Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Five Essential Tips for Lazy Writers (by Bryan Cohen)

Bryan Cohen Author of 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts

I used to have trouble getting myself to write. I did a lot of blaming in those days. I blamed my wife for interrupting my quiet time. I blamed my lack of money and the amount of hours I had to work to break even. I blamed the internet and television for being so damn enticing. When it came down to it though, all the blame in the world wasn’t going to write my books. The reason I wasn’t writing was my laziness.

I needed to become more industrious. I read countless books and listened to dozens programs on learning better working habits. Here are some of the lessons I learned applied to writing.

1. Give Yourself Writing Goals

During my personal writing dark ages, I had ideas for stories, but I didn’t give myself any clear writing goals. I started training myself to write for a certain number of minutes/hours and to meet a word count goal every day. Once I’d given myself these daily goals, I was able to tackle harder goals, like finishing chapters and entire books. Nobody was going to set these goals for me. I needed to do it myself, and the goals paid dividends!

2. Write Down Your Writing Goals

Goals are so important, they get two essential tips on the list! Coming up with goals helped me to turn a major corner. I was writing more often, but every once in a while I would get off track. It might take me weeks to get back into the habit. Why was this happening? It’s because I forgot about my dang goals!

By writing out my writing goals every day as part of a to-do list, I trained myself to remember these daily objectives. Writing my goals helped me to complete NaNoWriMo for the first time a few years ago and I find that over time I’ve been able to give myself bigger and more complex goals to tackle.

3. Do More Things to Motivate Yourself

Maybe it was years of being a chubby kid in middle and high school, but my neutral state has rarely been a positive one. I used to always make fun of myself and my surroundings to break the ice with people. This was great for comedy but bad for self-esteem. In setting myself free from the dark ages, I learned the importance of keeping myself motivated throughout the day. I’d listen to uplifting music and self-help books. I said positive things about myself instead of the usual insults. I actively thought about how good I had it and how great things would be if I kept being industrious. It took a few months to right the ship, but these little bits of motivation started to make a difference. Nowadays, I make sure to find new and unusual ways to fire myself up throughout the day, refusing to let negativity keep me from writing productively.

4. Treat Your Writing Time Like a Gift

People like to complain. They will even complain about the good things they have going so they can be a part of the complain train (I just made that up). I used to do that about my writing. I would say things in a negative tone like, “I can’t, I have to write 2,500 words today,” or “I’m never going to finish all this writing, why did I decide to do this book again?” Of course, I wasn’t being completely honest. I liked my writing time, even though it was hard sometimes.

After reading about the negative effects of complaining, I tried getting it out of my system for a month. It was easier said than done. After all, most of my friends and family members complained all the time, and I had to resist joining the crowd. Once I threw out most of my complaints, I became even more excited about my writing time. I treated it like the gift it was and I started reaping the rewards of increased productivity.

5. Spend More Time Writing and Less Time Reading about Writing

It’s great to keep up with the latest trends in self-publishing. I’ve always wanted to make sure I was ahead of the game in that respect. As a somewhat obsessive personality, however, I need to be careful with how often I read about the industry. It’s easy for me to lose myself in dozens of articles at a time when I really should be writing. I’ve also noticed in presentations I’ve given that most beginner writers are more interested in learning about writing than they are in actually sitting down to write.

Break the chain and go on a blog reading diet if you find yourself spending too much time on the blogosphere. When I’m on a deadline, I find this helps me to keep focused. Obviously, you should read and learn as much as you can, but a wise man once told me that when you find yourself getting caught up in too many things, you should pretend that you’re only smart enough to do one of them. Since I am actually only smart enough to do one thing at a time, I’ll pick writing and save the blog reading for when I’m between projects.

I like being industrious. It keeps me from being a slave to whenever my creativity feels like working. I set out my goals, keep a good attitude and focus as much as possible. I may not be as go-with-the-flow as I used to be. I may not have much to offer in the complain train and I may miss out on a few of the latest happenings in the industry. But I do get to write, and that is more than worth the sacrifices.

 

In honor of his new book, Cohen is hosting the “1,000 Prompts, 1,000 Dollars” Writing Contest on his website. Click the link to find out how to enter! Click the next link to check out the rest of Cohen’s blog tour!

