Having interviewed more than 30 bestselling authors over the past year on my podcast, I've learned a lot about how they overcome distractions and mental blocks and get down to work each day.

I like to ask them about their writing process: How they get started and enter a state of "flow"; how much writing they get done in a given session or day; and what strategies, tips, and "productivity hacks" they've learned along the way.

Here are 10 tips these writers have shared with me about how they get their writing done each day:

1. Write a page or two of whatever comes to mind

What if, instead of jumping in each morning and cranking out words to meet your daily quota, you instead write a page or two of stream of consciousness thoughts, just to warm up your writing muscle?

Oliver Burkeman, a popular columnist for The Guardian and author of "The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking", told me he does just that. Every day, before launching into his daily writing routine, he spends time writing up to a page and a half of whatever comes to mind, without stopping. It's a technique he picked up from the author and creativity coach Julia Cameron, which she calls "morning pages".

2. Schedule writing time

Thriller novelist Joanna Penn is a "relentless scheduler." She marks the days on her calendar that she'll be writing fiction under her pen name, JF Penn; days she plans to write non-fiction content like blog posts and book chapters under her real name; and days on which she'll be doing any of the myriad marketing tasks that she needs to handle as an "authorpreneur".

3. Break down your writing into smaller chunks

Shane Snow, co-founder of Contently and author of "Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success", breaks down his writing into smaller, digestible pieces. He says that the psychological reward that a writer can get from tackling smaller pieces of a much larger project provides the incentive needed to keep moving forward.

4. Write in short, timed sprints

In her book, "The 8-Minute Writing Habit", novelist Monica Leonelle encourages writers trying to squeeze time into their busy schedules to focus on completing a series of eight-minute writing sprints. While eight minutes may not seem like much, do a few of these each day and you'll find yourself meeting or exceeding your daily word count targets.

5. Take your writing with you

Sarah Wendell, romance fiction blogger and author of "Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels", ensures she's always ready to capture  words that suddenly spring to mind, wherever she may be at the moment. She stops whatever she's doing, takes out her phone or notepad, and starts writing.

6. Shut off social media

Many of the authors I speak with make a point of steering clear of social media when they need to get their writing done. Sarah Stodola, author of "Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors", shuts down internet access with an application called -- appropriately -- Freedom.

7. Find the right place

Writing places feature prominently in the conversations I have with authors. Shane Snow wrote the bulk of his book, "Smartcuts", at a Starbucks down the street from his office in Manhattan. Joanna Penn finds she concentrates best at coffee shops or at the library. And Joan Dempsey writes in a wooden shed that once housed chickens. 

8. Tune into background music

Several of the writers I spoke with listen to background music or white noise as they write. James Scott Bell listens to movie scores while he pens his novels. Mark Vanhoenacker, a 747 pilot for British Airways and author of "Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot", listens to the music of Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi. And Shane Snow finds that listening to the same song several times on a loop helps him to enter a state of "flow".

9. Write an email to your grandma

If you freeze up and the words stop flowing, take the advice of Laura Brown, author of "How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide." She suggests imagining as though you're writing an email to someone you feel comfortable with, such as your grandmother.

10. End your writing day by beginning the next day's session

Danny Oppenheimer, a professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Business, and author of a widely cited study on the benefits of taking notes by hand, admits that he has a hard time getting started with his writing projects.

His advice for getting the cursor moving again? At the end of each day's writing session, start writing the first few sentences or paragraphs of the next day's session. It'll help you avoid the dreaded "blank page syndrome" that afflicts writers.

Published on: Mar 29, 2016
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