How to Trick Yourself Into Writing More Than You Think You Can

You couldn’t possibly write that much in one day … or could you?


Do you listen to your brain, when it says you can or can’t do something? Writers either do, or they don’t. Which becomes a little problematic when your brain starts trying to convince you how impossible it’s going to be to reach today’s writing goals.

Getting started is one of the biggest hurdles you’ll have to stumble over as a writer. Here’s how you can trick your brain into letting you write – not just enough, but more than you’ve ever imagined you could.

The hardest part is getting started …

So that must mean the trick is much simpler than you might think. Which, yes I know, is something I say so much here that it probably doesn’t mean anything to you anymore. Writing advice, when it comes down to it, isn’t really that difficult to apply. The hard part is actually taking the advice from the internet and incorporating it into your daily life. More on that later.

Anyway, here’s the truth – a truth, I hope, you’ve heard at least once before: your brain is a liar. It tries to convince you of things that shouldn’t be believable, but are. You set a goal to write 2000 words on Monday. That’s easy, you can do that, right? But no, not exactly, because your brain has a way of crafting some kind of excuse as to why it’s impossible. You’re too tired. You don’t have enough time. 2000 words is just too much to write in one day.

So how do you fix this problem? It’s EASY … just write 500 words. It doesn’t matter what your end goal for the day is. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t the best 500 words you’ve ever written. Sit down, shut off your phone, and write 500 words.

500 words is all it takes

I am a huge advocate for the 500-word rule. It’s not scientifically proven to be effective, but I’m an internet creator, not a scientist. In my experience – and in a few others, I’ve found – 500 words seems to be the magic number. You don’t think you can write 1000 words, or 1500, or 2000, or even more than that. At first glance, it seems like too much. You overwhelm yourself, thinking you have to make it all the way to 2000 words or more when you haven’t even written 10.

But when you really think about it, 500 words isn’t that many. And sure, you might get to 500 words, kicking and screaming the whole way, and that’s all you can do. It happens. But really, writing 2000 words is just writing 500 words four times. And often what happens is that you commit to 500 words, but by the time you get there, you’re past your “I don’t wanna do this” phase. You’re in a flow state, without really meaning to get into one. And 2000 words just sort of happens, seemingly effortlessly, after that first 500.

Turn a trick into a tactic

At first, you might be a little skeptical of this method. Believe me, I’ve had days when I’ve done all I could to get myself to 500 words, and it just didn’t happen. It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t: for goodness sake, stop trying to be so perfect all the time. If you can’t, you can’t. But the more you get into the habit of turning “can” into “did,” this sneaky method of tricking your brain into letting you get more writing done can actually become more of a tool you can use over and over again in your writing life.

The 500-word rule has actually become a staple in my daily writing. There are days I have thousands of words that need writing, and I have anxiety – I get overwhelmed and I don’t want to do any of it, half the time. But I do it, simply by starting with 500 words. I sit down and automatically think, “Okay, just 500 words to go.” And that’s what gets me through it all, every time. I wouldn’t recommend this method if I didn’t believe it could work for you.

Think you can’t write as much as you need to, if not more? Actually, you can. 500 words is the average size of a blog post. A piece of flash fiction. A short article for a website or a standard article for a magazine. In many cases, it’s a smaller portion of a much bigger piece of writing. But it’s a start. And until you sit down and get started, you really don’t know how many words you might be capable of producing.

You never know until you try. Seriously. Just try.

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 for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How Writers Can Improve Their Focus

Focus on your writing without getting distracted.


Many writers struggle to stay focused. You either can’t force yourself to get started, you feel bored, you give yourself too much to do or you try to jump between too many things at once. When it comes to writing, focus is essential. You have a goal – to write something – and to accomplish that goal, you need to learn to focus on it until it’s done.

Focus is all about sitting down to complete a task – in our case, something writing-related – and actually finishing it. This requires some use of basic productivity principles. Unlike the generic productivity advice you’ll generally find online, you might actually find these writing-specific suggestions useful in your quest to stay focused and get more writing done throughout the week.

