We all have those times when we want to write but for some reason just can’t. Whether it’s from sheer exhaustion at the end of the day, some form of writer’s block or you simply have too many distractions preventing you from getting words down on the page; it can be a very frustrating situation to be in.
Especially when working towards a deadline.
A deadline can be self-assigned, such as when working towards a personal goal, aka writing a novel. It can be submission-based, such as a competition, or it can be work-related, as with commissions, client-based projects, or (hurray) by a publisher.
(If you would like more information on deadlines and how to set realistic goals with your writing, please leave me a comment below and I will be sure to have an article up soon).
But whatever the reason for your deadline, the fact remains that if you want to hit it, you need to write.
So why aren’t you?
Often, the threat of a deadline is enough to spur us on but it can also have the opposite effect at times. Outside factors, such as an overcrowded schedule or external clutter in our surroundings can both stifle creativity. We also already know that writing habits go a long way into helping us write consistently and with better quality, so the absence of a writing routine could also be a factor in your writer’s block. And sometimes it’s just too daunting. Fear is one of the main reasons why many aspiring writers don’t finish their books, as they somehow believe their story isn’t worth…we’ve all been there.
And whilst it is a good idea to seek out and address the issues which are preventing you from working, the more important problem in the moment is getting some words down, right then and there.
By writing just a little, even something as small as a paragraph, you increase your chances of carrying on.
So without further ado and analysis, here are 7 suggestions for helping you get into the writing zone when you’re at a loose end.
Clear the air
No, I am not talking about making friends or resolving an argument, though those are things you should do too. What I mean is, freshen up your space and yourself a little, so that you can breathe easier and naturally feel better.
Open a window, spray your favourite scent, dust, and vacuum (we writers are naturally musty thanks to all the books and paper), and if you’re still feeling stifled, hop in the shower.
Feeling fresh and clean has a fundamental effect on our natural state and thus our ability to create and do things. If we are stuffy or not able to enjoy the aromas of where we are, we naturally want to withdraw and who in their right mind is going to write when all they want to do is run away?
This has been one of my main productivity practices for years as I am one of those people who simply cannot concentrate if I am working with a messy desk. And you might be too!
Physical, visual clutter is actually very distracting – especially when it is actionable. Whilst the old adage of ‘out of sight out of mind’ rings true when it comes to not procrastinating on your to-do list, it can also hamper your ability to focus on the task at hand if your mind is constantly drawn back to all the other things you need to do.
Tidying up your papers in a neat fashion with an in-tray or action pile, will help to keep them within reach for when you need to make the phone call or pay that bill but will also prevent the mounting feeling of overwhelm if you glance in its direction. You can help yourself with this further, by adding a cover or file folder over the papers, to hide that top sheet too, if you are easily distracted. It also helps to make your desk look neater.
Having a clean and clear desk has also been proven to boost productivity, though don’t be dismayed if you are a natural-born unicorn who can work in chaos; embrace that gift and leave me your tips in the comments, I would dearly love to join you!
We have already spoken about physical surroundings but what about mental clutter? That’s distracting too right? So, how do you clear out your brain? Well, it’s not as difficult as you might think and it actually helps to get you physically writing, so it’s a double win.
You write everything down!
Make lists. Brain dump. Put all the things on paper. It doesn’t have to be neat or pretty, just practical and the great thing is, once it’s done, you can pass it to your action file and worry about it later.
Now all those ‘things’ are out of your head there will be more room for thinking about what you need to write. You don’t need to put all of your metal energy into remembering all the things you need or want to get done, you know have a list for that. You’ll be surprised how much this can help clear a mental fog.
The concept of the scratch-pad is similar to a brain dump, but it serves you whilst you are doing something, such as writing.
There is nothing worse than when you’re finally in the zone, something crops up in your thoughts and you automatically think ‘I mustn’t forget that!’ or allowing it to pull your focus away from your current work in progress, to whatever the thing is.
By having a notepad or what I like to call a scratch-pad (it really isn’t a neat thing, it’s for your rough notes, lists, and rushed thoughts, which you then strike off when complete) you give yourself permission to have these ideas but create a catch-all net that allows you to think them and then dismiss them from your brain once they are written down.
