Tricking Your Monkey Mind into Writing

When do you have time to write in your day? Is it at 6 a.m. when everyone but the dog is asleep? Or midnight, when the same rule applies? Lunch time? Or maybe it’s not really a matter of time (confess–you spend at least some of your free time skimming blog articles, or seeing if your ex has any new Facebook photo updates of his ugly baby); maybe it’s a matter of only thinking you want to be a writer, without, you know, actually writing anything.

I’m in a phase like that now, a kind of long one— years even. But I also know myself fairly well. When I decide on a project, I can be committed, though I need both a schedule, a daily practice, and a specific goal in mind, even if it’s just writing for a certain number of days in a row (note: this does not apply to National Novel Writing Month). I know that some people totally get into the challenge of writing five billion words a day for one of the longest months in the year, but I personally find it just a short cut to self-loathing (to offer an inspirational aside, I read recently that David Foster Wallace wrote the first draft of Infinite Jest during NaNo *).

I can’t seem to write unless I have a deadline pressing like a vulture on my back. I have found, however, that I respond to made up challenges and deadlines. You’ll have to find out what motivates you—praise from others, reaching a certain word count, jealousy that yet another story by Josh Ferris has been accepted in The New Yorker–but here are a few suggestions for making sure writing is part of your daily life:

1. Sign up for This is a free, private blog that counts your words for you (750 words a day being the goal), and gives you these badges when you reach certain goals. You can sign up for monthly challenges or just track your word count. You can sign up for daily email reminders and see your progress. The site also gives you a peek into your subconscious mind, showing what words you use the most, and what your themes seem to be given those words.

2. Enter a writing a contest with a deadline. Philadelphia Stories offers two: the Marguerite McGlinn National Prize for Fiction and The Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry. Pick up a copy of Poet’s and Writers and you’ll  find plenty of other contests to spur you on.

3. Take a class. Temple’s Continuing Education program has night classes in various genres, and so do many other universities around the tri-state area. If you have a little extra money and are free in the evenings, a weekly class where you can talk to other writers, have specific writing assignments, and get feedback can be highly motivating. You can find a whole list on this very website here. Downside: some courses cost more than others and require you to be registered in a program. In that case, consider looking for a writing group that meets regularly in your area. Most of those are free, though  depending on the group, you may find that the participants tend to talk less about writing and more about their personal lives.

4. Sign up for Internet blocking apps
. If your main problem is a lack of focus and attention while trying to write–if you’re like me and will latch onto any excuse to stop writing and Google something (for example, “best fiction writing apps”), you might find it useful to try an online tool that will temporarily disallow you from tweeting a pithy line of text you’ve just written or checking your email to see if you have any more holiday coupons from Pottery Barn. Anti-Social, FocusWriter, and Think are three of the ones I found while distracting myself from writing this article by reading this article.
Those are my suggestions, but do whatever it takes. Butt in the chair, that’s the first rule. Then, go.

(*This is a made-up fact, i.e. fiction).

Aimee LaBrie received her MA in writing from DePaul University in 2000 and her MFA in fiction Penn State in 2003. Her collection of short stories, Wonderful Girl, won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction in 2007 and was published by the University of North Texas Press.Other stories of hers have been published in Minnesota Review, Pleiades, Quarter After Eight, Iron Horse Literary Review, and numerous other literary journals. Her short story, “Ducklings” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Pleiades.