Schedule writing time in hour-long intervals

Altogether, it takes me about an hour or so to put together a blog post. I used to try and spread out writing, editing, formatting and social media posting throughout the day so I didn’t have to do it all at once, but that made me too anxious. So I’ll spend an hour putting it all together, take a break and then move on to something else for an hour, take a break, and repeat.

After about an hour of working on the same thing, usually we lose focus. Our brains need rest. You might think you can power through a few hours of straight writing, but it’s not only bad for your brain – it’s bad for your writing, too. Your writing gets sloppier the longer you do it, and it becomes much harder to focus on what you’re supposed to be doing. Give yourself an hour straight to work, take a break, and move on to something else for another hour. You’re much more likely to be able to focus on writing what you need to write, and keeping the quality at a reasonable level in the process.

Build a writing task list you can actually handle

I’ve definitely been guilty of writing daily to-do lists that physically and mentally cannot be completed. The problem with this bad habit is the psychological effect: the more you feel you have to write, the less productive your writing time will be. If I have five different writing assignments I want to work on, I feel rushed, like I don’t have enough time, which makes it really hard to focus. When I focus on just one or two assignments at a time, I not only take my time, but I end up getting more writing done throughout the day.

There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but what’s important is that you don’t try to jump from one project to another too quickly. This is why hour-long intervals are effective for a lot of people. The less you have on your schedule today, the less likely you are to try and task hop. Or worse, multi-task. Focus on one thing at a time, and make that possible by only giving yourself a few things to work on at a time.

Give yourself office hours

This sounds a bit strange, but if you want to learn how to focus on your writing, treat your writing the same way you might treat a real job. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very good at this before writing actually became my job, and I definitely don’t expect you to be, either. People who don’t write regularly don’t really understand that time needs to be set aside for it – it isn’t like watching TV or reading, which you can sort of do whenever you feel like it. I don’t write before 8am and I don’t usually write after 6pm. I take breaks throughout the day, but when it’s writing time, it’s time to write. Not go to lunch time or watch Netflix time or Skype with the boyfriend time (I mean, hypothetically).

During your ‘work’ hours, stay off social media. Don’t read or answer messages that don’t relate to your writing. You might have a full-time job, and your writing time happens either before or after those hours. That’s ok; it’s tough, but it’s manageable (yes, I’ve been there; I get it). But you still have to set time. I’d personally hop off the train at 6pm, give myself an hour to unwind and then write from 7 to 9, sometimes later. Honestly, you gotta do what you gotta do. Some days, I used to have only 15 minutes to free write. That’s still better than zero. But during that time, regardless of the length, you have to focus. Little by little, you’ll reach your goals, if you put in the effort to do so.

I’m not going to make eliminating distractions its own point because I’ve beaten you over the head with that enough this year. It pretty much goes without saying at this point that writing and distractions cannot co-exist. If you can’t focus on your writing because you’re distracted, it’s pretty much up to you to straighten out your priorities and settle writing up near the top.

Is focusing on writing hard? Oh yeah. While I wrote this blog post, I answered a phone call (necessary), paused to pet my cat (also necessary) and went to get more coffee. Those are good examples of what NOT to do when you’re writing something! But after an hour of working on this, I’m ready to eat breakfast. I’ll then move on to one of the only three other things I’ve set up for myself to work on today. I’ll write on and off until around five or six. And then I’ll binge-watch Agent Carter, because after focusing all day on this nonsense most of us call writing, the brain needs a whole lot of nothing to recharge.

Focus. Need to write a blog post today? Pick a time, sit down and write it. The more you train yourself to just do it, just doing it really does become easier. I promise.

What are your biggest hurdles when it comes to focusing on your writing? What strategies have you found most helpful in overcoming them so far?

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 for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

6 Things That Will Make You a Happier, Healthier, More Accomplished Writer

Hint: they’re all free, but they’ll still take some work to master.


