Are you struggling to write? Read on for my best writing hacks to get you writing now.
There's no getting around it. Writing is hard. Whether you're writing your first book, crafting an essay for school, blogging, or just writing for fun, there are so many things against you.
First is the time itself. What you could say in five minutes takes a huge amount of time to write into coherent, grammatically sound sentences.
Then there are the distractions: social media, video games, endless sudoku puzzles (my personal kryptonite).
Finally, and perhaps worst of all, there is writer's block, which can vary from a general aversion to writing to crippling self-doubt and an inability to put any words on a page, let alone something good.
Yes, writing is hard. So hard it's amazing people write at all, some for fun no less!
The good news is that if you're having a hard time writing, you're not alone. Even great writers struggle with distraction and writer's block. To be honest, I struggle too. I've written fifteen books and still struggle on a daily basis to write.
At the same time, writing can be amazing, inspiring, fulfilling, even life changing. If you're struggling to write, in this article I'm going to share all my favorite writing hacks to help you get focused. Hopefully at least one of these tricks will get your creativity thrumming, get the words moving, and help you finally get to writing.
So grab a cup of coffee, open up a blank page, and get ready to write.
Why You Struggle Finishing Your Writing Projects
I've written a lot of books. I've published hundreds of articles. I've finished poems, essays, newspaper columns, and more.
However, when it comes to procrastination and writer's block, I struggle as much as any writer. I believe this is the reason why:
The more important a project is to you, the harder it will be to write. After all, you want it to be good. Really good! You procrastinate because you subconsciously believe that the longer you wait, the more prepared you'll be, the better of a writer you'll be, the more you will understand how to make your writing great.
In essence, you procrastinate because you believe that you're not good enough right now.
But here's the truth: the only person who can write what you need to write is the person you are right now. If you don't write it, no one will.
And so, you need some mind tricks to force yourself to the blank page and make it all but impossible not to finish.
How to Create a Better Writing Process
Before we get into the writing hacks, there are a few principles that these tricks rely on that I want to share with you. Consider adopting these as a part of your mindset to better reach your writing goals.
1. Lower the Bar
A proven technique used by psychologists whenever people are struggling to finish a difficult task is to lower the bar of success.
When you're working on a project that is important to you, like writing a book, you have huge hopes for it. But those same hopes can sabotage you when the actual work product you create doesn't measure up.
Instead, lower the bar.
For example, I am constantly telling writers not to measure the quality of their writing on their first draft. It doesn't matter if your first draft is good. It matters that it's finished. Quality comes on your third or fifth or eleventh draft.
So don't measure how good your writing is. Measure your word count. The more words you write, the more likely you'll get into a good flow, the better your writing will end up being.
In writing, when you focus on quality, both the quantity and quality of your writing suffers. But when you focus on quantity, both the quality and quantity can increase.
2. Don't Edit While You Write
When you edit, you use a different part of your brain than when you write.
Editing taps a part of your brain associated with the emotion disgust (remember her from Inside Out?).
Writing, on the other hand, is most closely associated with joy, the excitement of creation.
If you try to write and edit at the same time, your brain can get mixed up, the editor side can take over, and soon you're not making progress, you're just rehashing stuff you've already written for the thousandth time.
Instead, write during your writing time. Take a break. Then switch into assessing writing skills—check sentences, evaluate verb tenses, fix typos. Don't try to do them both at the same time, unless you enjoy going very slowly.
3. Use Templates and Forms
Don't reinvent the wheel. Or rather, if you want to reinvent the wheel, be okay with it taking a really long time to finish your goal.
Over thousands of years of human communication, certain templates, different forms of writing have come about, each with their own proven structures based on millions of trial-and-error iterations.
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” Isaac Newton said.
In the same way, by studying structure, templates, and forms, you can both write faster and in many cases better by borrowing what millions of writers before you have learned and established.
That isn't to say you can't write things your own way. It's just that it might take longer.
Here are a couple of resources on structures, templates, and forms you can use:
- The Write Structure by Joe Bunting (that's me)
- How to Write a Blog Post: The Best 3 Blog Post Templates
- The Ten Types of Stories
Alright, now that we've covered our writing process principles, let's get into the writing hacks to help you get unstuck and write faster.
10 Writing Hacks to Actually Finish Your Book
Ready to write? Here is my best writing advice for when you're struggling to write.
Warning: these techniques are intense, and should only be used if you actually want to finish your book. Use at your own risk.
