Getting Writing Done: How to Stop Thinking About It and Write

Just Write

If you’ve researched your topic, you understand your audience and you know what you want to say, then moving to action and starting to write should be utterly straightforward and require no particular effort. Right?

Not so. All writers, whether scribing for books, blogs or whitepapers, know only too well that sometimes this just isn’t the case. Getting down to the physical act of writing can take a herculean force of will.

Distractions crowd in. Secondary objectives suddenly become appealing. Shall I place that grocery order? Read my email? Clear out my desk drawer? All of these suddenly seem more attractive than just logging on and starting to write.

How can we get ourselves to stop procrastinating and move straight to action?

I’ve just started a blog and recently finished writing my first book. Here are a few ideas that have worked for me:

1. Remember why you’re writing, and write this down first.

Remind yourself what this chapter/article/paper will do for you and your business when completed. This action is taking you in a direction you want to go. Remember this objective and write it down at the top of your To Do list.

2. Stop using energy thinking about it and just do it.

Just do it. Walk into your office, open your computer and start.

3. Remember that actions are finite.

Anticipate the end. Once you’ve done it, it’s done, and it won’t have to be done again. So get on with it!

4. Ask someone to manage you.

Tell a peer, a friend or your boss that it will be done by 3 pm. If they are a real friend, they’ll drop by a while before the deadline to check that you have started.

5. Tell a large number of people you’ll do it.

Trap yourself. If you’ve made a commitment to a lot of people then the shame of saying you didn’t try will outweigh the effort of doing it.

6. Find something you enjoy and treat yourself.

Write in a pleasant place – a favorite coffee shop or library or a room overlooking the sea (as I’m writing from now). What ever it takes: wear favorite clothes or special socks – just like athletes do!

7. Do nothing else.

Allow yourself to do nothing else until you’ve completed your chapter/paper/article. Here’s the thoughts of Raymond Chandler, creator of Philip Marlowe and author of novels and screenplays, writing about how he gets himself to do things:

The important thing is that there should be a space of time, say four hours a day at least, when a professional writer doesn’t do anything else but write. He doesn’t have to write, and if he doesn’t feel like it he shouldn’t try. He can look out of the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor, but he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, not write letters, glance at magazines, or write checks. Either write or nothing.

Different things work for different people and in different circumstances. What works for you?

About the Author: Jane Northcote is author of Making Change Happen – a practical guide to implementing business change, and she blogs about getting things done in organizations.

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Comments

  1. Wow, I so needed to read this today! My biggest hurdle with getting down to the writing is getting distracted by marketing tasks like blogging, commenting, replying to ads, cold calling, etc. Yes, the marketing part of my job is very important, but the actual product is more so.

    Write in the morning, market in the afternoon. That’s the goal.

    Okay, going off to write now. Thanks!

  2. Hi Jane,

    Very good! Every writer can identify with what
    you’re saying, I’m sure … this one can. :)

    Writers write. Right?

    Isn’t it a magical feeling, when we’re in the flow? That Zen-like, Taoist flow is so amazing, isn’t it?

    When the words flow from somewhere else and come through me … it’s the reason I write. Has it been an hour or ten hours?

    But getting in that zone … aahh, now that’s the rub, isn’t it?

    You’ve given some very practical steps … thanks a lot!

    Well taken.

    Carolyn

  3. I’ve been struggling with a piece on a topic I find really boring…you just have to persuade yourself that it isn’t going away, that you can’t negotiate with it you just have to do it.

  4. Jane,

    The Chandler quote is simply golden!

    I know that I would be much more motivated to write if I knew that for four hours I couldn’t do anything if I didn’t write.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Jeff

  5. Marr Williams :

    Everyone has read to keep a notebook handy when inspiration strikes at an inopportune time. It really IS helpful. I get my best stuff waiting in line at the grocery store or reading magazines at the Dentists office. However – I find notetaking most helpful when I not only jot down the idea for an article, but short notes on the emotions I had at the time and the thoughts I had on it when it was coming to me. When it’s time to sit down and write – those notes trigger my memory either emotionally or whatever and it’s easier to get inspired again.

  6. Good list! I especially like the whole do nothing but write…even if that means staring out a window. So true. As I have found my inspirations for doing anything always come when my mind is the quietest. I think Wayne Dyer hits on that in his book Inspiration. Good stuff.

  7. I’m a terrible procrastinator and every distraction is a bright, new, shiny toy for me to play with. That means I get sweet f-all done when I really should be working. One trick that works for me is the ten-minute method. I swear, I move way faster when I invest only 10 minutes… and the next thing I know, it’s been an hour and the job’s done.

  8. I once experimented with this effective writing trick:

    I kept my notebook in my car, and whenever I hit traffic or a stop light, I’d use that ‘down-time’ to write as fast as possible.

    If I failed to notice the light turn green, someone behind me would always honk at me, so no problem. ;)

  9. Thank you.

    (Yes, I know, not much of a comment, but really, what else is there to say? Because, you know, great post and, well, I have to go write something NOW….)

  10. I think what you have to do when you don’t feel like writing is just remind yourself of how fortunate you are to write for a living.

    Think of the alternatives to a writing career … that will hopefully motivate you to focus and get the job done.

  11. Very timely article, again!

    Some people can write solid emails to their lists in 5 minutes…not me, this will help make email marketing less of a chore, and hopefully, blog-posting as well.

    My latest blog post @ http://danielmcgonagle.name was written when I was in the “mood” for writing and it took a while to write, but took less time than it would if I wasn’t in the mood for writing and forced myself to write.

    Great post.

    Thanks,

    Dan

  12. I wouldn’t call it Timely… more Timeless. I like how you can pretty much stop reading once you see the image at the beginning of the post.