Is it possible to be a writer, AND be happy, AND be healthy, AND be successful? Actually, yes. You’ve heard a lot of complaining from other writers, I’m sure, about everything wrong with the profession. We’re all human; venting is healthy. There are specific ‘traits,’ let’s call them, that make it possible to do what you like to do, get pretty good at it, get paid to do it and actually enjoy it.

It’s not a fairytale. There are happy, healthy and highly accomplished writers out there, and you could soon be one of them. How? Read on.

Need a hint? You won’t find any of these things in a store or on Amazon. But their value is far greater than anything you could purchase in an attempt to improve your writing life.

1. Motivation

What is it?

It doesn’t mean what you think it means, for starters. Motivation is not some abstract thing you lack when you’re trying to convince yourself to sit down and write something. You know you’ve used it as an excuse to go do something else instead at least once or twice (be honest). Motivation, for the writer, is more like purpose. It’s the writer’s reason for doing what they do. But it runs just a little deeper than that. It ends up being the thing that drives you. Your motivation to write is the only thing that prompts you to wake up in the morning and write something down.

How to get it:

  • List out all the reasons why you feel like you need to write
  • Then list out all the reasons you actually WANT to write
  • Narrow down your focus to just one of those reasons – your reason IS your motivation.

When I was first starting my journey as an aspiring writer, I didn’t really have anyone to turn to or anywhere to go for good writing advice. So I started to blog about writing, sharing writing tips and inspiration, the kinds of things I wished I’d had to read when I was just starting out. That is my motivation for blogging for you every single day.

2. Energy

What is it?

We’re talking mental and physical energy here. A writer cannot create without both kinds of energy stored away. Possibly the writer’s greatest weakness is not being able to figure out how much is too much and how little is too little. You might be the type of person to put your work (e.g., writing) before everything else, but if you do not maintain your own energy levels, well, good luck trying to keep up with the often overwhelming demands of the industry.

How to get it:

  • Take more breaks than you think you need
  • Sleep – go to bed when you’re tired and wake up when you feel rested; this can still be done on a schedule if you take the time to figure one out
  • Work out and eat right – carbs are a writer’s best friend (seriously)
  • Don’t overwork yourself – set limits and don’t write more than you have to.

I have this ongoing problem where I work myself straight into burnout mode, try to recover, get too anxious about not doing enough and dive straight into working too much again. I’m getting better at managing it. Lacking mental and physical energy honestly makes writing virtually impossible. Without adequate energy, the rest of the things on this list become unachievable.

3. Discipline

What is it? 

In terms of writing, discipline involves training yourself to establish, stick to and follow through with goals, schedules and deadlines. The writer, the successful writer, has learned to say yes to productivity and no to priorities that stand in the way of that productivity. To be disciplined means to put great effort into your craft, even if it means the occasional sacrifice.

How to get it:

  • Make writing your main focus for a large part of your day (but not the whole day!)
  • Set specific daily goals and meet them one at a time
  • When you feel low on energy, take a five minute break – then get back in and get it done

Every once in a while I accidentally on purpose procrastinate on a writing project, and end up having to write anywhere between 5,000-10,000 words in one day for just one assignment. Not recommended, and trust me, I’m working on that (GOALS). But I always somehow manage to get it done, because I have trained myself over the years to, honestly, just do it. I have one goal in mind and I chip away at it until that goal is met, no matter what it takes. With time and a lot of practice, you can learn to do the same.

4. Focus

What is it?

Focus means staying on task. You have to start getting out of bad habits like stopping to answer a text message or posting on social media when you’re ‘supposed’ to be writing. Once you stop doing something, your brain can’t just refocus back to that thing right away. Breaking your concentration can completely mess up your productivity for the rest of the day, if you aren’t careful. You have focus on that thing you sat down to do, or it won’t ever get done.

How to get it:

  • Figure out what sidetracks you; block it out
  • Set ‘office hours’ – tell your friends not to bug you between time x and time y
  • If you feel yourself losing focus, it’s okay to move on to a different activity for a little while and come back to that one – we’re not meant to pay attention to only one thing for extended periods of time.

