Let’s face it, we all wish we were writing more.
More words, more posts, more books.
But far too often life gets in the way. There’s always housework that needs doing, the in-laws are dropping by unannounced or there’s a minor catastrophe at your day job. Writing takes a back-seat for a while.
Which is fine. Life happens and sometimes we have to let it take away our time in the writing chair.
But sometimes not writing becomes a problem in itself. It starts to become a stressor, and trying to make yourself actually write is a chore.
Or perhaps you’re writing plenty but you wish it was easier.
Whichever situation you find yourself in, here are some tips to help you write more with less stress.
Carve out time to write
This is probably the one tip that will get you writing more; spending more time with your butt in the writing chair. And yet, often it is the single most difficult thing to make yourself do.
But the truth of the matter is this; if you want to write more, you have to spend more time writing.
How you do this is up to you. You’ve got to find out what works best for you. Do you work best with a set daily word count to aim for or will it be better to set aside an hour a day as writing time?
Whichever route you take, you need to get your butt in the writing chair on the regular. Preferably every day.
Treat this time as sacred. Writing time is important time. Bite the heels of anyone who tries to disturb you during this time.
Don’t worry about creating capital-a Art in your writing time
The time you carve out for writing is important; what you write in your allotted time is not.
Sometimes the pressure of creating something perfect is what makes us not create at all. Blank pages are terrifying when you sit down to create art.
Work on changing your mindset; try to tell yourself you’re not here to create an award winning piece of writing, you’re here to have fun. Write what YOU want in your writing time.
Don’t worry about awards or sales or edits or any of that. Just focus on having fun when you write. If it’s not fun to sit down and write, then ask yourself why you are doing it.
If the first tip was the ultimate trick to writing more words, then this is the ultimate tip for doing that with less stress. Try to let go of your expectations for you work and just let yourself create. You might find you end up doing some of your best work anyway.
Distractions are the enemy, you must kill them with fire.
Life throws a million and one things at us that we need to worry about: mortgages, the pile of dishes in the sink, sorting out doctor’s appointments, feeding the cat and keeping track of who’s winning whichever reality TV show is on at the moment.
Worry about this outside your writing time. Writing time is for writing.
You want as much bang for your buck, which means that you want to get the most out of your writing time. Which means you need to be completely focused on your writing during your session. Anything that distracts from that has to go.
I find it easier to concentrate on writing as my sole task if I stick some headphones and listen to music. There’s a few things I listen to while writing but it is usually either really familiar so I don’t have to concentrate on it or instrumental. Sometimes both. isolating yourself with non-distracting music can really help and I do recommend headphones rather than speakers.
In addition, I tend to write in minimalistic writing programs that lack all the whistles and bells of Word or its alternatives. A perennial favourite is FocusWriter (which is free) and allows near complete customisation. I also use pyroom when on my Linux desktop and Writemonkey for Windows.
It doesn’t matter what program you use, as long as it helps minimise distractions for you. Pick something with as few bells and whistles as possible and the most barriers to checking Facebook. You might want to try not using a spellchecker too as fixing any typos adds another layer of distraction. Worry about that later.
Worry about everything else later.
Just stick your headphones on, turn off the internet, hit full screen and write.
Writing sprints are your friend
I have come to absolutely adore writing sprints. If I’m struggling to make myself sit down and write, a quick words sprint usually gets me going.
The basic principle is this: set yourself a timer for 10, 20 or 30 minutes and write as much as you can in that time. Do not stop. Do not pass go.
Do not go back to edit or spell check or any of that nonsense. Just keep putting one word after the other until the timer goes. THEN you can correct your horrible typos (which is sometimes hilarious) and inability to spell “field” despite having learned it age 6.
Only when the time runs out can you go back and put in all the words you forgot existed (I did a sprint recently where I forgot the word “interim” existed, so I typed in “interthingy”, kept going and checked afterwards).
Momentum is they key with this.
You might be surprised by how much you can get done during a sprint. I didn’t know until I tried sprinting that I can get down 1500-2000 words an hour when I get going. I try to stick to the lower end of that range for quality’s sake, but 1500 words an hour is not to be sniffed at.
That’s how you start a career.
Currently I like to use WriteOrDie for sprinting (which shouts at you if your keyboard is idle too long) but a kitchen timer and your writing program of choice work just as well.
Word sprints are literally the only kind of sprinting I’m good at.
Track what you write
I used to hate tracking how much I’d written on a particular day, but now I swear by it. Somewhere along the way I became the kind of person who loves spreadsheets for anything and everything, but especially for writing.
Setting yourself a goal of 500 words a day? Then you need to know how often you’re hitting that, how many days a week you’re missing, when you’re exceeding that and what days you work best on.
Plus I find it really useful to try to keep streaks going. A little bit of competition with yourself can be good, but don’t beat yourself up too much if you miss a target. If you miss a day the important thing is you pick yourself up and keep going.
Keeping track of monthly totals is also a great idea. Let me tell you that seeing you’ve written 15000 words in a month feels pretty good if you’ve been struggling.
Keeping monthly or yearly data is also a good way to see how the words are adding up. It might not feel like you’re doing much writing 500 words a day, but you keep that up for a year and you’ll have 182500 words!
And you might be surprised by how much you’re actually getting done. If you’ve a lot of small projects it might not feel like you’re writing much until you track what you’ve written in a spreadsheet. Having the evidence that you’ve written X number of words is a real motivator, I promise you.
