Nine ways to trick yourself into writing

After last week’s moan about writing anxiety, I spent the days since tricking myself back into writing. Has it worked?

Well, I’ve got myself 4,000 words for the trouble. Below, I’ve listed what I think I did better. It’s not a methodology. It’s not life-coaching for writers. But it’s something.

Use Microsoft Notepad, not Microsoft Word

Notepad looks like crap, which is the whole point. For one, you’re never distracted by fonts. You can just write. For two, you don’t care about formatting. You can just write. For three, you can get filthy. Disgust yourself with your writing — write as fast as you can, and spell everything wrong — because nobody’s ever going to see what you’re doing in that terrid little .txt file.

Copy and paste your notes in. Make a mess.

And can I promise something else? You’ll never find a better sentence by right-clicking for the thesaurus.

Write in a font you don’t normally write in

Another thing about fonts. Agents and publishers really like reading Times New Roman, but that doesn’t mean you should write in it. Balls to agents and publishers, actually – Times New Roman is a horrible font. It’s angular and pixel-y and dull. It makes you feel like you’re writing essays, which puts a subconscious pressure on you to use words like ‘whilst’ instead of ‘while’. ‘Amongst’ instead of ‘among’. ‘Utilise’ instead of ‘use’. And no, I can’t prove this. But association’s a strong thing.

Me, I used to write everything in Sylfaen. It’s curvy without being unprofessional. Now — mainly because I’ve only just got round to a pirated copy of Word 2007 — I’m writing in Calibri, 11 point, zoomed to 110%. It’s a hot font. If I spoke binary, I would ask to see its knickers.

Start writing when you really can’t (or shouldn’t)

Last week, while I was working, an idea struck me at about 4pm. So I wrote it out into a notepad document, and got paid for doing it. It was twenty minutes – enough to get something down, not enough to get noticed and sacked for the trouble – but it was down all the same. The crucial bit is that I left a sentence unfinished. I emailed it to myself. On the way home, I was properly eager, halfway to running. And when I got home, I picked it up again, and had a paragraph I not only liked, but had started writing on the snide. Have at that, capitalism!

Take walks

Walking is the most boring thing humans do. A genuinely awful habit we’re yet to get around. And sure, you’ve had this advice before. But you’re blocked, so you’ve got to try and confuse yourself into trying something. So how’s about it? Because the fact is, a half-hour walk really can inspire and baffle even the fattest of writers. Really. Get out and pootle. You’ll be busy trying not to get squashed by those tosser estate agents in their Audis, and the first line of your new story will appear in the road, in the shop window, in the tree. On the hills or in your shoelaces.

I won’t lie: walking into and home from work has really helped me clear my head before a big session. And it’s toned my arse besides.

Reward yourself

You know all about Pavlov and his daft bloody dogs. But basic conditioning works. So, if you write a chapter, have a cigarette or a chocolate or another glass of wine. Watch a bit of Eastenders or google your favourite celebrity’s boobs. If you write a smashing line, laugh at yourself — go on — because it’s all right to laugh at how brilliant that line is. And if your partner’s in the room, ignore them completely. It makes snogging better when you’re done.

Remember that it’s all right if you can’t be arsed

Sometimes, watching films and playing games and cooking food seem like the best things your grandparents won the second world war for. It feels good to mong about in your scruffs, shooting terrorists or losing your kecks over vampires. But more than that, more than anything, doing something else gives you a thread to pull. Pull harder, and you’ll find a paragraph.

Last night, I chopped a chilli and fried it off. The fumes caught in my throat. A simile fell from the cooker hood. I wrote it down.

Keep notes

I use my phone. It’s got Bluetooth so it can interface with my netbook. It’s full of sentences and one-liners and plot points. Now they’re down, they’re out. I can’t wait to get to the point where I use them all. They’re the checkpoints – where you can save your game, and know you’ve achieved everything before. Of course, those with pens will prosper. Luddites.

Read everything by the writer you want to be better than

Then learn to hate them. You won’t be. But that’s only because you’ll be different. You’ll be different because you’ll be too self-conscious about using their phrases, their style and their rhythm.

Read everything else in the world

Shampoo bottles are fascinating reads. Really. Look at that frothy copy, then find typos and feel smug. Tell your friends. Read the little labels you get with flowers – they teach you something. Read about the nutritional values of your chocolate bar. Read the paper. Read websites. Read the first sentences of every single book you own.