A few months ago I deleted the majority of the apps from my phone. I love apps, but they were becoming distracting enough that they were actually preventing me from getting done what I needed to get done throughout the day. I was able to identify that they were the main culprit in my inability to stay focused and downsize to only the essentials.

5. Resilience

What is it? 

Resilience is the writer’s ability to bear and overcome the struggle and write, despite rejection, distraction, lack of energy, negative feedback and/or failure. Writers, like many other professionals, deal with a lot of not-so-fun stuff. You might spend a few hours or more hard at work on a piece that never gets approved. Early on, freelancers struggle to find decent work at decent rates. Novelists send dozens upon dozens of query letters, the majority of which go unanswered for all eternity (sigh). It’s rough. Resilience is what will get you through it – all of it – and push you toward better, less sucky times.

How to get it:

  • Don’t let other people’s opinions or criticisms knock you off course
  • Stop using distractions as an excuse; block them out no matter the cost
  • Treat failure as a learning experience – it is a cliche, but it is so true it sometimes physically hurts.

I’m stubborn and allergic to failure (ha), which is probably why I ended up writing professionally. It gets tough, sometimes. People don’t always respect writers. My work has gotten ripped apart and trashed. Most of it gets ignored. A ton of it doesn’t even get published under my name (yeah, get used to that, trust me). I just keep going. That’s what you have to do. You have to develop a refusal to stop, and act on that.

6. Balance

What is it?

Writers eventually become experts at balancing their commitments. You can’t just write all day, every day, and expect that pattern to go on for long. Writing, whether it feels like it to you or not, is still work. It exhausts you, if not right away, than eventually. And those who write for a living very rarely just write – they have other commitments and responsibilities, too. Writing itself isn’t boring, but it can be if that’s all you ever do. You have to learn to balance your writing with other work; volunteer opportunities; fun things with people you like and who like you back. And so on.

How to get it:

  • Separate your writing (“work”) time from your “relaxing” time
  • Schedule it out – don’t write when you’re supposed to be chilling out or get caught in a Netflix vortex when you’re supposed to be writing
  • Set limits for yourself so you stay productive without burning out
  • Make writing a priority, but please, take care of yourself, and your relationships

It’s still sometimes hard for me to balance my writing with other sections of my life. I catch myself accidentally going days without talking to a friend I usually talk to on a daily basis because I get too caught up in my writing. You feel like you have to do that, when you’re ‘in the zone,’ but the zone is the zone because it’s not supposed to be a constant thing. You have to step away from it in order for it to continue to have any value to your productivity.

All these things, combined, will give your writing life a little bit of structure and purpose. We all need some of that. Without it, we fall into this confusing cycle of feeling guilty for not writing, but not feeling like writing, trying to write and not doing it well, and so on. If you’re serious about writing, consider focusing on one or several of these traits. There’s more to writing than just writing. It’s a creative process that can get pretty overwhelming if you don’t manage it.

Be happy. Stay healthy. Work toward those goals. Most importantly, write. Have fun. Don’t give up.

Which of the above traits do you struggle with the most? What do you think might be the biggest hurdle would have to jump over? How can I help? :)

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 for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Is Tech Hurting Your Writing Productivity?

Technology is awesome! But too much of a good thing can hurt your productivity as a writer.


Does your tech basically control your whole life? If your answer is no, I don’t believe you. You will, nine times out of 10, stop writing in the middle of a paragraph to respond to a text message. You will gladly open up a new Google search without finishing your thought, because you “need to look something up for your story.” And all those desktop notifications for your apps … they’re great! Until they aren’t.

Technology is awesome! But too much of a good thing can hurt your productivity as a writer. Is it possible that the more we focus on the tools and apps we use to write, the less we focus on our actual writing?

Isn’t it great to be able to track your writing progress?

Of course it is! You can track your word count, your page count, how much progress you’ve made in the last week/month/year – that’s very motivational to many writers. Quantity may not be the most important thing a writer tracks in terms of progress, but in many cases, it helps us measure whether or not we’re doing a good job. Self-accountability. You all know I love self-accountability.