Stop over editing
I wanted to call this step “stop fucking around with your stories” but I felt that swearing in a header might be bad.
I try to follow Heinlein’s advice on this one that says “only rewrite to editorial order”. I have a few people whose opinions I trust and I will make edits according to what they say but otherwise I try to leave my writing alone.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of editing something to death and never sending it out into the big wide world. It’s safer. Less chance of rejection.
But at some point (especially if you ever want to make money from writing) you’ve got to trust that you know how to tell good story; you’ve got to let a piece stand on its own two feet and let go.
It’s hard at first, but you’ve got stop sabotaging yourself in the edit. Minimise editing and rewriting (especially for shorter pieces) and get them out there.
Sometimes you’ll put out something that doesn’t resonate with people or just simply isn’t good. That’s OK. Every writer is going to release something shit at some point. It’s not important.
What is is important that whatever you put out into the world is the best piece of writing you can produce at this point in your life. And if the best you can do needs improvement? Write better for the next one.
No one ever got anywhere polishing the same story or post over and over again. Stop fucking around with it and get it out there.
Never stop learning
If you think you know everything there is to know about writing then you’re done. It’s over.
Even your very favourite authors don’t know everything there is to know about writing. Always try to be learning. Whether that’s getting better with grammar and punctuation (how the fuck do semi-colons work anyway?) or learning about the business side of things or working on better, more rounded characters, always strive for the next level.
Keep buying books on writing craft, take what works and discard the rest. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on; it doesn’t matter what it it, it will all help to make you a better writer. The more a writer reads, the better they will be.
Always be willing to try new things with your work. New styles, new formats, new characters. Take a screen-writing course, or a poetry class. Learn how stories work in different genre to your usual. Always be learning something.
I promise you, the more you keep learning, the better your writing will be.
Finish. Your. Shit.
OK, so I changed my mind about swearing in headings.
This one is important though. Having a hundred half finished drafts is no fucking good to anyone, least of all you. Especially if you ever want to make a living from your writing.
Even if you never intend to make a single penny from your words, it is still super important to practice finishing your work. You’re never going to get better if you never finish your pieces. Mostly because you’re not going to have any idea how endings work if you never get there.
Also, having a folder full of incomplete drafts feeds that part of your brain that insists you can’t do it. It’s this part of your brain that is responsible for a lot of the stress you might feel when trying to write. The part that is convinced you can’t do it and backs that up with every half-baked story you’ve ever written.
That part of your brain is wrong, and one of the best ways to shut it up is to have a bunch of finished stories. It’s a metaphorical nyeh-nyeh to the asshole that lives inside your skull.
This is the step I’m really working on myself, so I know how hard it can be sometimes. Soggy middles are soggy. New ideas are so shiny sometimes. It’s easy to get distracted, to be lured away from the grind of finishing your current piece.
Don’t give in to the temptation to stray from the path. The witch in the gingerbread house will eat you. Probably.
I find I work best with a couple of things on the go at once, but once I have more than four works-in-progress I know I have to sit down and finish shit up. A crappy but finished story is better than something half done with sparkling prose.
You can always improve for the next one.
FINISH. YOUR. STORIES.
Deadlines are not your enemy
This one helps with number 8.
Are you finding yourself bogged down with a particular story? Set yourself a deadline to finish it by.
Maybe you’ll be a few days late, but that doesn’t really matter. You sat your ass down and got shit done, and I’m willing to bet you finished it quicker than if you’d left the due date as something nebulous far in the future.
Telling yourself that you’re going to finish something by the end of the month instead of at some point whenever is super powerful. And when you hit that deadline that’s going to motivate you to keep going.
Try it. Set yourself deadlines; try to stick to them.
Self care is important
All the writing advice in the world is worth nothing if you don’t look after yourself. It’s important not to burn yourself out.
It’s not going to matter if you complete 50000 words in a month if you’ve stressed yourself out so much doing it you don’t write for a year.
Be gentle and don’t push yourself too much. Take care of your mental and physical health. Make them a priority.
If you can’t make yourself write today that’s okay. If you can get something out when you’re not at your best: GREAT! If you can’t: don’t worry, try again tomorrow.
And don’t expect too much when you’re getting back on the writing wagon after a while off. It’s not realistic to go from writing 0 words a day to 3000 words a day with no warm up. That’s a recipe for burnout. Always look after yourself first and the writing second.
hOW TO WRITE MORE WITH LESS STRESS
The tips I’ve outlined above are designed to make your writing easier and more productive. But working on all of them at once might be daunting, so maybe pick one at a time. And if you want to boil it down to fewer rules? Try this:
Write everyday. Finish your shit. Trust in your ability to tell a good story.
This is how you’ll finish your stories too.
Is there more writing advice out there in the world? Absolutely. In my quest to become a better writer I’ve come across no shortage of writing advice. These are the things I’ve been working on personally, and I’ve found really help.
Hopefully they’ll be useful for you too. If some don’t work for you, that’s fine. But if you find even one thing that helps you to write more and be less stressed doing it, then your writing is going to be so much better. And you just might be a happier person too.
Have you found any of these tips helpful? Do you have other tricks for getting more writing done without the stress? Let me know down in the comments. It might make a huge difference to someone.