The Question New Writers Ask That Bothers Me the Most

How do you know what you do and do not need if you don’t actually write anything first?


I am a member of a few writing groups online. I also poke around the NaNoWriMo forums, explore other writing blogs – anything I can do to be a part of the conversation, because that’s the main reason this blog exists. To help writers in any way I can.

Lately, I’ve been seeing the same question pop up. It’s not a new question: I’ve seen it plenty of times before. For some reason, it has really started to bother me.

The question: Which word processing tool do you/should I/do professional writers use?

I have a question in response to your question: does it matter?

I think the focus is a little off here. If you’re more worried about writing tools than you are about what you are actually writing, I am genuinely concerned.

I use Microsoft Word to write most of my projects because I needed to purchase it as a student. Then, it was an investment for my education and I still use it for that purpose and for writing. I also use Google Docs, which is completely free if you sign up for a free Google account and don’t want to pay for Microsoft Office software. They both serve the exact same function: to type words onto a page. To write a story. To put my ideas into words.

That is all I need. I don’t need a special program to count my words or track my progress or keep me from being distracted. Other writers might need these things to keep them going, so they might want Scrivener or another program or app. But here’s the problem … how do you know what you do and do not need if you don’t actually write anything first?

The reason this question bothers me so much is because I feel like new writers especially spend WAY too much time, energy and valuable resources on things that do not matter. You want to be a writer? Well that must mean you need to spend money on a word processor and all kinds of fancy tools, right?

Wrong. What you need to do is … can you guess? WRITE.

This is the kind of question I might expect from a writer who is trying to solve a specific problem they have discovered is an issue for them: they get distracted too easily, or they need a built-in feature that helps them track word count progress. But from a new writer, honestly, this question just seems silly to me. I expect new writers to have questions. But what I expect them to do even more than that is to go off on their own and write stuff. Isn’t that what being a writer is?

You can spend all the time and money you want on products and writing forums and asking questions in Facebook groups. But if you never actually write anything, I just don’t know how to help you. Maybe you’re a little nervous about starting, and that’s fine, but really … just open up a Google Doc and start writing something. THAT is how you become a writer. By writing.

I do worry that new writers aren’t focusing on the right things, and I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to solve that problem other than to tell people to just write. So many people want to be writers. And that’s great! The more voices we have to adequately and accurately communicate messages, the better.

But the thing is, I first started writing when I was very young. There were computers, I’m not that old, but there really weren’t online communities yet like there are today. I didn’t join one until I joined NaNoWriMo in 2008, when I was in high school. I had written plenty of stories before that, on paper and on Word, without asking anyone any questions about it. I just wrote, because that was what I wanted to do. It didn’t matter what tools I used: the story was the only thing I cared about.

So my question for you is this: are word processing programs like Scrivener misleading new writers to believe they can’t write until they have ‘the right tools’ to get started?

I’ve never tried Scrivener, I have nothing bad to say about it and I’m sure it’s a great tool. But I’m worried for future generations of writers. Yes, I worry about things that don’t matter, too. But after this, I’m going to set aside my concerns and write a whole bunch of words because it is my job. I love online communities, but sometimes, they can take away from the actual writing process, and I don’t know how to feel about that.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

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You Don’t Need Motivation to Write – You Just Need Fewer Distractions

Think lack of motivation is the source of your writer’s block? Think again.


Thank you, Thomas Frank, for inspiring this post! Listen to College Info Geek’s latest podcast episode after you’re finished here.

What’s the first thing you say, when someone asks you why you’re not writing?

I’m just not feeling motivated. I need more motivation.

Then you go home and kill a few hours marathoning Mr. Robot. Checking your email. Getting yourself trapped in the Tumblr vortex.

All things you wouldn’t be doing if you were writing. All things you wouldn’t be doing if you didn’t have them around to keep you from writing.

It’s not motivation you’re after. It’s a lack of distractions. And only you have the power to do what you have to do to put writing first, in front of the things you would much rather be doing.

As Frank’s guest, Steve Kamb, pointed out in yesterday’s podcast, going on an epic quest to find the motivation you don’t think you have isn’t going to get you any closer to getting anything done. What’s going to get you to sit down and do what you need to do … is, actually, sitting down and doing what you need to do. Forget about your distractions.

You’re going to end up wasting valuable writing time “searching for motivation” or “trying to find your muse” instead of sealing yourself inside your mental and physical writing space and actually getting some writing done. It’s time to stop talking about finding your inspiration and start getting to work.