But at what point do these numbers take our eyes off the bigger picture? I still catch myself stopping in the middle of what i’m writing to glance at my word count. It’s a bad habit that I’ve had for, oh, probably about a decade now (*feels old*). It’s a habit anyone can break, but when those numbers are always right there in front of you, it’s not necessarily easy.

Will spending money on an app or program give you more of an incentive to write?

You might think so, but I’m going to have to say no to this one. A few months ago I invested in a new computer, because my laptop was dying and so would my career if I didn’t get better tech to be able to work. Before that, I used a six-year-old Macbook Pro (yeah) to do all my writing and other projects. Once I started freelancing, I saved up for six months before getting the tech I needed. You might not always need a new piece of tech, whether it be a computer, a tablet, a writing program or what have you, but even though I did, I used my writing as an incentive for getting the tech, not the other way around.

You’re much better off starting with what you have, getting into a solid writing routine that works, getting  more comfortable with your writing style and establishing a decent online presence (and in some cases, a decent client base if you’re freelancing) before investing in tech you don’t necessarily need. Treat it like a reward. Don’t treat yourself to the reward before you actually accomplish the task.

Does tech eliminate distractions, or create more of them?

A fancy new writing program doesn’t make you immune to distractions, particularly of the internet and mobile variety. Some apps and online tools are so flashy and capable that they actually end up taking away from your writing experience. In Microsoft Word alone, I have dozens of fonts to choose from and can format my pages any way I want. I could spend 10 minutes making my chapter titles look as professional as they ever will under my control. That’s still 10 minutes I could have spent writing, but didn’t actually get any writing done at all.

There are tools you can use to help you avoid distractions, such as programs that only let you write in one window without fancy functions or formatting buttons. But we can do the exact same thing with a pen and paper, which gives your eyes a break from staring at a screen and your wrists a break from typing (if you have atrocious posture like me, this benefit in particular is huge). My advice? Choose something simple. And log out of Facebook for the afternoon. And stop Googling every little thing. Yes, I know you’re guilty of that, as am I. Write. Research is much less important, in your first draft, than you think.

How to set limits

I’m not here to criticize writing apps or shun you for using technology to boost your writing productivity. We just need to be careful with how much we depend on our tech to help us complete our tasks. Tech may be smart, but it can’t do your work for you. Here are a few ways you can – yes, I’m going there – use technology in moderation to get your work done.

  • Have a good reason for getting a new piece of tech. Ask yourself: what problem am I currently having, related to writing productivity, that this new app or tool will solve? I didn’t start using Google Docs for the majority of my writing until about a year ago. Before that, I found myself going into every writing session feeling stressed. Not because of the writing itself … but because of how disorganized all my files were. I would see that every time I went to open my documents. Google Docs became the quickest and most convenient solution for me. Don’t just download a new app because you think it looks cool. Seriously. Don’t.
  • Set specific cutoff times before and after which you do not use any tech for writing. One of the first things I do when I wake up in the morning is write a few pages in my journal. Yes – writing, by hand, on paper. I am the kind of person who needs to organize thoughts and plan things out before I get my day started. I need to do a little free writing – but not by staring at a screen. It makes your brain tired, after awhile. Give it a rest. Really.
  • Separate out your time between the time it takes you to get organized and the time you actually spend writing. When I open up the document my novel lives in every morning, it honestly takes me longer than it probably should to locate which part of the book I want to start working on. Sometimes I have to read a few preceding pages before I can get started. Sometimes I want to turn a specific feature on or off, or I want to set a timer. Don’t let messing with your tech take away from your actual writing time. When your tech time is up, start writing. When your writing time is up, close out, shut down and read a book. Or something.