1. Use Writing Sprints
Writing requires extreme focus, and one proven way to create focus is to set a timer and commit to only focusing on your task until the timer goes off.
This hack is similar to the Pomodoro Technique. This technique was codified by Francesco Cirillo, an Italian student. He found that when he was struggling to focus on his studies, he would commit to studying for just a short amount of time (at first for just ten minutes, but eventually twenty-five minutes). Then, he would set a timer and focus on that task until the timer went off.
In the same way, many writers today use writing sprints, which are short burst of focused writing time, often done in groups, to stay focused and get as much writing done as possible in a short amount of time.
I use this technique personally, setting my timer for just three minutes, because that's all the focus I tend to have! I've even found that I can usually finish 1,500 words in about 15 to 20 of these types of sprints (or 45 to 60 minutes of focused time). Not bad!
We have systematized these sprints in our Write Plan Planner, giving writers a simple tool to keep track of their sprints on our Daily Writing Session page.
2. Beat Your High Score
To make writing sprints even more effective, once you've completed one, you can then try to beat your score.
For example, if you wrote sixty-three words in your three-minute sprint, in your next sprint, you can attempt to write sixty-four words or more.
Perhaps you even get up to 100+ words. My personal high score is over 140 words in three minutes.
You can compete against your best writing sprint, your best word count in an hour, day, or month. Bursts of creative and competitive focus like this can boost your writing productivity and keep you moving forward on any piece of writing.
3. Self-Reflect on Your Distractions
Write down what distractions are slowing down your writing.
After you have been writing for a while, ideally keeping track of your word count and productivity using sprints and high scores, you can write down what distractions are holding you back.
Perhaps your writing got interrupted by a text message you received. Or your child interrupts you. Or you get a phone call. Or you find yourself scrolling through social media. Or you realize you're doing a lot of editing while you write. Write it down.
Here, you aren't trying to shame yourself. Instead, you just want to reflect on what's slowing your writing down so that you can begin to problem solve.
Perhaps you realize that if you disconnect your computer from the internet you can avoid distractions. Or if you turn your phone off, you can write one hundred more words per hour. Or if you write before your children are awake, you can avoid your children interrupting your writing time.
Keep track of your distractions, self-reflect, then problem solve. Don't be afraid to try a few different solutions until you find the best one. Effective writers have an arsenal of solutions they use to keep making real progress.
4. Mess With Your Font Size and Color
If you find that you're doing a lot of editing while you write, try making it harder to read the text and edit. Here are some ways you can do this:
- Change the font color to make it a very light grey (or even white, for the very brave)
- Change the font size to 2 pt or even 1 pt to make it too small to read without major squinting
- Lower the brightness on your computer screen
- Close your eyes
- Look out the window while you write
Or use your own personal trick to avoid re-writing and editing.
As we discussed in principle #2 above, splitting up the act of writing and editing will help you write faster, and by making it harder to edit, you can optimize for writing.
Another way to make it harder to edit is to handwrite your first draft.
Author Sarah Gribble puts it this way:
I find my writing flows easier when I write by hand. With a first draft, I don't want to concentrate on spelling, grammar, or perfect sentence structure. (And I REALLY don't want to have that blinking cursor judging me!)
Handwriting goes beyond just avoiding editing, though. The tactile act of writing by hand activates part of your brain associated with creativity. Thus, you might find that the quality of your writing increases even as you get more writing done.
That being said, I find that handwriting takes me much longer than typing (even with occasional editing), so I tend to not use this hack. I'm always pleased with the results when I do, though.
6. Choose the Best Time of Day for Your Brain
Some writers report writing better when they're less alert, sleepy, or otherwise less productive.
So if you're a morning person, try writing late at night; if you're a night owl, try writing early in the morning.
The lucid dreaming effect that you get when you're a little bit tired can boost your creativity. Remember how editing taps into disgust? This also turns that part of your brain off so you can let your ideas flow.
Try different times of day and different routines until you find the one that works best for you.
7. For Large Projects (Like a Book), Set a Deadline(s)
I've long loved deadlines, and here's why they work, from my eBook 10 Steps to Becoming a Writer:
Deadlines are meant to induce stress. I know none of us really wants more stress in our lives (do you?), but most writers I know struggle with two things: discipline and focus. A good deadline helps with both.
A little bit of stress focuses you. A good deadline can keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keys much better than “inspiration,” that fickle muse, ever could.
