Craft

5 Mood-Boosters for Better Writing Productivity

If you’re a writer or wish you were a writer, but can’t seem to get in the mood to do it, here are ways to get in the groove.

  1. Write regularly. Set time aside. Block it off in your planner or calendar, then keep the appointment you made with your muse. It’s the classic ass-in-the-chair treatment, and it works. Doesn’t matter what you write or how good it is, just write something, even for just fifteen minutes. You’ll be surprised. I force my students to keep a daily writer’s journal, and they agree, the more they write, the easier it gets, and the more prolific they become. Writing begets writing, because it’s self-rewarding; the act almost always uplifts me, despite the common belief that creativity and depression go hand-in-hand. It’s just not true. I figure if you’re called to create and you create, it’ll make your day.
  2. Hang out with other writers. One of the best things I ever did was start a group of writers who were at about the same stage in their careers as I was. It took awhile to find them, but we’ve been meeting once a month for about ten years now. It made a huge difference in my self-respect and my productivity. Having fellow writers who get what I’m going through made me feel like less of a lonely freak. Hearing about what they’re working on and struggling with gives me new ideas. We help each other trouble-shoot. We challenge each other and egg each other on, comfort each other and celebrate together. Being with other writers helps me accept the more discouraging circumstances of our art and keeps me accountable. Over time, our group is building a shared history. I used to be more depressed and do much less writing before we started meeting, and the same is true for them. Now we all belong to a meaningful creative community.
  3. Be well in your body. Do all the smart-person things, like get enough sleep, do regular cardio, drink enough water, get quality nature-time, and cut back on the alcohol so your brain is primed to write. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it all works, but it’s hard to work it into your schedule. Here are two quick body-chemistry hacks I discovered. 1) Lower your glycemic index. High-sugar diets can cause depression and brain fog, which is often blamed for “writer’s block.” 2) You probably already know, but caffeine is a great writing drug. It’s a known stimulant that helps you focus on creative tasks and may even spur the language center of your brain. I’m a happy, faster, more confident writer when I’m a healthy writer (and have a cup of coffee).
  4. Meditate. Remember to spend time each day in an attitude that’s nonjudging and nonstriving. Granted, that attitude can be difficult when for the ambitious in today’s crowded, clanging, multi-media market. I can’t seem to stick with yoga or group meditation, or even lone meditation, but I have found moments of daily mindfulness crucial to my writing wellness. For a few minutes throughout the day, I down my phone, close my laptop, and empty my mind. Sometimes I play with the dogs, or turn off the radio and roll down the window of the car, or rest my hand on my cat when she’s purring cat and just . . . sit in the moment. Focus on ambient sounds. Focus on the textures against my skin and the weight of my feet in my shoes. Meditation can improve your health, your mood, and your creative work. Just as I require of my students, I keep a writer’s journal too, and in it I just free-write, which is a kind of moving-pen meditation. It opens me to uncanny insights into my life and work that I wouldn’t have achieved any other way, and it puts me in the mood to get some good writing work done. 
  5. Send your work out. Even if you’ve been rejected thousands of times, (and eventually we all hit four or more digits, so you’re in good company), whenever you send a proud new piece out where hasn’t been before, it’s like tossing a bottle with a message to the sea. You never know who might pick it up. So lick a stamp, hit submit, and give yourself a little dopamine fix. It takes time, so make time for it. Put “Submit” on your calendar if you have to! Although submitting my work isn’t playing a lottery, (it’s a skill that practice improves), it’s an act of hope, an openness to connection, a sign of faith in myself. Even if I don’t quite believe it when I do it, my spirits will lift just knowing my work’s out there and that I took a chance on myself. So I tell my students, the odds of rejection might be hatefully high, but the more you write and submit, the more you increase the odds of publication and the better and happier you’ll get at this game, not so much by publishing, but by practicing. Just by being a writer. The happier you are, the stronger your staying power.

What works for you?

6 replies »

  1. Great tips. Despite the no-fun rejections, submitting a piece of writing I’m proud of can be fun. And, I always try to make sure I have a good balance of “active” submissions in my Submittable queue. When one is declined, I think of it as providing a new space for another submission. Just call me the Marie Kondo of submitting!

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  2. Yes! Adding a new manuscript to the active list “sparks joy!” That’s a great way to think of it. I love it!

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  3. Yes! Making that conscious decision to empty your agenda for writing and nothing else makes that block of time liberating, especially if you consistently heed it. Your creative self learns to trust those blocks of time.

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  4. Hi, Lisa! As a former student of yours, I’ve benefited from some of these principles that you introduced in class (and ignored others to my own detriment). It is so important (ok, crucial) to have daily or nearly-daily writing sessions. Keeping up a journal has been one of the things that I’ve returned to over the last couple of months. Even if I only give it 15 minutes a day and it doesn’t lead to anything, at least it gives me confidence that that the engine will still turn over if I push the start button. Something that keeps me writing and engaging with other writers is going to an open-mic prose night every month. I treat these readings as an imperative to prepare at least 2,000 words a month (two flash fiction pieces or one 10-minute story) for public consumption. This works for me on so many levels: I produce a lot more writing than this minimum because I want to have plenty to choose from; I write with an eye to my audience (and an ear to what they will be able to follow) and this always leads to better writing, and an improving sense of when something in a story just doesn’t cut it; bringing stories to this night gives me a sense that I’m “sending my work out” which I know is not really sending it out for possible publication, but in a strange way, it’s very much related, because my fellow writers are always there with those gratifying but embarrassing questions: “Are you published anywhere?” “Are you writing all these stories just for this open-mic night?!” “Why don’t you try sending that story out?” At least it keeps me aware that I’m flaking out on the issue of submitting my stories, and reminds me that I need to make that part of my practice.

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  5. Hi, Tom! I’m so glad to hear from you and happy knowing you’re out there creating and communing. Man, what good advice to jump into a regular open mic night. I think I know the one you mean. It’s a great community, very talented, and not one inclined to false praise. If you’re consistently getting feedback like that (and I’m not surprised–I think I said the same to you many times), I hope you’ll send some stuff out. I’m on an email list of somewhat curated submissions that come in digestible quantities. If you’d like, I can pm it to you. Hope to hear you read sometime soon!

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