Five Strategies to Keep Writing, Even When You Don’t Want To
Ashly Bender, Assistant Director
At the University of Louisville, Spring Break is next week and the Derby festivities are not far behind. The end always seems near in the Spring semester, but at Louisville perhaps it seems always within in reach. After all, university classes are all over by the first week of May to make room for the hats and horses!
For these reasons, and probably others, March is the final push before the end of the semester and final projects. To help you stay motivated, focused, and productive during these weeks, here are five strategies to keep yourself writing and working. Feel free to use them at other times of the year!
- Write 100 words every day. The key to finishing any large writing project is to make a habit out of writing every day—or nearly every day. This habit makes it easier to write because your mind becomes accustomed to the practice and also because it keeps your project fresh in your mind. Some days, obviously, are harder than others, so my personal strategy is to make sure I wrote 100 words every day. This is a small amount that keeps me accountable, keeps my project fresh in my mind, and allows me to feel productive even on days when I’m feeling writers block. Also, often if you can eke out 100 words, more come flowing. But if they don’t, you’ve still met your goal for the day. For a quick reference, the sentences in this strategy make up 145 words, including this sentence.
- Tally the number of hours you work, and reward yourself. A good friend of mine who just defended her dissertation uses a strategy of rewards to motivate herself. For every hour that she works, she earns one tally. In the evening or on the weekend, she can trade in tallies for hours of play or relaxation time. If you can hold yourself to it, this kind of reward system is great for making sure you stay on task when you’re supposed to be working. The strategy also helps you schedule time for working and time for relaxing so that you don’t have to feel like you’re working all the time.
- Take a break. If you’re really feeling overwhelmed by your project, it may be time to take a break. When we’re struggling with a project, we can get caught up in thinking about the struggle or the impending deadline and lose our ability to actually do productive writing or work. That’s the point at which walking away, for a little while, can actually be helpful. “A little while” might be 15 minutes, an hour, or even a day. You don’t want to take too long of a break, or else going back to the project will seem daunting. Before you take your break, try writing down questions you’re having, what you need to write about next, or other goals you have for the project.
- Write on a different “surface.” Dan McCormick wrote a couple weeks ago about how different tools or “surfaces” help us think about our projects differently and can lead to break-throughs. If you’re feeling worn out on a project, try writing about it on paper or in a different program. You might even try writing in a different location. The key here is to change things up a little to open the possibility for new thinking and new ideas.
- Talk instead of write. Especially if you’re feeling stuck on a project, it might be a good idea to talk about it instead of writing about it. You could, of course, come in to the writing center. Even I have met with another consultant to just talk about what I wanted to write about—that way I could hear it out loud and another person could help me figure out if it made sense. The consultant wrote down things I was saying, what I seemed excited about, what was interesting to her. After the appointment, I had some notes to move forward with. Another option is to use voice recording software. Word has a talk-to-text function (though it needs a little training), Dragon is a great talk-to-text program, and then there’s always just basic sound recording software on your phone or computer.
So, even though the allure of warmer temperatures, Derby, and other summer events are just around the corner—don’t give up on your projects! Try any or of all these strategies to find out what will keep you writing and working. And, remember, the Writing Center is a great resource for all stages of the writing process.