13 Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Done

How to be happier.
May 27 2009 6:09 AM

13 Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Done

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 13 tips for actually getting some writing accomplished.

/blogs/happinessproject/2009/05/27/thirteen_tips_for_actually_getting_some_writing_done/jcr:content/body/slate_image

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:

Advertisement

1. Write something every workday 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 15 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 burnout.

4. If you have trouble re-entering a project, stop working in midthought —even midsentence—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. 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 500 pages. 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? Put your hand in a salute-style position—if you feel relief with your eyes shaded, 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, e-mail, 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.

Teaser for The Happiness Project book (due out in January)—there I write about my experience when I wrote a novel in a month, inspired by Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! Yes, you can write a real novel in one month. It was a lot of fun.

* I always find something great on Dumb Little Man .

* If you're starting your own happiness project, please join the Page on Facebook to swap ideas. It's easy; it's free.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.