As the great Dorothy Parker once said, “writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat”. If only it were so simple. Every writer knows the struggle of setting aside the time to write, sitting down at the computer, opening a new document in your word processor of choice… and then realising that four hours have gone by and you’ve done nothing but watch unboxing videos on YouTube and stalk your ex’s hot cousin on Instagram. Writing is hard. Getting into the right frame of mind for writing is hard. Staying on task and not being distracted by your own crippling fear of failure is hard. So, here are a few tips for getting into the writing zone, because you can’t just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike (trust me, I’ve tried).
Of course, the “writing zone” looks different for everyone. Some writers work best in the dead of night, churning out page after page in a writing frenzy as they chug energy drinks and cookie dough. Other writers like to wake up at the crack of dawn to take a contemplative walk, or write every afternoon come rain or shine, or spend hours mumbling to themselves in their characters’ voices. There’s no wrong way to write. But here are some tips for finding a way into your own, personal writing zone:
1. Create a ritual
You don’t have to sacrifice a lamb to the writing gods every time you sit down to write, but sometimes it helps to have a small ritual transition between normal-you and writer-you. Maybe you light a candle, or make yourself a cup of coffee. Maybe you start by writing out a description of your week so far, or you put on your favourite shade of lipstick, or you straighten up your desk. Try out a couple of different rituals if you need to, and find what gets you psyched up/chilled out enough to write.
2. Find your ideal time of day
Are you an early riser or a night owl? Try setting aside writing time first thing in the morning, in the mid-afternoon, and right before bed to see which works best for you. Then stick with that time as much as you can. Sometimes finding your writing zone is as simple as finding the right hour of the day to start writing.
3. Find your ideal writing environment
If you know that you write best in a coffee shop, find a local coffee shop and become a regular. If you write best at your own desk, make sure that it stays relatively neat. If you like to write from bed, then… just do that, I guess. And if you can’t force yourself to start writing alone, find a writer buddy so the two of you can sit there and suffer together.
4. Find your music
Some people can only write in dead silence, others like to write while blasting out Celtic rock. Whatever your musical tastes, find a reliable writing playlist for yourself. You could try listening to the radio, movie soundtracks, or even classical music if lyrics are going to be too much of a distraction. Even if you don’t like to write with music, having a pump up or chill out song to get you into the zone can help focus your energy on your manuscript instead of work/stress/the guy who’s currently ghosting you.
5. Go off the grid
Put your phone on airplane mode. Turn off your computer’s Wi-Fi. Tell your friends you’ll be out of reach for the afternoon. If you need to, download a self-control app that’ll shut you out of distracting websites. I promise that you’ll survive life off the grid, and you’ll find it much harder to procrastinate without the world wide web at your fingertips.
6. Get out of the house
Remember outside? The air moves out there. It’s pretty great. If you’ve been spending the whole day in bed, or staring at a screen, or lying motionless on the floor, you might want to try going for an old fashioned walk. Grab a notebook and walk to the park/beach, or even around the block. Go for a run if that’s your thing. Go buy yourself a new flavor of ice cream. If you’re really feeling ambitious, leave your phone at home. Just getting out of the house and moving your body might help you refocus and start thinking about how to start that next chapter.
7. Give yourself incentives
Unfortunately, we don’t always have unlimited time to stroll through the park or try out different writing spots. Many of us have to work at “jobs” to earn “money” for “rent.” So if you need a shortcut to get yourself writing, you can always bribe yourself with some kind of treat: if you write 500 words today, you get to take a bubble bath, or watch the next episode of your favourite show; 1,000 words, you treat yourself to lunch; 5,000 words, you buy that cute item of clothing/new bag/pair of shoes you saw. (Use this method sparingly, though, because it gets expensive fast!)
8. Get rid of excess energy
I am forever making other people nervous with my pacing, foot jiggling, and hand wringing. If you tend to have a lot of excess energy, try jumping jacks or yoga before you dive back into writing. Stretch. Breathe. Invest in a standing desk, or a fidget spinner, or silly putty, so that you’re not just sitting motionless as you try to come up with ideas. You’ll be surprised just how much easier it is to stay in that zone when you’re not bursting with restless energy.
If you just aren’t in the mood to write, try reading. Get another author’s voice inside your head, and you’ll find it a lot easier to start putting words on paper yourself. Every writer needs books to fuel their weird writer brains. And while it can be hard to go from watching TV or talking with friends to writing the next Great Novel, going from reading to writing is the most natural transition in the world.
10. Be consistent
Stick with it. If you train yourself to write at the same time every day, or every other day, or even every week, chances are it’s going to get easier and easier to get into the zone. Make your writing time sacred. It’s not just free time that you’re using to write, it’s your daily allotment of writing time, and it must be respected. Write something during every session, even if it’s just a list of ideas.
11. Write your way into the zone
Don’t underestimate the power of a good free-write. Not in the right creative mood to revise your poetry chapbook? Too bad. Just start writing whichever words come to your brain, until some of those words start to take shape as ideas. Free yourself from the need to write “well,” and just write. Write like nobody’s reading. Don’t beat yourself up if you write for a solid hour and none of it is usable. Count it as a success, because you were able to start writing and keep writing, and that’s no mean feat.