Writers write. That’s what they do, but should it be all they do? If you’re a writer and you’re experiencing writer’s block, burnout, or just feeling like your writing is suffering of late, this list might be just what you need to get back in the groove and be a more productive writer.
“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You
- Get enough sleep. We hear this time and time again because—you guessed it—it’s one of the very most important things you can do for yourself. If you’ve been burning the candle at both ends, trying to juggle a 40-hour-per-week job, a family, a home, a social life and writing, chances are you’re not letting yourself get enough rest. Make sleep a priority, starting tonight, and see if you start feeling better, more energetic, and more able to live life.
- Get enough exercise. Our literary habits, both as writers and as readers, work against our health in many ways. Being sedentary cuts down on the amount of blood and oxygen that your brain receives, leading to sluggish thinking and lower creativity. Want to think clearly? Get up and move for at least 30 minutes every day and your writing will thank you for it.
- Give yourself permission to daydream. Seriously. Where else do those creative ideas come from? “Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You
- Socialize. Yes, I mean it. Get out in the Real World and interact with people. It’s amazing how much creativity good conversation and social interaction can spark.
- Eat properly. Yes, I’m pointing at that jumbo-sized bag of Skittles I see on your desk there. Unhealthy eating wreaks havoc on your blood sugar levels, causing irritability and an inability to concentrate. Not to mention all those food dyes in that pack of Skittles! Yuck! Did you know that yellow and red dyes have been linked to hyperactivity in children (http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/05/22/artificial-food-dyes.aspx), among a whole host of other things, including cancer? You’ll be far better off eating a healthy balanced diet with plenty of high-quality protein, fresh, organic vegetables and fruits, as well as healthy fats such as that found in coconut oil, nuts, and butter from pastured cows. A healthy diet will give you the ability to concentrate and sustain your energy for the long periods of time you need it while writing.
- Drink in moderation or not at all. But wait a minute! Hemingway was a lush and a prolific writer, wasn’t he? Actually…no. I can’t vouch for the lush part, but I can tell you that Hemingway’s average word count per day was about 650 words, according to this interview he gave in The Paris Review in 1954 (http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4825/the-art-of-fiction-no-21-ernest-hemingway). I don’t know about you, but on a good day I can type about 650 words in 30 minutes. I know this because I write in short bursts, called “sprints”, of 30-minute increments. So, modern technology and all arguments about typewriters versus computers aside, I think Hemingway’s daily word count was maybe a teeny bit on the low side. Nothing that I would call “prolific” at all. And, again, let’s talk about being able to concentrate and being able to think clearly, two of the most important abilities of a writer. Excessive alcohol consumption just plain gets in the way of that.
- Take a vacation from writing once in a while. Everyone can get burned out if they work too hard for too long. Most writers I know—yours truly included—occasionally hit a wall and just can’t write no matter what they do. Often that is because we’ve been pushing ourselves too hard and just plain need a break. I think of it as running a rechargeable battery all the way down. The device stops working so you take the battery out, put it in the charger, and leave it there until it’s fully charged again before you take it back out and put it in the device. What happens if you never fully let the battery charge? You will eventually ruin the battery and it won’t be able to hold a charge at all.
- Read. A lot. Whether it’s a book on craft or the latest New York Times fiction bestseller, reading a lot will help improve your writing and give you plenty of juice in your writing batteries.
- Bake a cake. Or do other things that also stimulate your creativity, such as listening to music, painting (whether it’s a room or a canvas), drawing, or gardening. Or whatever else it is that you do to be creative. It’s all coming from the same creative center within you. When you stimulate that well of creativity, lots of great things can happen.
- Make the time to write. Don’t let it be your last priority, that thing you squeeze in whenever everything else is done. If it’s important to you, you need to let everyone else in your life know it’s a priority.
- Take the time to write. Claim it. Take it. It’s yours. Don’t let others commitments steamroll over your writing time.
- Never stop learning. Whether it’s about craft or about the daily habits (pun intended) of nuns in 16th century France, knowledge is the bedrock and the fuel of writing.
- Pursue a non-writing-related passion. Whether it’s traveling or cooking, blacksmithing or dog shows, get into something. Get really into it. More fuel for writing, right?
- Give yourself permission to write badly. You heard me right. Just do it. Sometimes writers get so caught up in the idea that they have to write everything perfectly in the first draft that they become paralyzed by their internal editors.
- Make writing a ritual. Set up your writing space as your own little personal temple that nobody else is allowed to mess with or bother you in. When you go into your writing temple, make sure that all you do there is write. Make it like your bedtime ritual, you know, the little set of things you do that sends a signal to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep, like brushing your teeth, washing your face, etc. If you can’t write without a big glass of iced tea and a bag of peanuts at your elbow, make sure you have those things. Ritual is very important to our brains. It signals it to perform or behave in a certain way.
- Turn off the distractions. If you find yourself getting distracted by social media, turn off your wi-fi when you sit down to write. Make your research and writing time separate if you find that whenever you sit down at the computer you get sidetracked by news articles or shopping or social media. You set boundaries for your kids—no TV until their homework is done, right?—why not set boundaries for yourself during your writing time?
- Work at your own pace. Don’t try to measure up to others, or to what you think others are doing. Sure, there are writers out there who crank out books at mind-boggling rates, publishing four to six “novels” a year. Some of these writers are good writers, I admit. But most writers who churn out content at such speeds are either not good writers, and/or have a paid staff of editors who can polish and finish their work to make it publishable. You don’t need to be them. Be who you are because no one else can be, as Neil Gaiman said (or something to that effect). Write at your own pace. Rewrite your first draft. Polish your work the best you can. Send it to an editor who will help you polish it more. Then, and only then, when it’s the best work you can do, let it go out into the world. Let it go. And move on to the next thing.
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