Four Tricks That Help Me Sit Down and Write

The hardest part about writing is sitting down to do so. I’ve found that once I start, it’s easy to keep going because I pick up momentum very quickly, but actually starting… how can we overcome that hurdle? Here are some habits I’ve picked up to trick myself into getting started so that the words can flow.

1. Copy my outline into a notebook

I’m a big fan of to-do lists, because there’s the satisfaction of crossing things off the list that often motivates me to get the task done. So when I want to write, I’ll copy the next few points of my outline, just the next few scenes, and then once I write the scene I get to cross off the point in my notebook. It’s one of the reasons why I always create itemized outlines, each point is a single scene or event that needs to happen to further the narrative, and so once it’s written then I can cross it off my list. Then I turn to the next point and figure out how to get there (the transition) and I use that momentum to write the next scene so that I can cross it off too!

Having my outline, even if it’s just the next few points, written down into a physical notebook means that I don’t have to switch focus to the whole outline. It takes precious time and attention to find where you are in the full outline, and in my experience it’s enough to derail any momentum you’ve built up to that point. So to get around this, I’ll write out the next three or four points so that I can go down the much smaller list and not lose my place. The goal is to remove as many obstacles between you and writing as possible, before you even begin to commit words to the page.

2. Light a candle or start a short playlist

I do this at work as well, because having a candle burning is like having a tether to my desk. At first I’ll be antsy and distracted, but having the tether and setting a goal for myself (e.g. the top layer of wax needs to be fully melted before I blow out the candle) helps me remove any excuses that may come up. Same goes for a playlist, I usually pick something I’m already familiar with, and wanting to listen through full songs serves as a more short-term tether. I’ve found it also works with full albums, because then I can set the goal of listening all of the way through before I can transition to a new task.

The reason this works is because it gives us a finite end point. It’s much harder to say “I’m going to write until this chapter is done” than saying “I’m going to write until the music stops playing.” It establishes that you get a break soon, which makes it easier to devote your attention to work. It’s a similar feeling to looking forward to a three day weekend. In my experience, it’s much easier to focus on a slow Friday afternoon knowing that in a few hours I’ll begin a long weekend (I work five days a week at my full-time job). Having something to look forward to, a finite end of your writing session, breaks the task into a bite-sized piece that your mind can more easily rationalize.

3. Read what I’ve written so far

Usually, when I sit down to write, the first thing I do after the first two tricks is to read the previous thousand words or so. It helps me to sink into the story and has the added benefit of reminding me of the pace I should be resuming. I tend to write entire scenes in one go so that they flow better, but whether you’re picking up in the middle of a scene or transitioning into a new one, knowing what just happened will give you a natural momentum that will ease the transition into your new writing session.

If you have writer’s block at the very beginning of your story, and don’t have anything to read over, then do a quick skim of your outline. I’ve found that knowing where a story goes helps me unstick my current scenes. It also helps you write with more conviction, which readers can and will pick up on. They don’t need to know that you improvised the entire conversation scene you just threw into your outline, as long as you write as if you planned it that way all along then your readers will believe you.

4. Skip the section I’m stuck on

This was the hardest piece of advice I was given because I was convinced that everything needed to be chronological, but it’s saved me from writer’s block countless times. My trick is to write the scene in brackets for reference, and then pick up wherever you feel like you can. For example, if there’s an argument that your main character needs to have with their love interest, but you know that your heart wouldn’t be in it if you wrote it right now, then add brackets and write [huge argument between A and B, A says something especially hurtful, B is shocked and leaves]. You don’t need to know what that hurtful thing is yet, but as long as you know that it was hurtful, or even unforgiveable, means that you can begin to write the aftermath with the appropriate emotion.

Always remember that there is an editing stage! You don’t have to crank out a perfectly formed and chronological book on the first try (no one can, I promise) so let yourself write around the stuck scenes. Progress is progress, and I’ve found that very often I find the key to unlocking that stuck scene a few scenes later. Then, once you have the mental bandwidth to return to that scene, you’ll have the comfort and conviction in knowing the fallout which will help you write stronger scenes. It’s also a great opportunity for foreshadowing, since you’ve already written what happens later. No matter what order you write your book, take heart that there will be multiple stages of revisiting whatever block of text you’re currently agonizing over. You get more than one chance!

In Conclusion

All of these tricks are things that work for me, after trying just about everything I could think of, and sometimes I still can’t sit down to write. And that’s okay! In those cases, I usually just let myself change tasks and settle in until I feel like trying to write again. Maybe I’ll scroll through Pinterest for an hour (with a timer so that I don’t endlessly doom scroll!), or watch an episode of a TV show, and I’ll just give myself the time to take a purposeful break.

The final trick I’ll leave you with: give your breaks a finite ending, at which point you’ll try writing again. This is especially important if you’re working within deadlines, so that you can get the writing done that day instead of putting it off until a different day entirely. This is one of the most crushing mistakes I made when I was writing my first book for a ghostwriting contract (more about those mistakes here), and it caused me unnecessary stress when I ended up having to write thousands of words in a single afternoon in order to meet a hard deadline. By giving your breaks a finite ending, it lets you really commit to the break and enjoy it guilt-free, knowing that you’ll try transitioning into a writing session once it’s over.

What about you? What kinds of tricks do you use to sit down and write? Any suggestions I can try out when these ones don’t work? What do you like to do on breaks when you’re faced with particularly stubborn writer’s block? Let me know in the comments! And if you don’t want to miss out on any Author Rescue updates, join the monthly newsletter!


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