Then, go in the bathroom, put a mirror on the floor, take aim, and kick yourself up the backside.

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26 thoughts on “Nine ways to trick yourself into writing

  1. Another trick is to agree to write a lot of stuff for other people, preferably to a tight deadline. Within minutes you’ll have put it on the back burner and will spend hours writing for your own pleasure and entertainment.

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  3. Yes, yes, yes to all.

    I do carry a notepad and pen whenever I go out. It is interesting (ugh, what a boring word to use) to people watch and people hear when I’m in a coffee shop. If I don’t write down amusing bits, I’ll never remember later.

    Oh fonts! Comic Sans is NOT one to use, eh?

    Going for a walk right now. For inspiration. And for the arse.

  4. Pingback: If you can’t write something then write anything « Sofie Jenkinson's Blog

  5. –Ben
    Yep — and that’s after you’ve washed the entire house with a toothbrush, done all your neighbours’ shopping and picked all the bobbles off all your jumpers.

    –Sof
    Well, maybe it loves you a little bit too. Thanks lady.

    –Marisa
    Comic Sans is the font to end all life on the planet. It’s pointless and still ubiquitous. Not even handsome in any way. As for notepads, well, they don’t work in the rain. Plus I type about six times faster than I write longhand. Hope you had a smashing walk!

  6. Great article; full of good advice and made me laugh! Will definitely take away some tips for writing – thanks for the tips / reminders and will re-tweet

  7. Great points – I especially agree with the walking part.

    If I spoke binary I would ask to see its knickers?!?!?! I think I’ve found a new favourite blogger!!

    P.S. You are quite odd

  8. –DJ

    Thanks, lady! Shame I haven’t got round to writing anything on here since. Taking my own advice too far, or something.

    — akadoris
    Thanks for commenting! You’re very welcome.

    –Jane Alexander

    Don’t you think TNR is a bit sort of DEFAULT? Anyways, your paralysis is all made up in your head. Just get cracking, I reckon.

    –Jon M
    ‘And why were you speeding, sir?’
    ‘It was a terribly exciting scene.’

    –LJP

    Honour’s all mine. Thanks lots for popping by. Probably odd, yes. But writing at least.

  9. I laughed. I cried. I blew my top. Fantastic entry with lots of tips that work. Right now I am dealing with eye strain and I am trying to muddle through by writing as much as I can without looking at the screen. It’s tricky because i need to read the screen for research, quotes and other info. So I try to write what I know and remember and fill in the rest later.

  10. –Meryl

    How-do — thanks for the comment. I wasn’t really expecting folks to come from so far and wide.

    If I’m properly stuck I’ll sometimes just write ‘FILL THIS CRAP IN LATER’ and run the highlighter tool over it. Seems to help. I’ve a habit of only writing bits I want to write, and remembering that actually if there are bits you DON’T want to write, then no bugger’s going to want to read them. Godspeed! as nobody really says anymore.

  11. I like this, except I would suggest Open Office instead of MS Notepad. Google Notepad is cool too, but I don’t really use it.

    Another sneaky way to get some ideas down when inspiration strikes is to have a notepad AND voice recorder on your phone. When I have time, I can jot down on the notepad if its not convenient to talk, or I can speak my idea into my phone really quickly without becoming too distracted if I’m supposed to be doing something else. It’s quick and easy. Then later, I can gather all my different notes and put them all in my handy dandy moleskine.

  12. Never did like typewriters and I sure don’t like computers. My mind flows effortlessly through a ball poin pen and balks at a keyboard. Anybody else out there like that?

  13. You’re very funny. I love your advice though. My head is ready to explode with everything going on but I’ve been told to WRITE in my journal it’s been helping me for years. Where do I sign up to get more tips & advice from you. I sort of collect them & use what’s best for me.

  14. First time here and I love you! Your basic and humor-filled suggestions just may work for me. Oh, and I find it so gratifying to find typos in copy that’s been poured over and approved by numerous committees.

  15. Pingback: Tips for writing… « The Words of a Girl From California Who Goes to England To Write

  16. Pingback: Matt Hill’s thoughts on how to trick yourself | Wish I Could Speak Whale

  17. Pingback: Seven more ways to fool yourself into writing | Matt Hill, writer

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