Here are a few things you can do to put writing ahead of your favorite productivity crushers:

  • Do it first thing in the morning. If you tend to put writing off until every other task on your to-do list is done, put writing first. Even if that means you have to wake up a little earlier. Give it a try. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay!
  • Having trouble keeping a schedule? Get a word-count widget. I now have one over to the right to keep myself on track for getting this month’s novella written and ready to distribute by the end of January.
  • Just start writing. I’ve written this before and I’ll write it again (but now I have two more writers to back me up – thanks guys!): everything changes when you just sit down and start. Those first few hundred words are really, really hard. But at around 500 of them in one sitting, you’re going to be able to double, triple, quadruple your word count for the day if you have the time and energy. Never underestimate your own brain.

I didn’t go looking for the inspiration for this post: it found me. While creating and finding photos for blog posts, I listen to podcasts, and just so happened to pick this episode first in my feed. I got inspired. I paused the episode. I clicked over and wrote this blog post, and then I, of course, finished listening to the episode after the fact.

If anything in today’s post inspired you to write something of your own, go. Right now. Write while you’re feeling inspired. Don’t wait. Everything else will just have to.

Here’s another resource for helping you avoid distractions while writing.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Sascha Kohlmann/

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

How to Minimize Writing Distractions


Don’t lie. You’re one of those writers. The “I’m watching this YouTube video because it somehow relates to my novel I promise” kind.

It’s okay. We’ve all done it. No Writing Excuses Anonymous enrollment necessary.

Now that we’ve all silently admitted we’re prone to distractions—because let’s be honest, it’s hard not to get distracted with so many things accessible on your laptop besides Microsoft Word—how can we minimize them?

Here are three things you can try. First, let’s talk “networking,” and not the kind you might be thinking of.

Turn Off the Internet

Whether literally or figuratively, the World Wide Web and your writing schedule can’t fit into the same time slot. You’re probably listing off ten reasons why this isn’t true. We probably know exactly what you’re thinking.

“But I need to do research—”

Nope. No you don’t. You can designate separate time for researching topics related to the story you’re working on.

“But I need background noise—”

Pretty much whichever form of streaming you’re tempted to access on your computer, you can do through your phone. Turn on whichever station, video playlist or album you want to listen to. Turn the volume up, place your phone across the room, and get to writing. No Internet required.

We could go on. But that would be distracting.

Download Freedom, which will allow you to temporarily disable your Internet connection for the sake of productivity for a certain amount of time. Or, better yet, take your laptop somewhere that doesn’t have free wi-fi.

Hmm. We smell a segue.

Designate a Writing Nook

Some write in coffee shops. Some are lucky enough to have their own offices. Each writer writes in a different place, but those who designate that space solely for their art are the ones who get their “stuff” done.

Create your own writing nook. This space should be your writing space. Not your writing, sometimes checking email, sometimes doodling, phone-is-always-chirping space. The same way psychologists suggest you should only use your bed for sleeping (instead of reading, texting, binge-watching “Friends” … ), the place you choose to work your word-fueled magic should be reserved just for that purpose.

Check back for our upcoming article, “Three Ways to Optimize (and Personalize) Your Writing Space.”

Keep Pen and Paper Handy

In your writing “zone,” your thoughts travel at top speed. Often, these thoughts might stem from, and interfere with, the story you’re trying to work on. You might write one angry exchange between your MCs, a page, maybe two, and then remember you have to buy oranges, because your significant other gets angry when there aren’t any oranges in your kitchen.

Refractory rhymes aside, there are several things that can happen here. That one thought—I need to put oranges on my grocery list—might bounce around in your head until your thought process has completely derailed from the productivity track. The need to buy oranges might somehow end up in your story, which could work out, or take away from the main idea.

Then there’s the worst possibility of all: you might actually get up from your chair to make a note on your grocery list, literally ripping yourself out of your creative mentality and increasing the likelihood that you won’t get anything else written anytime soon.

Keeping a pen and paper next to you will rescue your literary productivity before it has a chance to collapse. As soon as that thought about groceries pops into your head, finish the sentence you’re typing, pick up your pen and jot it down. That way it’s out of your head, on paper and ready for your attention when you’re done writing.

No more excuses, writers. Now that we’ve distracted you for an extended period of time (oops), get back to writing. Eat an orange. Write about oranges. Etcetera.