Whether it’s writer’s block, a simple lack of motivation, or finding the time to write, these tips can help you get more words on the page.
1. Look for inspiration in others
Motivation can be contagious. Writer Jeff Goins explains with an analogy about finding the motivation to workout and eat well:
I wasn’t feeling motivated to eat right until I was at the gym and saw an overweight man giving it his all, staying late after the class was over, and then telling the instructor, “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
That motivated me to take my health a little more seriously — not because he was obese, but because he was motivated. As Donald Miller wrote, “Sometimes, you have to watch someone else love something before you can love it yourself.”
Look for writers who love what they do. Listen to them. Read their writing. Watch them give interviews. Soak up their motivation and use it to fuel your own writing.
2. Set a writing schedule
Psychologists are still debating whether writer’s block exists, but either way, telling yourself you’re creatively blocked could harm your efforts to get going again.
Paul Silvia, associate professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and author of How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, says you might be better off never telling yourself you have writer’s block:
Naming something gives it object power. People can overthink themselves into deep dark corners, and writer’s block is a good example of that.
Research has found that writers who commit words to paper regularly, rather than spontaneously or at the last minute whenever a deadline looms, tend to produce more work overall. It’s also possible that writing regularly reduces the demand writing makes on your working memory, allowing you to write better.
If you need help getting started, try a tool like 750 Words, which rewards you with badges for sticking to a regular streak of writing 750 words (roughly three pages) every day. Or try Daily Page, which will email you every day with a writing prompt to get you thinking and keep stats on how often you get your daily writing done.
3. Take out your first and last paragraphs
Writer and entrepreneur James Altucher suggests getting past the hurdle of writing by writing anything you want—then taking out the first and last paragraphs. By giving yourself permission to write anything, even if it’s terrible, you take off the pressure that comes with a blank page.
And later, you get something much better out of what you first came up with simply by taking out the first and last paragraphs.
Even better, Altucher says this works even if you’re thinking about this rule as you write:
Here’s the funny thing about this rule. It’s sort of like knowing the future. You still can’t change it. In other words, even if you know this rule and write the article, the article will still be better if you take out the first paragraph and the last paragraph.
Whether you’re writing a personal story, a research-based article, or even a friendly letter, you’ll probably find you say a whole lot of nothing in your first and last paragraphs. Cut those paragraphs and get to your point faster to pull your readers in.
4. Keep emergency scenes handy
Writer Jamie Todd Rubin has a handy trick for getting over writer’s block. For those times when he sits down to write and the words just won’t come, Rubin always has an emergency scene at the ready:
You know how you take a couple of $20 bills, fold them up, and slip them into that secret compartment in your wallet so that you have some emergency cash if you need it? Well, I do that with story scenes. While I am not a plotter, I know how I think my stories will end when I start them. Usually, I also have one scene in mind—often the climax—which I am particularly eager to write.
While Rubin generally writes his stories linearly, he saves these scenes he’s especially looking forward to. In a writing emergency, he can pull out one of these scenes and get past his writer’s block:
This has saved me on several occasions when, whether out of weariness or writer’s block, I just don’t feel like writing. When nothing else will come, I whip out the emergency scene and write it, even if it means writing the scene out of order. This does three things for me:
- It ensures I get my writing done for the day.
- It gets me excited about the story again.
- It buys me a little time to work out why I was having a problem in the first place. Was I just tired, or was the story not working in some way?
This can work well even if you’re not a fiction writer. I write almost exclusively non-fiction, but I do tend to have a couple of blog post ideas in my to-do list at all times that I’m looking forward to writing. It’s helpful to always have an idea handy that I’m so interested in, I can rush out a draft in half an hour. That speed and vigor is helpful to get the creative juices flowing and makes it easier to return to any other writing work I’m stuck on.
5. Write what you want to read
Writer and artist Austin Kleon says the old adage “write what you know” is terrible advice.
Rather than writing what you know, he says writers should write what they want to read:
Not write what you know. Write what you like.
You may or may not be excited to write about things you’ve learned and experienced. But making the kind of work you wish existed in the world can be the motivation you need to keep going.
The manifesto is this: draw the art you want to see, make the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read.
I’ve often found myself stuck, staring at a blank page, struggling to get started on an article. But there are also times when I can dash off three articles in a couple of hours if I let myself go.
The difference? Writing what’s interesting to me.
When I write something I think I should or that I’ve been told to write, it’s always much harder than when I write something I’d like to read. I also feel more purpose in my work when I’m writing something I’d read myself, because I feel a duty to get those words out into the world for other people like me.
Remember this when you’re stuck on a topic: ask yourself if you’re writing what you think you should, or what you’d like to read.
Ask yourself if you’re writing what you think you should, or what you’d like to read.
6. Stop when you know what comes next
If there’s anyone who knew a thing or two about writing, it’s got to be Ernest Hemingway. One of his famous tricks was to stop in the middle of his writing, leaving himself an easy place to pick up from the next day.
You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.
Leaving off mid-paragraph or even mid-sentence may feel strange, but it help enormously with the friction of getting started again the next day. As Hemingway mentions, it’s getting through until you pick up the writing again that’s most difficult:
Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.
When asked if there are times when he lacks inspiration, Hemingway says this trick of stopping when you know what comes next is the key to overcoming those moments:
Naturally. But if you stopped when you knew what would happen next, you can go on. As long as you can start, you are all right.
What are your best tips for writing more? Let us know in the comments.
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