Writer’s block. The bane of every professional scribe’s existence.
At least in the past, if you sat around long enough doing nothing, you’d eventually get bored enough to do your actual work. But these days, we have the internet… Lose yourself down an online wormhole and 8 hours later you’ve become an expert on knitting with cat hair – but that report is nowhere closer to getting done.
Sometimes simply taking a walk can unlock your productive juices, but in this article we’re turning to tried-and-tested productivity hacks from a number of well-known writers to teach you how to write faster. Behold Wordsmith’s 7 top favourite tricks to get your cursor moving and regain your writing flair.
1. Use the Pomodoro technique
If time management is your worst enemy when it comes to writing and meeting creative deadlines, you should consider using the pomodoro technique. Developed by innovator and author Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, this time management tool has since been implemented in software teams and used by millions of developers and writers around the world—and for good reason. Practitioners immerse themselves in writing for 20 minutes, then allow themselves a 5-minute break before starting the next cycle. Proponents say this short break allows the brain time to assimilate new information and refocus to the task at hand.
Studies from Tony Schwartz, founder of the Energy Project, show that humans move from full focus and energy to physiological fatigue every hour and a half. Some of the most productive people don’t actually clock more hours, but in fact take more breaks. You’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve when you drop everything and write solidly for 20 minutes —believe us we’ve tried!
2. Write at your groggiest
According to cognitive research, we may reach our most creative peaks during our least optimal times of brain function. This is because insight-based problem solving requires an unfocused approach that might actually be heightened when we are feeling sleepy. Therefore, studies have suggested that to achieve your eureka moments and to stimulate your creative juices, you should write when your inhibitory brain processes are at their weakest, when you’re most likely in a state of woolgathering.
So next time you find yourself in a creative writing block, we’d suggest night owls write for a couple of hours earlier in the morning, and early morning risers burn the midnight oil to see how this seemingly non-optimal time trick could work for you.
3. Find your “Golden Hours”
Your golden hours for writing productivity may not be when you’re most alert, refreshed and awake. It may take a lot of experimenting in terms of location, posture and timing, but once you find your writing groove, you should stick to it and write while the iron’s hot.
To find the ultimate writing environment you should try out different stimuli and see what works best for you. If you work on the move, a time tracking app like Toggl can be a great tool, giving you a better picture of where your hours are going, and which hours are your most productive, so you can schedule your deadlines around these prime writing times.
4. Turn off your inner editor
This is probably one of the hardest lessons a writer needs to master in order to turn around work productively.
We all have that nagging sense of obligation to go and edit then re-edit every sentence, until it flourishes and shines to the high writing standards we set for ourselves. However, you may in fact be saving a huge amount of time if you ignore those startling typos, grammatical errors and conjunctive faux pas until your first draft is complete.
American blogger and multiple bestselling author, Jeff Goins advocates what he likes to call, the “three bucket” method: “I don’t think it’s that hard to write, we get in our own way when we wear more than one hat. I don’t edit while I write … I have times for writing, editing, and publishing. All different blocks of time.” A study from Stanford University showed that those who focus on one task at a time finished faster than high multitaskers, who were more easily distracted because of impaired cognitive control. So, next time you have a creative deadline why not enjoy free-flow writing in your first draft, then put on the editing hat later.
5. Chop up the writing process
If writing a blog or book review seems like an insurmountable task, break it up into manageable chunks. Checking one task off your list at a time will ultimately speed up your writing.
Those chunks may change depending on what type of work you’re completing. For example, a blog needs a catchy headline, subheadings, an intriguing opening, a main body and a closing paragraph that conveys the takeaway messages for the blogpost. Sales copy on the other hand, may contain testimonials, calls to action, Q+A and a value proposition within the text – but most follow the same ultimate writing process: idea generation, research, outlining, completing the first draft, editing, re-editing your edits, then formatting and getting the copy ready for publishing.
However, it’s not always about rushing to reach a certain wordcount every day, as that can deplete your creative energy, claims Ernst Hemingway. In fact, he says, “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing… you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you.” Effectively bridging a creative gap between one day and the next will cut down your thinking time the next day, allowing you to write faster and with more fluidity than ever before.
6. Master the art of productive procrastination
Many of us grow up believing that procrastination drastically hinders the writing process – or any process for that matter – but that may not be entirely true. John Perry, a philosopher at Stanford University, believes that when our attention levels start to meander, we should instead adopt “structured procrastination”. He claims that procrastinators rarely do nothing, but if they made commitments during these moments of procrastination they can still achieve their daily work goals.
“The secret of incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one,” he wrote. “The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” When procrastination strikes, instead of kicking yourself and watching TV or scrolling through your iPhone, play projects off against each other by procrastinating on one and working on another!
7. Unplug to switch on
In this day and age, we have more newfangled gadgets than ever, tempting us into unwanted procrastination. With studies showing we now spend almost 8 hours each day consuming media online, its not a shock that the internet is one of the main time-wasters writers encounter when they should be working.
New York Times bestselling author and New Yorker columnist Maria Konnikova claims that when “there’s so much distraction waiting to happen”, she uses an internet blocker to get her work done, which forces her to reboot her computer to start using the internet again.
However there’s an easier way to get things done without cutting yourself off from the world completely. StayFocusd is an extension for Google Chrome that boosts your productivity by allowing you to select the sites you want to avoid – for example, twitter, Facebook, Amazon, you name it. It can even block specific subdomains and in-page content for allotted times, allowing you to focus on getting work done. It can even take note of the times you tried to access a certain blocked site, enabling you to track which points of the day you felt most distracted – which could also help you find your “golden hours” for writing.
Even for the world’s most prolific authors sometimes have a hard time sitting down and writing. The end game is not to write as fast as you can every day, but to tailor your ultimate writing environment and continue to write when you’re at your peak level of creativity. As always, the slow and steady tortoise wins the race. It’s all about finding that perfect balance between writing and taking breaks, while learning to embrace the benefits of productive procrastination.