This Popular Writing Hack is Wasting Your Time

What you should be doing instead

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Whether you are a freelancer who has to have a strict self-discipline to make a living, or a writer with a day-job who wants to produce as much as possible during the little time they have, chances are, productivity is a major concern. To create more, you have to focus on what is making you produce less at the moment: those time-wasting behaviours that end up swallowing your hours.

But one widely-spread writing rule is actually undermining your productivity: the idea that you have to just show up.

The idea that, however you feel, you should force yourself to sit down and write. Stephen King in On Writing says that you have to force yourself into position every day at the same time so that the muse knows how to find you. For me, this is not the answer.

As a writer, there are few better feelings than words flowing freely off your fingers. They line up on the page, turning in sentences and paragraphs and pages, stumbling almost fully formed from your mind. When you reread them, they hold up, you barely need to edit. That is the perfect flow. Unfortunately, it is a rare occurrence. Some days I’m just not feeling it. Which is something frustrating and hard to deal with, it makes me angry at myself, it makes me feel like I lack discipline and that I should force myself to work.

But in the long term, forcing yourself to show up regardless of your state of mind is not productive. When I force myself to write when I’m not in the right headspace, I don’t create very much, and I endanger the moments of pure, beautiful writing flow. I work for longer, but not for more results.

Your brain needs breaks that actually feel like breaks. Sometimes writing doesn’t look like writing at all, it looks like going on a hike or going out with friends or spending a few hours reading in a hammock next to the ocean.

Some people write consistently. Some people write in bursts of inspiration. There is no right way, but if you are part of the latter group, you have to accept that and treat yourself kindly. Listening to your needs is what will make those free-flow writing bursts happen more and more often. In terms of writing time, quality is definitely better than quantity. Plus, if you force yourself to sit in front of your desk when all you will end up doing is scrolling on social media, you are making procrastinating part of your working space, and that can slowly corrupt even your inspired days.

Listen to your moods. Develop alternative activities to get the juices flowing when you don’t feel like writing. Put a notebook in your bag and go for a hike, or to a museum, or out for drinks with friends.

On the other hand, if you feel the flow but have something else planned, put writing first and follow the inspiration. Those moments should be cherished. Time your breaks and your working time to your inspiration, because inspiration cannot be trained to obey your working times.

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

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