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Tips to Help You Write When You’d Rather Not

by | Feb 11, 2010 | Writing Matters Blog | 2 comments

Chances are, if you are facing a writing deadline, you’ve got a clean refrigerator. That’s because given the choice between writing and cleaning the refrigerator, or writing and root canal, or writing and most anything else, you’ll opt for the non-writing alternative. And there are dozens of ways to avoid writing that don’t even require leaving your desk.  Hmm. I wonder what’s in my spam folder?

That’s why, in the face of several writing project deadlines, I was surfing the web looking for advice on how to improve my writing productivity. Turns out,  writers have a lot of seat-of-the-pants productivity advice:

  •  Reward yourself.  Set word or time goals and reward yourself for meeting them. For example, set the alarm clock for an hour and do nothing but write. Matthew Stibbe, author of the Bad Language blog uses this ruse: “Write another 500 words [and] you can have a cup of tea and a biscuit.” Other rewards suggested by writers: Jaffa Cakes, cigarettes (creates other problems!), and my reward of choice—Trader Joe’s chocolate covered espresso beans.
  • Find the magical hour. Write first thing in the morning or late at night when there are few distractions. “The dark, the silence, no one to distract you, [are] all good arguments for working close to midnight,” says JCN (commenting on Stibbe’s post).
  • Use low-tech tools. A surprising number of writers said that using a basic text editor, instead of a full-featured word processor, forces them to focus on words and not be distracted by formatting or graphic enhancements.  Those recommended text editors include:

o     Notepad, the no-frills text editor that is bundled with Microsoft Windows.

o   WriteRoom (for Mac), a back-to-basics lightweight text editor recommended by productivity guru Merlin Mann as the right tool “if you need to get your head out of your butt and put some words on the page.”

o       Q10, a slimmed-down text editor that lets you set a timer to schedule writing and break time. Q10 consists of one small, portable file. Load it on your thumb drive and write anywhere:
Starbucks, the library the beach.

Note: I haven’t personally used WriteRoom or Q10. But I’ll take them out for a test drive (a great way to avoid writing!) and report on them in future posts.

  • Use no-tech tools. Freelance writer Dustin Wax offers a reminder of the merits of the tried-and-true pen and paper. “A lot of people find that the feel of pen and paper keeps their creative juices flowing and their mind focused.” While hand-written text needs to eventually be typed, “that’s a good time to do editing and revision.” 

And finally, if all else fails:

  • Punish Yourself. Write or Die lets you set a time and word limit. (For
    example, 200 words in 20 minutes). Don’t meet your goal? Choose your
    punishment—a mildly unpleasant sound or the kamikaze: your writing disappears! 

Add your productivity tip to this list. Post a comment or send me an e-mail.

— Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)


Tags: Writing, Writing resources


  1. Great tips here. Thank you. This was a great diversion from my writing. Doh!

  2. Thanks. And that reminds me to take WriteRoom and Q10 out for a spin!

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