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When All of Your Words Suck: 5 Habits of Famous Writers to Kickstart Your Process

Every writer has experienced the soul-crushing reality of having a sucky writing session. Doesn’t matter that yesterday you were composing sentences with the grace and power of a Mendelssohn symphony; today, you are hitting the keys like a toddler on its third can of Mountain Dew.

If this were my day job and I’d reached this point of absolute failure, I would likely choose to consult an expert. Since I don’t have J. K. Rowling’s phone number (seriously Jo what’s up with that?) my best option is to consult the Mighty Oracle: Google.

Below are five change-ups from successful writers that have helped me lure the good words back.

Change Your Perspective

Apparently, writing lying down was a thing with successful novelists back in the day. Mark Twain, George Orwell and Edith Wharton were all known for writing while lying in bed or lounging on a sofa.

If you write longhand, the suggestion stops here, but if you’re working on a computer or other electronic device, lying down to write might be a little harder to manage. Maybe you try writing longhand for a couple of paragraphs? Taking the time to physically draw out the letters might be just what you need to slow your brain down and focus on the task at hand.

Change of Scenery

Maya Angelou would leave her apartment at 7 a.m. and go to a tiny, bare hotel room to write until 2 p.m.

Sometimes all you need is to get out of your desk chair to get the story going. Be that pretentious writer in the coffee shop. Find a quiet corner at your local library. Or, it might be as simple as moving from your writing space to your kitchen table. I am a firm believer in new space = new vibes.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Ernest Hemingway would always stop his day of writing right when he came to a spot where he knew exactly what came next. That way, he started off the next day with a clear plan as to where his story was headed

Making sure that you know where you’re going to pick up when you start writing again could be the key to keeping the words flowing. This can be accomplished by having a pre-determined outline for your piece. If you’re not the planning type, it can be as easy as making sure you spend a little bit of time thinking about where you want to go next before sitting down to write again.

Work up a Sweat

Haruki Murakami credits a strenuous workout to keeping him focused on his writing. His routine includes a 10K run, 1500-meter swim, or both every day.

Look, I hate going to the gym, but once I’m there, peddling down a road to hell you can only access on an elliptical machine, ideas sometimes crop up. Cardio is monotonous, lonely work so plug in your headphones and let your mind wander. You might just end up with your next story idea.

Not into strenuous activity? Prolific author Stephen King (and my personal writing hero) takes a leisurely walk every day. Doesn’t matter how fast you go as long as you go somewhere.

Be a Little (or a lot) Superstitious.

Truman Capote had some really weird writing superstitions. He would never begin or end a piece of work on a Friday, didn’t leave more than three cigarette butts in his ashtray (he stowed the extras in his pocket) and would even change hotel rooms if the phone number for the room had a “13” in it.

I whole-heartedly believe in writing mojo. The energy around a certain set of circumstances that coincided with your stumble into some good words might be accessed again by occupying the same space or performing the same habits. Sounds like some hippy dippy mumbo jumbo, right? I’d think so too if I hadn’t personally experienced it.

Example: when I write on my lunch hour, I sit in a specific booth in the break room. I finish entire chapters in that booth within a one-hour period which, let me tell you, is unheard of for me. If someone else is in my booth and I’m forced to sit in another, I either don’t get as much done, or I end up rewriting everything later because it ended up being garbage. Trust these little idiosyncrasies in your writing habits. It might all be a bunch of hokum, but if it works for you, does that really matter?

Do you know any other successful or prolific author habits that might knock some of the good words loose? Do you have a surefire writing trick that works for you? Share it in the comments below or @ me on twitter @dianneinwriting

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