    That being said I love the technique of telling a lot of people. It really puts you under the gun since often times they’ll keep bringing it up.

    I’d lump into this category too adding a poll to your site where you give your readers a choice of what you should write about next. You find out what they want and it creates an expectation that you have to fulfill.

  13. The big topic! This is a good list–this is the #1 issue for just about every pro I know. You get over it, you find the stuff that works for you, but it’s hard.

  14. Solid Advice! Thanks!

    The one that also works for me is making a date with myself. I’ll put it on my calendar with some reminders and each time I get one I think about what I want to do/accomplish during the date.

  15. Thank you for your great posts. This blog is addictive. I have been able to learn so much about copy in these few days.

    I’m a tech blogger. Whenever I solve a user’s problem, I quickly make a mental note of the problem and the solution. That gives me insight into what people are looking for. I do my homework and produce the content. And it works.

    I am sure, my blog will be even more successful when I apply the techniques published here.

    Regards,
    Sudheer

  16. Thank you for the practical tips, I think all writers need this as a fresh reminder every once in awhile. :)

  17. @Travis, I do that as well. I typically block out writing time for the week on Monday morning, and then every day I have a look at the calendar and make sure that my writing time is protected. So if I have a monster meeting at 2:00 and writing is scheduled for 3:00, I’ll move things around to write earlier.

  18. Well said. One of the best methods I’ve learned to push myself past blockages and procrastination is to make a horrible first draft. By getting all my thoughts down, and giving myself permission to be crappy, it’s freeing. From there, I can revise and revise again, but I now have a foundation for the piece, whether its a magazine article, a piece of collateral, or a few pages in my novel.

  19. I find that writing goals and publicly committing them my work mates is an excellent motivation.

    The hard part is finding the time with work and family vying for lots of it.

    Great post by the way :)

  20. Amazing article!
    You posted here some very helpful info. When I’m writing an article, I’m always worried that even if it’s potentially brilliant, it won’t get enough coverage. Marketing is extremely important. Although when I publish an article at Triond I know that even if I get lazy and don’t do to much self promotion for my piece, Triond helps out alot in that field. It makes sense, they promote my stuff – I get alot of PV’s, make money and that eventually motivates me to write more. It’s an ingenious win-win situation. The only thing is commenting, I wonder when someone will invent something to deal with the time consuming task of replying to all your readers. does anybody have any tips on commenting by any chance?

  21. Shakun Saini :

    Amazing :)
    *clap clap*
    I can so relate to it. I just love tip #4. Very useful and informative.

  22. I wrote a piece on my website recently (http://www.daniboy.com/articles/TakeABreak.html) about how getting stuff done can sometimes be so intimidating to think about that you just put it off indefinitely.

    The key for me is to schedule guilt-free playtime into your day. Check the article out and see what you think.

  23. Jane, thanks for the motivational kick in the pants. As a daddy, I often find my best pure writing time when the little angels are asleep or away, but I get much of my inspirational fuel while with them. It’s a fun routine.

  24. Maybe I should be writing instead of reading this blog? lol.

    Seriously, this makes lots of sense. Just ignore all distractions, buckle down, don’t answer the phone or check email, and just sit, think and do what you have to do.

    But don’t think too much. As I heard once, writing is like bleeding. You just open a vein and let it flow… (on to the page of course :)

  25. Thanks Jane – terrific piece. (#5 is the one that really gets me going…)

  26. Very practical and useful tips. It is like fighting a writer’s block.

    But among of the above, it is the #6 that made me smile.
    Wearing my favorite clothes and special socks like athletes? That makes sense to me.

    Thanks!

  27. I find that when I stop making a big deal out of the task, I get to it faster. In other words, I try not to view the task as a big, herculean, boring effort. I keep it low key. And I find myself…just writing.

  28. These are great tips. At my company, we launched a new blog and I’m in charge of it, but getting content out there is hard when there are tons of distractions, like phone calls, emails, QAing, etc. Writing indeed requires our full attention and I need to take these tips to heart to get our blog to mature after a few months.

  29. I’ve been having trouble making myself get onto finishing a book… I try and tell myself that it is good old writer’s block… but deep down I know I’m just procrastinating! So thanks for the tips… it was a good motivating read for me!

    Jeanne

  30. Excellent post. It usually (but not always) works for me to “sneak up on myself,” diving in before stopping to think about whether I want to or not. I also like Ray Bradbury’s advice: “Work. Relax. Don’t think.”

  31. Thank you for this post. Its truth resonates with me. As we speak, I have something I want to write. I find your number one pointer to be particularly helpful. Thanks!

  32. Thanks for the reminder.

    Sometimes I get so focused in updating my blog about writing that I forget to do some work on what I’m passionate about, in other words the writing that means something to me.

    With that said, I would argue that ANY writing is good, and a worthwhile activity.

    George

  33. The Chandler quote is simply golden!

  34. “Just Do It!” Is fun & invigorating to say, but you are right we tend to create distractions that cause us less Anxiety! I have also started a blog, yet recently changed the tag line because I decided to go with my heart, not with just providing useful information. I want to write & touch people where it matters. I strive to do it brilliantly. I know to stop obesssssing over the out come & just DO IT. ;) I will think of you when I start again. I plan to use your Tip #6 often… Thanks for Sharing! I wish you much Success! xo

  35. Thank you so much for this post. Exactly what I need. lol. Thinking too much is bad for you.

  36. very encouraging post….i often feel some hurdles in writing but after reading this i think i should do the same…will try writing…and will definitely do this…

  37. I agree with everything except Number 5, LOL! If I verbally or otherwise tell anyone what I’m planning to do, it becomes a self-defeating, self-fulfiling prophecy that I won’t do it! I do use all the others though! Just sitting down and writing is the hardest, yet most efficient method for me!