Bryan Cohen is an author, a creativity coach and an actor. His new book, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More is now available on Amazon in digital and paperback format. He has published over 30 books. Connect with him on his website, Build Creative Writing Ideas, on Facebook or on Twitter.

24 replies to “Five Essential Tips for Lazy Writers (by Bryan Cohen)”

These tips work! I use all of them and have more than doubled the amount of writing that I get done daily. I also find that telling others my goals helps a lot too. If I tell people they can expect the next book by a certain date, I feel compelled to get it done by then!

Thanks, Stacy! That’s a good point with the goals trick. I sometimes get a bit overwhelmed when I do that before I’ve even started a project, but it’s a surefire way to get from halfway finished to fully finished :).

Excellent tips. I empathise.
I’ve recently come by some free time for the first time in years and am putting it to good use. It’s funny how using that positivity and being excited about having time really works. Interesting point about self-esteem issues. Perhaps a lot of writers share this to some degree. I haven’t heard anyone discuss them before.
Thanks
Gareth

Thanks, Gareth. Congrats on the free time! I agree, writers can have it tough self-esteem-wise. Between one-star Amazon reviews and rejection slips from agents/publishers, it can be a tough road. Keeping your spirits up any way possible is much better than getting down in the dumps.

Great tips – I especially like the one about thinking positively about your writing time and goals. I’ve caught myself complaining at times about ‘having’ to go and do my words for the day as if it was a chore. It soon becomes one! But when you view it as a privilege, it’s much easier to get your butt in that chair and enjoy the process. Speaking of which, I’m allowed to go and work on Sunstrike in Paradise now – see ya later!

Thanks, Bev! Back in my college theatre days, we used to have a shirt that said, “I can’t. I have rehearsal.” on the front. I always think of that smarmy shirt whenever I find myself complaining about my writing time. Have fun on Sunstrike in Paradise!

That last point is key. Writers by nature tend to over-analyze and intellectualize everything, and this extends to the craft of writing as well, and this can become a deadly form of procrastination when you put off finishing up something because you “just have” to read Save The Cat or The Writer’s Journey.

Truthfully, a book written will do far more for your craft than a book read. Experience trumps academic understanding.

So I’d say just watch that speech from Glengarry Glen Ross (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kZg_ALxEz0 – NSFW language) and substitute in the word ‘writing’. “Coffee’s for writers only.”

“Spend More Time Writing and Less Time Reading about Writing” is excellent advice. As I mature as a writer, I find fewer and fewer new ideas when I spend time reading a new blogger, for example, than I found when I was learning the world of online writing.

I still get some great new ideas, but the rate of return on investment (time) is slowing considerably. So I’m trying to reserve some of that reading for when the brain refuses to do writing (and might otherwise be watching TV).

There is a canon of writing techniques which, once acquired, forms the basic set: a way to plot a whole novel, a way to write basic scenes, the understanding to create a character, good grammar and spelling, knowledge of genre conventions. After learning these topics, the writer needs to use them a lot, and find her own forms of each – but the solid underpinning to the writing has been accomplished. That is when it really makes sense to stop looking for the gold ticket – and add up the value from all the things you have already learned to do.

One of the principles of behavioral conditioning is that the hardest habit to break is the long-interval, variably reinforced habit: finding a great nugget occasionally keeps you searching hard for more, long past the point where it makes sense, because the payoff feels so good. I have to stop doing this so much – but it is hard, even when you know how your mind is conditioned. But it is essential, or a lot of time goes down the internet drain (it used to be spent in buying and reading new books on writing).

Thanks for the reminder – I probably need it daily.

Alicia

“Spend More Time Writing and Less Time Reading about Writing” lol! Hilarious! That was me! I have always written since I was a little girl but I would also do a lot more reading about publishing and finally I told myself your just gonna have to force yourself to write more and read less. Lol! So weird how we all think the same. Lol! You are a friend in my head.

So weird – I SO could have written these same words! I have struggled with my writing for many years, and it wasn’t until I started making goals AND writing them down was I able to turn the corner. Those have to be the strongest tips on your list! Thanks for sharing.

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