What Gets You Through a Long Day of Writing?

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on June 12, 2013 in Productivity & Organization
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There are some days when I really don't feel like writing. But the work has to be finished anyway. Sometimes I plug away and get through the day on sheer will. Sometimes it's more of a struggle and all I can think about is making it to quitting time.

Fortunately these long, exhausting days aren't the norm. Maybe I committed to too much because a project ran longer than expected. Or perhaps a project is simply boring me to tears and the thought of writing another word seems unbearable. Rare. But it happens. And I know I'm not the only writer who has to push themselves to write when they don't feel like it from time to time. So I thought we could exchange tips and tools that help us get through these long days of writing. Here are mine:

  • Coffee -- I know not everyone is a fan of coffee, or caffeinated drinks in general. But being someone who has absolutely no ill effects from it (or withdrawal) and someone who loves the taste, it's a must for me most mornings. Sure, it helps to perk me up a little bit. But that's not even the real reason I drink it. Something about the smell and warmth actually calms me down at the same time. And it's that mellow start to the day that lets my mind focus squarely on writing and not the million other worries vying for my attention.
  • Lists -- I praise to-do lists a lot here. And it's for good reason. I couldn't get through a day without them. White boards, index cards of all sizes, computer files, my phone -- they're all filled with a variety of to-do lists, from long-term projects to daily tasks. On days when I don't feel like writing, these lists are particularly motivational. It's much easier to think in terms of small tasks than large projects. I can usually convince myself to do one or two quick things for the gratification of being able to cross them off my list. And in many cases that's enough to force my head back into the game and I make more progress than planned.
  • Timers -- Even if I don't feel like writing an entire article or Web copy for the bulk of a new site, I can surely handle 25 minutes of writing, right? So I visit my favorite online timer (e.ggtimer.com) or I set up my Pomodoro app and I push myself hard for those 25 minutes. "Now that wasn't so hard, was it?" I almost always end up asking myself. "I bet I can squeeze in one more." And I do. That cycle doesn't always get me through an entire day. But by forcing me to focus and making work feel more like a personal challenge, I usually get done more than I would have by simply sitting in front of the computer hoping the urge to write would strike.

In a worst-case scenario, I have a fail-safe. I just find something to do that would bore me even more than the project I'm trying to avoid. As my hubby would happily attest, I don't handle boredom very well. If working on a somewhat dreaded project alleviates the boredom associated with an even more dreaded task (like cleaning the bathrooms), it's amazing how appealing it can suddenly become.

What about you? How do you get through a long day of writing when you'd rather be doing just about anything else? If you have any tricks or tips to share, leave a comment and tell us about it.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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21 Comments

  1. Prudence June 12, 2013 Reply

    I’ve gotten into the timer thing, too.

    I set mine for 50 minutes and shut down my browser, chats, and put the phone on silent. Within two minutes, I’m totally focused and the time flies by. When the alarm dings, I stop. I get up and do something totally unrelated to work for 15 or 20 minutes. Usually, I find myself itching to get back at it, even if I initially thought I’d rather pull out my toenails that begin the project.

    But even if I’m not ready to dive right back in (which is rare), I got 50 minutes of work done that would have otherwise gone untouched.

    • Jennifer Mattern June 12, 2013 Reply

      Exactly! And every little bit helps. Like you, I find myself often wanting to get back to work. The breaks feel like an intrusion, as crazy as that might sound. This morning I kept trying to work past the buzzer and had to drag myself away from things. I get into that “just one more…” mode.

  2. Cathy Miller June 12, 2013 Reply

    I’m a coffee fan, too, but not beyond the morning. I also use lists; however, probably not to the extent you do, Jenn. ;-)

    When I am really not feeling it for writing, I try a few things. If it’s a specific project, I put it aside and work on another. Most of the projects I do are of the long-range variety so I typically have a few going at the same time, mixed in with regular ghostblogging. I also have some that mean working with PowerPoint, which I always love.

    Another thing I do is take that time to take my daily walk. I always find calm & inspiration from my walks that help me get back on track.

    • Jennifer Mattern June 12, 2013 Reply

      Mornings and all-nighters for me. I try to switch to something else in the afternoons (lately tea).

      I like the idea of shuffling projects a bit. It all has to get finished anyway, right? :)

  3. John Soares June 12, 2013 Reply

    Jenn, I’m also an avid coffee drinker, though I do it in moderation.