Technology makes it possible for writers to communicate with one another, work with teams across the world, prioritize tasks – pretty much anything you can imagine, excluding all the sci-fi stuff you secretly love making up in your spare time (or is that just me?), can be done with tech. It’s a great thing to have. But we can’t forget the most important thing about our writing process: the actual words on those virtual pages. The stories. The characters. Getting lost in those fictional moments, and doing so because you are not a piece of tech. You are a person. A storyteller. Make that a priority above all else, always.

What do you think? Do we rely too much on technology to enhance our writing experience? Which apps and tools do you use? How do you set limits for yourself and still make writing a priority?

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 for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Word Count, Page Count or Minute Count? How to Track Your Progress and Get More Writing Done

Is there a right or wrong, worse or better way to track writing progress?


How do we train ourselves to be more productive, as writers? Writing productivity, unfortunately, mostly ends up being about quantity when quality is really the ultimate end measurement. We have to have a body of material to work with before we can focus on quality, though, so in many ways this order makes sense. If you actually manage to get a ton of writing done in a reasonable time span, that is.

So how can you keep track of your progress? By word count? Page count? Minute count? Is one way better or worse than the other? Is one right and the others aren’t? Let’s look at the options.

Word count and the 500-word hurdle

A lot of writers use word count as a way to track their progress. It’s the foundation of my 30,000 Words in 30 Days challenge, which you can join today if you’re subscribed to my newsletter. It’s why WriMos (writing months) are so popular among aspiring novelists and screenwriters. Giving yourself a number to look at, psychologically, just does the trick for some people.

In my experience, 500 words seems to have proven to be the magic number. No matter how much kicking and screaming it took to get myself to sit down and start writing, no matter how much I would rather be doing something else, something other than sitting in front of my computer and forcing myself to write words, the moment I hit 500, I’m good. I fall into an immediate flow state, after which I could potentially write a few thousand words in that same sitting and not look away from my work once.

You’ve probably noticed the word count widget over on the right sidebar. It helps me keep track of my novella progress each month. If it weren’t for that, I would be even more behind than I already am. It’s a direct count of how much content, word by word, you have managed to produce. Setting a daily goal to work toward, big or small, has the potential to change everything.

Counting pages? It Depends on what you’re writing

When I first started writing regularly, I was really into counting pages. This was back when I was still writing in notebooks and re-typing everything into a Word document later (some people still do – nothing wrong with that). It helped me know if I was generally on track writing a book, because I knew in general how many pages books in my preferred genre tended to be in.

There isn’t much difference between page count and word count, except that it really depends on what you’re writing. I still keep an eye on page count when I’m writing fiction, as a backup number to keep in my head. I use word count for everything else though, especially when I’m writing articles, because clients both assign and pay you by word count, most of the time.

I would recommend pairing page count with one of the other methods here, since margins, font sizes, etc. kind of make it harder to know whether or not you’re writing as much as you want to be every day. But again, it depends on what you’re working on and your personal preferences.

Tracking writing time, or losing track of time

The advantage of using time as a measurement of progress and activity is that it’s easier to fit into a busy schedule. While you aren’t always sure how long writing 500 words will actually take, you know that, in general, writing for 90 minutes in the afternoon means you are hopefully going to be writing for 90 minutes. However much you get done in that time is less important, which means you might focus a little bit more on the quality of the writing you produce than you do the quantity.

As a part-time student, part-time writer and full-time over-committer, I have to be careful with using time as a tool for keeping track of writing progress and holding myself accountable for writing consistently. Even if I only have an hour to write, and I convince myself to actually spend that hour writing, one of two things will happen: I will either procrastinate, and only use part of that hour, or I will get so sucked into writing that I will continue writing even after the designated hour is up.

If you’re pretty good at making your own schedule with designated time slots for every activity throughout your day, going by time will probably work just fine for you. Even if you only have 30 minutes to write, that’s still better than nothing. If you need to start with something more quantitative to keep you on track, though, maybe save this method for more free writing or planning out what you are going to write about tomorrow.

How do you keep track of your writing progress? What kinds of writing goals do you set daily, weekly or monthly? Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter if you want a free copy of my 30,000 Words in 30 Days writing challenge. :)

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 for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.