5 Ways to Get Words on the Page

a keyboard with the word "create" on one of the keysSometimes putting words on the page feels impossible. Like “I’m going to make out with Chris Pine” impossible. No idea why a kick in the ass is necessary, but the sad truth is, for some reason I need to get psyched up to do something I love doing. Despite this mysterious quirk, I try to employ a few techniques to get my fingers rolling:

  1. Outline, outline, outline. One of the most difficult things to overcome is the feeling that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but no dice. So I write a basic outline. Then I flesh it out a bit. Then I write a treatment (similar to a movie treatment) where I write it as a sort of story: Mike goes to the dentist and finds out he needs a root canal, but doesn’t have the money to pay for it. He argues with the dentist and they fight until the dentist knocks his tooth out anyway…. You get the idea. Then I know what I’m going to be writing, and the story is just needing the magic of the right words. I won’t be facing the page wondering what to write about, since I already have that figured out.
  1. Only write things that I am passionate about. If I don’t find myself working story problems out while driving to work in the morning, or staying up late thinking of the story line, this probably isn’t the project for me. I have to eat, sleep and breathe it. Writing is fucking hard. Writing a story that I only kinda sorta think is fun is not going to make it easier. And that obsession is what gets me to the computer every time.
  1. Don’t make a big deal out of it. My writing that is. They’re just words, after all. I love to pretend I’m being profound, but yes, even my words are just words. The world isn’t going to change, whether everyone or no one reads my work. So I grow a pair and go ahead and have the courage to write something, even if it doesn’t live up to my standards in the end. It’s not time wasted, it’s experience earned.
  1. Start small. It’s great to have goals like “I will write a novel.” Great. Wonderful. But then I sit down at my laptop and think “Fuck, a novel? That’s like, 100,000 words!” So I just start with something like, I’m going to write 500 words. Or I’m going to finish this chapter. There was a time when things got really tough for me. I was about two-thirds of the way through my first novel, and it just felt like it was impossible. Like, “I’m gonna hook up with Live Schreiber” impossible. I was never going to finish, it was too hard, I was a failure. Sure, I wallowed in bourbon and self-pity for a while, and then I got over it. I made my goals smaller. Write one paragraph. Still too difficult. Write one sentence. Most days that worked, but some days, I had to tell myself to just write one word. I can write one word. One. Shitty. Word. And I did. But the truth is, it was just getting to the computer with the attitude of “I can”. I never ended up writing just one word. Because one word leads to another and another, and that one word led me to write closer to 1000, and I eventually finished the book. One word at a time.
  1. I got a productivity app to help. I have tried a few, and the one I really have found success with is Productivity Challenge. You put your projects in, then start working. It times your work sessions, and it also tracks your work sessions so you can see what your work habits are on a larger scale. I tend to work more on the weekends, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But what is surprising is how much the time adds up, even during the week when I may only get one session in per day (if I’m lucky). It’s also got some obnoxious bells to remind me to work, but I need that. Lastly, it ranks me (not against others, but against myself). Right now I’m a “Persistent Slacker”, but hopefully with some more work sessions under my belt, I’ll move up. I’m motivated by spite, and when someone calls me a slacker, it lights a fire. Feedback loops don’t work for everyone, but they work for me.

One day, maybe I’ll find that magic bullet that will make words just appear on the page without having to put forth an effort, but until then, I’ll use these regular bullets instead.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/3026190/

Procrasti-baking and the Art of Focused Writing — By Vincentia Schroeter, Guest Blogger for The Feisty Writer

Sign that reads Procrasti-bakingI turn on my computer and tell myself to start writing at 2 pm. The clock says 1:51 pm. OOH, I have nine whole minutes to myself. I am chief editor of an international journal and my task today is to view two new papers. I have a wave of fear and dread, worrying that these new papers (one from Argentina and one from French-Canada) may require endless hours of painstakingly detailed and ant-like grammar fixes to be smoothly readable by an English-speaking audience.

I am one of those grammar girls who actually like to don the ant cape and examine every blade of grass, but it takes a while to get into the groove each time. So, for my nine minutes, I go to the kitchen and decide to bake banana bread, which ends up taking more than nine minutes, of course.

I have a note on my refrigerator that says “procrasti-baking.” It means baking as a way to procrastinate. I enjoyed making my bread, putting it in the oven for an hour and then getting back to writing.

In the spirit of true confessions, I have other delay tactics, and you probably do too. I check my phone way more than I need to and end up either dealing with some side issue, getting news updates, or looking at something entertaining. And then there are external distractions, like other people and their needs. One I recall with some guilt is writing an article on the importance of staying in tune with your baby, while my baby was in a carrier at my feet and began to cry. “Just let me finish this one paragraph,” I was thinking!

Tips for staying focused on writing:

  1. Turn off your phone
  2. Set a timer, 10 minutes if you really feel resistant, and those ten can expand once you get started.
  3. Set up and start: “A job half started is half done” (as my mother used to say)
  4. Work in a quiet environment, like the library. (Libraries do not have kitchens to procrasti-bake banana bread).
  5. Write about or express your resistance aloud.
  6. Join a writing support group or get coached by Marni Freedman, as she will fill you with confidence and keep you on track!

I have to go now. The timer went off, and I smell my banana bread with toasted almonds on top. At least this avoidance tactic has an upside: yummy food.

The author (a blond woman) with her banana bread

Vincentia Schroeter writes a weekly blog on communication tips at  vincentiaschroeterphd.com. Her upcoming book: Breaking Through: Communication Tools for Being Heard and Getting What You Want, is based on up-to-date neuroscience and modern-body psychotherapy. She was a practicing psychotherapist for 40 years.

Photo Credit: Vincentia Schroeter