To write a book, you need two kinds of deadlines: one for the date you'll finish the whole entire book, and a set of smaller deadlines to ensure you make progress week by week.
Start with the ultimate deadline. When will you finish your book?
This deadline should be reasonable for you to achieve (it takes more than a week to write a book, after all). But you also don't want to give yourself too much time, or you'll lose the pressure that pushes you to write.
Here's a guide on how long it takes to write a book. Personally, I've found that 100 days is enough time for most writers to finish a book, even a long one.
That means, if you start today, this is your deadline to finish your book.
Once you've set your ultimate deadline, create a set of smaller deadlines. I like to set weekly goals for my writing so that I know I'm making steady progress each week.
We've built deadlines into the Write Plan Planner, which includes a step-by-step process for setting and tracking your deadlines.
You might be thinking, “But deadlines I set for myself don't help me. I just ignore them, and then I don't finish.”
Which brings me to the next step.
8. Give Yourself Consequences (or Why I Wrote a $1,000 Check to a Presidential Candidate I Hate)
I learned this trick from my friend Tim Grahl.
If you want to make your deadlines and avoid procrastination, create unthinkable and painful consequences.
For example, here are the consequences I used for a book I wrote:
- 1st deadline missed: Delete Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes, my favorite iPhone game, from my phone (and don't reinstall until the book is finished).
- 2nd deadline missed: Give my iWatch to my wife (permanently) and buy three pints of Jeni's ice cream ($12 ea.) for the people who work in my office.
- 3rd deadline missed: Send a $1,000 check to the presidential candidate I despise.
Honestly, this last one had me terrified. I knew throughout my whole writing process that the book I wrote by my ultimate deadline may not be very good, but it would be finished.
Note: If you choose to write a check to an organization you despise, it's best to write the check in advance and give it to a trusted friend with strict orders to send it if you miss your deadline.
9. Set an Intention
One big deadline, or even a few medium deadlines, aren't enough. You also need a series of smaller, consistent deadlines to keep you focused each day, and this is where an intention comes in. Here's an example:
Each morning before work, I will write 500 words at Carroll Street Café.
(Insert your favorite writing location, e.g. your desk, your favorite coffee shop, or even reclining in bed.)
Note here that it's very important to imagine where and when you will write. Your chances of following through go up significantly if you picture yourself writing at a specific location at a specific time.
10. Get Community and Accountability
I believe in the power of community. It's good to be around people who are struggling with the same problems you are. I've found that when I spend time with writers who are better than me, I become a better writer.
Make friends with other writers. You will probably find that you become a better writer almost through osmosis.
And when it comes to your book, how will you be able to face your writing friends if you're procrastinating on your own projects?
Personally, each time I write a book, I ask several writing friends to hold me accountable to finishing it.
If you're looking for a community to practice with, check out our Write Practice Pro community here.
BONUS: Share Your Writing
Stories are meant to be shared, and when we share them, it unlocks a deep motivation to share more stories.
Here's a quote from a lesson in our Foundations of Publishing course:
We take words for granted, especially words like story, that we’ve heard since we were children.
What I find interesting is that the definition of story seems to imply an audience, that there has to be someone listening to the narrative for it to be considered a story. The word narrative itself suggests “narration,” sharing your story with other people.
We often think of a writer as some loner slaving away in a dark closet with his imaginary friends, but the truth is that story itself comes from a social urge to connect.
Stories are meant to be shared.
For the practicing writer, sharing is great regardless of the outcome. If your audience loves it, you have the pleasure of connection. If they don't, you have the feedback you need to make it better.
Personally, I share my drafts in our Write Practice Pro community to get their feedback on how to make them better.
Procrastination CAN Be Defeated
We sometimes think procrastination is a moral failing, that we're irresponsible, bad people for failing to follow through on our plans.
The reality is that procrastination is often just a lack of structure, and what the above techniques do is provide a structure that will all but guarantee that you will finish your book.
The real question is, are you willing to do it?
If you want to write a book, you need a book writing process that works. We've built these productivity hacks into the Write Plan Planner, the planner designed to help you finally finish your book.
Ready to write? Order your planner today.
Do you struggle with procrastination when it comes to your writing projects? Which of these techniques would help you the most? Let me know in the comments section.
See how much you can write right now with some writing sprints.
Pull out your work in progress, or start a new story with this writing prompt: She'd never meant to reach the top of this cliff, but here she was.
When your time is up, share your writing in the Pro Practice Workshop, and tell us how many words you've written!