    I find that taking movement breaks (yoga, tai chi, walk around the block) really helps, as does rewarding myself for getting through the long day (like dinner out).

  4. Connor Harley June 13, 2013 Reply

    I always treat myself a good bar of chocolate after a long day of exhausting writing, especially during those times when I am struggling to finish a long project.

  5. Amandah June 13, 2013 Reply

    I take breaks to stay fresh. I’ve found that I can’t go without eating all day long so I’ll stop and have lunch, maybe even a snack. However, dinner is usually light.

    I’ll close my office door to block out distractions such as noise from the TV. But this doesn’t work all of the time because Benny, one of my cats, is attached to me, and he’ll cry outside my office door. ;) So… I end up opening the office door. Luckily, I have a cat condo in my office, and Benny can sit on it and watch me write. :)

    • Jennifer Mattern June 13, 2013 Reply

      Awww. That’s sweet. :) Maybe that’s what I need to do for mine. I have three cats in here with me right now. One is curled up on the big chair. One somehow squeezed himself into a very small Amazon box and is attempting to sleep there. And the other is just lying on the floor staring at me. The fourth was in here last night with a bit of a cold, so I put a soft blanket on a bookshelf as a little bed for her (she likes to be up high and away from the other cats most of the time). And I’m sure if I open the windows to listen to the rain later they’ll all try to squeeze on the windowsills. I thought with the room to run around in the house they’d separate a bit more because they don’t all get along. But instead they tend to congregate around whomever is home. :)

  6. Paula H June 13, 2013 Reply

    I usually try to tackle the worst or dullest assignment first. Looking forward to getting to the fun work is a great motivator.

    I’ll have to try the timer. Right now I only use a timer if I need to remember I have to call someone at an appointed time. I’m also a big list maker – I love crossing things off lists so much that I’ve been known to do something not on the list and add it to the list just so I can cross it off. Silly, I know, but the sense of accomplishment is great.

    For me, green tea with fresh ginger is a morning motivator (about to make a cup now), and any type of chocolately snack works later in the day. Which reminds me, I’m nearly out of chocolate. Around here that’s pretty much an emergency situation.

    • Jennifer Mattern June 13, 2013 Reply

      Getting the boring stuff out of the way sounds like a great strategy. I do something similar if I have client projects and one of my own to work on during the day. I’m usually more excited about my own projects — they’re my “babies” after all — so I work on client things early so I can relax and really get into my own later.

      LOL Not silly at all. I add plenty of things to my lists that weren’t there originally, just because it’s something I know I can tackle and I want that proof that I actually did something with my time. :)

  7. Randy June 13, 2013 Reply

    80′s rock on Pandora…if I start singing along too much so that I am not writing enough I will switch to my classical channel.
    But I would love to have a full day to devote to writing…

  8. Lori June 14, 2013 Reply

    LOL! I like that you find something more boring. In the case of my workers compensation articles, I may be at a loss for anything worse. Oh wait — there’s always that job proofing credit card terms and conditions. That was mind-numbing boredom!

    • Jennifer Mattern June 16, 2013 Reply

      lol I can’t even imagine how dull that gig would be. But hey, if the threat of something more boring gets you going on something else, that’s just as good! :)

  9. Sharon Hurley Hall June 17, 2013 Reply

    Sometimes just toughing it out; sometimes cookies. :) Rewarding myself for getting something done can help me motivate myself.

  10. I’m a big fan of to-do lists too! They motivate me to complete tasks and crossing off items from the list gives me even more motivation to keep going.

    • Jennifer Mattern June 18, 2013 Reply

      That’s what I’m working on right now before bed actually — marking off items in my accountability to-do list for the week over at the About Writing Squared forum. The more I see marked off in the morning, the more energized I’ll feel. And unfortunately today was not my most productive day (spent too much time trying to do something on the tech end and didn’t make it happen anyway). So tomorrow has to rock — lots of list items to knock out! :)

  11. Marie Puddu July 19, 2013 Reply

    Self-motivation is a huge factor in getting your writing done. I write mostly because I try to fulfill the goals that I set for myself. The more I finish, the better the results I see, the better I feel. So when I get lazy, I browse around the stuff that made me proud: achievements, pictures, etc. and I get motivated again. And uh, yeah coffee helps a lot too :-)

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