Jump-start my writing process!
April 14, 2004 4:58 AM   Subscribe

OK, I'm trying to write my latest masterpiece, and I'm doing everything but... Any tips on writing routines? Not blocked, as such. Plain lazy is a definite possibility. But seriously, anybody have a fail-safe way to get up in the morning and get going?
posted by klaatu to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The knowledge that I will not have the same day again and that I am mortal works for me.

Also fine yourself a few quid for every half hour you go over your start time!
posted by kenaman at 5:05 AM on April 14, 2004

A hat. Choose a writing hat. Put on the hat. No surfing when you are wearing the hat, only writing.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:13 AM on April 14, 2004

Are you writing a novel, a play, a piece of music, or what?
posted by Orange Goblin at 5:18 AM on April 14, 2004

I'd take a week off, if I were you. Give yourself a little vacation, and do things, and hang out with people, and have fun. Then go back to it.
posted by amberglow at 5:59 AM on April 14, 2004

At dawn, have your SO lock you in a room from the outside with a bucket, paper and typewriter being the only contents in the room other than yourself. Said SO is under orders not to unlock the door until sunset.

Hey, it worked for Balzac pere.
posted by Dagobert at 6:07 AM on April 14, 2004

Response by poster: A play.
posted by klaatu at 6:12 AM on April 14, 2004

Deadlines work for me - whether imposed by classes, myself, or my writing peers. And even then it's tough. Also unplugging the internet cable or turning off the wireless card seems to be a slight enough barrier to keep me from surfing.
posted by drobot at 6:21 AM on April 14, 2004


If you can't come up with something, get out of your house and go for a walk. take photograps. go people-watching. do some exercise, go for a swim. muck around on a musical instrument, throw some paint at a canvas, play a game of boules/boccee with your friends. go dancing. do whatever floats your boat.

just do something active, not passive. don't sit and read, or watch tv, or surf the net. rather than inspiring you, it'll just dull your mind a bit more.

also, try moving your writing area. if it's in your loungeroom, move it somewhere else. if you have an office, re-shuffle the furniture, put up some art. try and break the routine, or any negative vibe your mind associates with the place.

incorporate your writing into your life, not the other way around.
posted by cheaily at 6:25 AM on April 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

I'd take a week off, if I were you. Give yourself a little vacation, and do things, and hang out with people, and have fun. Then go back to it.


also, there's brian eno's "OBLIQUE STRATEGIES"

i remember, as well, a fantastic directive for living artistically by John Cage that was handed out to us when I was in art school, but i can't find it online at all. (most of what I got from it was "WATCH AS MANY FILMS AS POSSIBLE").
posted by fishfucker at 6:33 AM on April 14, 2004

But seriously, anybody have a fail-safe way to get up in the morning and get going?

Maybe you're a night person? ;-)

I don't know what to tell you, klaatu. I'm envious that you can get up and write in the morning, without first having to put in a few hours at a lousy job. There you have it: think of Shane and be glad you're writing!

I'm also envious of On Blindness, now that I've Googled you. It sounds brilliant.

Good luck!
posted by Shane at 6:46 AM on April 14, 2004

Drugs work for me. Legal ones only, these days. Pity, that [/tea commercial].

But at the end of the day, even if I'm hopped up on caffeine or something, I'm a lazy motherfucker, and I can't write a word that is "WRITING : golly swell" unless the muse descends and pinches my dink.

So, you know, there ain't no shortcuts. Wait until the thing happens, then mine the fuckin' vein like a maniac, and pray that it'll happen again soon.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:21 AM on April 14, 2004

Ass in chair. You're going to sit in that chair for four/eight hours regardless of whether you are writing. And you aren't allowed to do anything in that chair except write.
posted by callmejay at 7:56 AM on April 14, 2004

That muse-visitation stuff is fecally-derived and will only hurt you in the long run if you buy into it.

The Muse is Dead. Long live the muse.
posted by mecran01 at 8:17 AM on April 14, 2004

I am soooo in your exact situation. It sucks. If I hear you correctly, you're not creatively blocked, you're just having trouble getting disciplined about working. In this light, it seems to me that taking a break to go out and smell the roses is the last thing you need to do.

The one thing that really makes me work steady is taking my laptop and headphones out to a cafe somewhere. Of course, this has its issues. Eventually, you have to go to the bathroom, and unless you're comfortable leaving your laptop out in the open while you pinch one, you have to pack it all up and take it in there with you. Getting a table can be hard enough, especially one with power, and this is a great way to lose it. If you're really going to put in more than 3 hours, you'll probably buy something to eat, too, which can get expensive if you do this every day. I've been thinking recently that packing a lunch and coffee thermos, and going down to the public library might be more economical than the cafe thing.

I'm considering forming a writing group in my area, something that will meet on a regular schedule to exchange and critique work. Obviously, critique can be helpful, but I've been in enough workshops to know that good readers/editors are hard to find. The real purpose would be to create deadlines for myself. They tend to motivate like nothing else. And I guess I find both the comradeship and/or competitiveness of a writing group stimulating as well.

