, or do anything else that’s active and tends to get the oxygen flowing to your brain. In addition to being good for your body, exercise can provide your mind with the building blocks it needs to form new ideas.

Some authors, like bestseller Russell Blake, have used the power of the treadmill desk to simultaneously keep their words and legs moving. You don’t have to walk and write eight hours a day to take advantage of creative exercise. Try using a treadmill, standing, or stationary bike desk for half an hour or an hour at a time to get your creative juices flowing.

6. Discard Technology

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When all else fails, spend your creative time like the 16th century poets did: writing by hand. While you may find it incredibly inconvenient and slow to take out the old pen and paper for your writing session, creativity isn’t always about speed. It’s about figuring out what works for you in the given moment. Technology doesn’t always mix with inspiration.

One of the best parts of being technology-free is that you can take your pen and paper anywhere you choose. As long as the weather holds up, you can move your writing session anywhere from a park bench to a backyard blanket. Feel free to combine the longhand method with any of the above tips for an added productivity boost.

7. Give Your Eyes A Rest

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There’s only so much the human body can do. Pushing yourself to the limit every waking moment can be harmful to your health. Staring at a screen for several hours straight is no favor to your eyes or your creativity.

Every so often, it’s a good idea to give your peepers the rest they need. Close your eyes for 60 seconds or look away from the screen to hit the refresh button. Roll out the yoga mat and meditate with your eyes shut for 10 to 15 minutes. Take a good old-fashioned catnap for a few minutes with your trusty timer at hand. Sit back and relax in the other room without your phone or computer and let the ideas come to you.

Even the great Leonardo Da Vinci advocated for napping and daydreaming. If one of the most creative minds of all time spent valuable hours resting his eyes, then you can certainly consider it for your self-published work.

Listen To Your Brain

These seven tips will help you blast out more words during your writing sessions, but it’s important to listen to your brain. There are simply times when you need a day off to recharge. In situations like this, it’s best to not worry about emulating the 5,000 word per day crew. Know yourself and learn from your mistakes to expand your creative limits happily and healthily.

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  • Thanks so much for Number 7. Does reading on a kindle count as a computer?