By putting these thoughts in a forgiving scratch-pad, ready and waiting to be a distraction later rather than now, you elevate the pressure of remembering something you might otherwise forget or that will distract you from a train of thought that is relevant to what you are doing.
And because it is designed to be a messy thing, you don’t have to worry about adding it neatly or colour coded into a pretty planner or filing it away with another project.
Remember; for every interruption in our productivity, it takes about 15 minutes to regain focus. Even if a task is only a two minute interruption, it can actually hamper your mental productivity for a longer period. It might be uncomfortable at first, but try a scratch-pad the next time your writing (and make sure it is a separate pad, so your not worrying about neatness or filing) and make rough notes, including those loosely related to what your doing, such as your next story idea, or something you need to research.
Find your ritual
What makes you comfortable? What are the things you need in order to be able to write?
These are personal questions that all depend on you and will vary from writer to writer. If you like to write for longer periods of time, you might consider practical things such as having water or a cup of something within arm’s reach and even a snack of some kind. Not to mention an ergonomic and comfortable chair.
Some writers find that they cannot write in silence, so having a playlist of songs you like or distraction-free instrumental music (I personally love music but cannot write if I am listening to lyrics) might help to tune your mind into a more naturally focused state.
The same goes for ambiance as well. Things such as a particular comfy jumper or a lamp on, a preferred pen or even your favourite candle can all help to create a sensory focus zone, which, when repeated religiously, can help make you laser-focused when it comes to your writing.
This is something you will have to experiment with in order to discover what works best for you but have fun with the process. There are some quirky writers rituals out there, from handcuffing yourself to your desk to writing whilst lying down. Choose what works for you and run with it.
I hear you screaming at me, don’t think I don’t. And whilst I completely understand, just hear me out for a second…
Whilst I am always one of the first people to suggest pushing through when it comes to writer’s block, if only for five minutes, I am also the person that will tell you, if it’s not happening, just take a step back.
This is one of those things I had to learn the hard way, thanks to being a sufferer of chronic migraine syndrome, but it’s also true in times of none-all-consuming headaches.
By taking a step back when things aren’t working and allowing yourself a little bit of time to recharge, rest, and re-evaluate, you actually open yourself up to being more productive than if you were to simply soldier on.
If for instance, a scene just isn’t clicking and you are forcing yourself to write at the wonderful pace of five words a minute, then it might be time to go for a walk.
Getting away from a project is often the thing we need if we are feeling stifled, and by allowing ourselves a set, short amount of time to procrastinate, we just give ourselves that little bit of grace we need to push through. Go for a walk or read a book (don’t forget to set a timer or else you might commit to procrastinating properly) and just let your mind calm.
Have you ever noticed that most of your ‘best’ ideas come in times of relaxation or comfort, such as in the shower, when you go to bed at night or are eating dinner? (these are also highly inconvenient as I rarely have a notepad nearby!) That’s because you are allowing your mind to see things from another perspective rather than just hitting at the same point over and over. Remember what Einstein (allegedly) said;
This too will seem like an anti-productive suggestion, but it’s perhaps some of the best advice I can give anyone, writer or not.
All too often we as people strive to go above and beyond our limitations, and quite often that can infringe on our sleep, whether it be by cutting down on our time in bed or by having disturbed sleep that’s due to an overly full head (guilty of both).
By allowing yourself to admit you’re tired or worse, fatigued, you can address a more serious issue. Depending on your personal circumstances and what your deadlines pertain to, it might be worth asking for an extension (or giving yourself one) so that you aren’t panicked into thinking you have to pull an all-nighter or can only go to bed once this project is finished.
Whilst a little bit of labouring for love is a good thing, too much can have a negative effect on your health. It takes three good solid nights of sleep to help recant a sleep debt, and that’s in a row, so it’s no use thinking you can just sleep in on the weekends.
Be kind to yourself, and take a nap if you need it. The time won’t be wasted as you will no doubt come back to your writing more focused, recharged, and ready to go.
I hope you have enjoyed my seven tips on how to get into the writing zone and that some of them will be helpful to you. Now I would love to hear from you – please let me know about your writing habits and rituals in the comments below!