Calling all writers: How do you get off your creative backside and actually get something done?
As a writer who is just finishing up my next novel and planning the one after that, I really do wish books could write themselves. But they don’t. Motivation is directly linked with the art of writing, the energy that it demands.
But that still doesn’t get around those inevitable periods of writer’s block, where motivation lulls and you feel guilty for not feeling guilty about the fact that the only writing you’ve been doing is in your head.
To get ahead as a writer you have get through those periods and you need to turn to a trusty writer tool box of techniques to stay ahead.
Here are a few techniques I’ve used to overcome writer’s block from time to time and really get motivated to write. I’ve used these same techniques to write novels, non-fiction and opinion pieces.
1. Write Every Day
You have to write often even when you really don’t want to. Sometimes you don’t (or can’t) even write a single word, but you just have to do it anyway. Something gets triggered in your brain and it means you break the daily routine and tap into that creative side, even if it is for a relatively short space of time.
Then you set yourself a goal. It can be a few words, a character sketch, an outcome of a story arc, a paragraph, two paragraphs, a half hour, 5,000 words, 10,000 words, even just 100 words or a page or a chapter.
If you make this a habit then the book gets completed and you get your dream out there while others go and watch another rerun on television. Part of that habit is finding your magic time: is it the morning? Then make it the same time each morning. Is it the stroke of midnight? You get the idea.
If you’re feeling particularly ambitious then pre-release the book and with it the date, that way you’ve committed yourself and you have to write down your writing goals and review them regularly (ideally every day).
2. Don’t Edit as You Write
You’ve done it, I’ve done it. It’s the cardinal sin of writing magic. Your mind tells you it’s imperative to quickly iron out early mistakes but it means you lose steam, perspective and you hang a massive delay sign over the entire project.
Don’t edit as you write, save it for the end and just get that first draft out there into the world. It will have mistakes but you turn it into something beautiful after that first draft is done not when you’re 25% of the way through the entire novel.
3. Eliminate distractions
Life is full of distractions, especially these days. The phone is your enemy, the internet browser button is your enemy. Tell them to take a hike while you craft this masterpiece. The thing is you have to do something about it because mentally you’ve conditioned yourself to care about that buzzing phone and flickering screen and neither of those are going to write the book for you.
Find a solution. Use a white noise machine to filter outside noise if you have one, put the phone in another room, put it on silent-just keep those outside distractions outside your headspace.
4. Take a Break
There’s a good reason all good writers go for a walk. It gives your mind breathing space, allows you to think things over and allows you to re-commit to your project. Give yourself a deadline when you do take such a break and taking a break also means changing things up a little, whether it’s your environment or the room you write in.
It’s healthy, good for your mind and it’s better than drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in between chapters (or beer if you think you’re Charles Bukowski).
You’re a writer, you live on inspiration, so use it. Look at the output of Stephen King, for example: 10,000 words a day without fail. Or Dean Koontz, a three hour block of writing (uninterrupted) before 2pm, or Prince who made so much music he hardly slept, or Bruce Springsteen who writes so prolifically he can afford to give away songs that win accolades for other people.
Read a chapter from an author you particularly admire, listen to music that could be the soundtrack of your book, talk to your kids, your spouse, even think about the book after this one.
All of this is part of a process that opens up a door that bridges the gap between critical thinking and artistic thinking and it’s invaluable.
6. Talk it out
Like most writers, you probably talk to yourself (come on, admit it). You can continue doing that (as long as it means you actually write not think about writing tomorrow) but you can think about your audience too; what would they say about a certain character or twist in the narrative? Ask yourself what message you’re trying to convey and debate it in your mind.
Having a conversation about your book is an excellent technique for talking through the problems that you need to solve for others in a casual manner. Talking is often easier than writing which is why this technique helps break your writer’s block.
So what are you going to do (besides write)?
Some of these steps might be hard to adopt and you can find you’re not motivated all the time. The key thing is not to get discouraged, you just have to get started and persist and I regularly use these tips to get up off my creative backside when I don’t feel like writing.