You should ask yourself what your distractions are, and try to remove yourself from those. Mine are computer games, my weblog, MeFi, general surfing, and P2P mining. I can bury no end of time doing that crap. So the only thing I can really do is unplug and go work somewhere else.

So what are your distractions?

I'd also suggest thinking of writing as hard work, as much so as digging a ditch, because it is. You need to have eaten, you need to have slept, you need to not be hung over or preoccupied with something else.

I've also been the type of person, up until now, who goes around telling everyone "I quit my job to write a novel, wheee!" because I imagined that would help motivate me. After all, I'd have to have something to show for myself with that kind of hype-up, right? Well, I'm not really certain that this is helpful. Ubiquitous pressure from family and friends, even if you generate it yourself, isn't always a force that works in your favor. It can manifest as an internal editorial voice, a moral censor, and the practice itself can turn your creative endeavor into a struggle to prove yourself to the world, which will detract from real creativity. Suffice to say I consider that to have been a mistake, for myself.

Another jump-start idea you might try is warm-ups. If you find it difficult to sit right down and dive into your play, try jotting off a letter to your Mum real quick, just to get the juices flowing. Write a shitty poem just to shake out the cobwebs. Cold starts can leave me staring at the page for minutes on end, and ultimately deciding that I'm just not in the mood today.

Reading something that inspires you is another good battery-charger. Keep a favorite nearby, a writer you look up to, and read a passage or two before you begin working. Or alternatively, keep someone you hate near at hand, and read a few pages before you begin. Then you can drive yourself to write better, as you know damn well you can.

Obviously, not all these tricks have comprised a magic bullet for me, but I hope they might be of service to you in some capacity. Good luck to us both!
posted by scarabic at 11:57 AM on April 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

When I write I keep a separate Word document open called "notesonanovel". This is a free-form area where I think on paper. As in, "What should character A do here, maybe shoot someone, no that's too much like the A-team, etc." It's a way to get started and I find having the space to free associate often produces things I would never have thought of had I written in a linear manner.
posted by haqspan at 1:03 PM on April 14, 2004

Realizing that every writer is idiosyncratic, I'll tell you what I do while acknowledging that it may, in no way, offer assistance to you.

Like a shark, I keep moving. Two hours at the library. An hour at a coffee shop. An hour in my apartment. Two hours at night, sitting in a cushy chair at Barnes & Noble. And so on and so forth. It's rare that I work six hours straight, or in one single location all day. But at the end of the day, I'll have put 4 to 6 hours into my work. I try not to pressure myself into writing more than a page or two at any of my "locations". Stil, 3 to 4 daily pages add up. I find that, by constantly repositioning myself, I'm never anywhere long enough to get bored, distracted, or tempted to reward myself with a "15-minute break" that stretches on and on. Granted, I'm a sitcom writer, so I suppose it helps to approach any project with a bit of ADD, as the perpetuation of ADD is sort of the unintended result of the work upon the viewer, anyway.

Finally, remember to never beat yourself up. There's nothing you write that can't be rewritten tomorrow, so quit agonizing over the perfect phrase or finding just the right sentence. I fall into the camp that a first draft of anything is like a wrinkled shirt, nothing that can't be fixed (and ready to be shown) so long as you're willing to do enough ironing.
posted by herc at 1:08 PM on April 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

Herc: That is most excellent advice. Have you written for any sitcoms we might have seen?
posted by mecran01 at 1:13 PM on April 14, 2004

I'm in the same boat, and scarabic's advice is spot on. Unplug the network card. Turn off the cell phone. Give yourself x amount of time - and perhaps that's only half an hour, to start - to achieve a small goal. Work up from there.

Self-bribes work, too: "After I write 3 pages, I can have a frappuccino/call my SO/take a nap/&c..."

Most effective for me is working in a library - especially the reading room at the New York Public Library. In a sort of anonymous peer pressure, the 250 people working diligently around me inspire me to accomplish quite a bit.
...as long as I leave the wireless card at home.
posted by hsoltz at 2:04 PM on April 14, 2004

Me, I find that I work better at night than in the morning. It is quiet, and I am under the pressure of getting as much out as I can before I start feeling sleepy. I make the rule that I HAVE to go to bed at 3 AM at the latest, and this 'deadline' helps me stay focused (most of the time).
posted by Quartermass at 4:42 PM on April 14, 2004


For the most part, I've been staffed on bad WB sitcoms that go away after a year or so...

Most recently, I wrote an episode of the CBS series "Still Standing." It airs Monday night, before Raymond. (my episode aired two weeks or so ago). I'm currently looking for a new assignment (should any producers be lurking...)
posted by herc at 7:55 PM on April 14, 2004

That muse-visitation stuff is fecally-derived and will only hurt you in the long run if you buy into it.

Whatever. You do it your way, I'll do it mine, amigo.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:25 PM on April 14, 2004

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