I have authored a particular fanfiction, which has garnered a moderate following on the fanfiction website I published it to. As of now, the story has 279 users following it for updates, as well as 45 users watching me in particular for anything I post (there is some overlap, but it isn't 100%). The story is currently over 100k words split between 18 chapters, with 3k story views and 23k chapter views.

My story is not finished, but over the last few chapters, my rate of updates has slowed. Chapters 1-13 were every week or every other week; 14-17 were approximately every month, and chapter 18 took me 2 months to put out.

This isn't to say I spent two entire months writing chapter 18, far from it! I spent about 3 days doing the actual writing (and then editing time added onto that), and while I spent more time figuring out the plotline, most of it was "sunk cost," as the plotline is a continuation of the previous chapters.

Chapter 18 has been up for almost five months now, and I still haven't put a single word down for chapter 19. I'm not actually suffering from writer's block as I understand the term: I know what elements need to go into the chapter, and I even have specific plans for many (if not all) of the scenes that will take place. The problem seems to be a lack of motivation to spend the requisite time to do the writing in the first place.

I certainly haven't lost interest in the subject of the story, either. The story is a crossover between my favorite tabletop RPG setting (which has a new edition coming out soon) and my favorite animated series. In fact, my Gravatar is from one of the books for the RPG.

The Question

What techniques might I employ to get myself "back in the game," as it were? I admit that I'm not the best at time management, so recommendations on time management techniques (esp. those which apply to writing) would not be unwarranted, but any recommendations for how to get back on the horse would apply.


When I was pumping out a chapter a week, I was unemployed, out of school, and living with my parents. The only calls on my time were a weekly card game league I participated in, and a weekly game night with my friends.

Today, I have a full-time job, I now run the aforementioned league, I still have a weekly game night, I have picked up a MMO game, and (particularly relevant to concentrating while writing) one of my house-mates often sings to himself, frequently loudly and always poorly (or alternatively, talks to himself, sometimes loudly). The singing and talking is the result of a mental handicap, and while he does oblige if asked to keep things down, he's only able to keep it in check for a limited duration.


One of my other housemates is a fan of my story, so he could potentially be a source of encouragement.

I have a subscription to focus@will, which I did utilize (before being a paid subscriber) while writing chapters 17 and 18. f@w won't specifically get me to open up Word and start writing, but it does help with concentration while working on something. According to f@w's blog, it can also build a Pavlovian response by associating f@w's music with "work time." I can't comment on that personally, but then I doubt anyone conditioned for something would be able to.

  • 1
    The responses at writers.stackexchange.com/questions/38/writing-discipline may be helpful.
    – Standback
    Feb 5, 2014 at 9:43
  • I'd vote this question up if you'd just generalize the question (and stop making excuses for your self; if you don't want to be distracted I'm sure you can think of how to make that happen)
    – virtualxtc
    Feb 7, 2014 at 5:13
  • 1
    Making excuses for yourself to avoid getting on with it is one of the hardest things to beat @virtualxtc
    – CLockeWork
    Feb 7, 2014 at 15:04
  • When I find myself in this situation I can often get myself in the mood to write by reading books about writing...
    – Eli
    Feb 18, 2014 at 23:08

7 Answers 7


Obviously there's no one answer to this. These are simply my observations on dealing with this issue:

I've found writing in LaTeX to be quite liberating; by planning the rough shape of the story (sections or chapters) I can then create a separate module that will contain each chapter or section.

Each module contains a comment at the top with the rough plot for the module and some things to keep in mind. This way I can just pick up a new module, free of the weight of previous work, free of the worrying over formatting and layout, and just write.

This wikibook is invaluable for this: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/LaTeX

When I'm stumped on a section I've often it's because I don't like it. Scrapping it an going back to the end of the last section often kickstarts my writing again.

When I’m really stumped I get my wife to give me a word, and use it as inspiration to kick off a new piece. Sometimes going and working on a short for a while clears my head, and I can come back to main piece ready to write.

When I was unemployed I did way more writing than I do now. If you really want to write, you need to make solid time for it (which you had plenty of time for back then.) Set aside some time, even if it's only half an hour a day. The more you stick to this the easier it will get.

As Lauren said; ditch the MMO. You know those things are addictive and you'll never make the time to write if you're playing them (and if you do you'll be distracted by thoughts of the game.)

I prefer to listen to instrumental music when I’m writing. There's a ton of great free music like this on Jamendo. (For fantasy check out Celestial Aeon Project.)

In fact, I really like finding music that fits the theme of what I'm writing, to help carry on that inspiration.

If you're friend keeps singing get some good headphones and drown it out with some non-distracting music. Note I like instrumental music because I find myself stopping to listen to the lyrics if there are any.

For some people planning out the whole story helps them stay on track, but for others it stalls their creativity entirely. Spend some time figuring out what works best for you and then put it into place.

As lonehorseend said, find somewhere comfortable to write. I use a laptop so I can sit wherever I want, and if I can't take it with me I take a notepad.

Using a notepad also allows to me to write without worrying about how it looks and sounds; I can polish it up when I type it up. This allows me to write quicker.

Just make sure you don't slip into the trap of using a need for a better environment/equipment as an excuse to not write. That one's caught me out many a time.


So, writing should be fun, we should enjoy it, but it's also about work. If you don't put in solid time you won't get the output. The problem, as you know, is getting started. Hopefully some of these things will help, but I think the biggest one is setting time aside every day. If you can make this routine then eventually you won't even notice it, it'll just be what you do.

And finally watch out for distractions, and that includes distracting yourself. Sometime sitting down to a big piece can seem daunting, and it's easy to avoid the whole thing. But it's worth it not to. Just stick to it.

Good luck.


I have struggled with the some of the same problems myself. Life always seems to come before writing. Here's some of the things I've learned over the last few years:

  1. Don't try to write a chapter - Jot down your ideas as they come to you. That's very important because you will forget what you want to write when you want to write! Then when you have time, go look at the notes you've made and start building the story from there.
  2. Write something different - Something comes after Chapter 18, right? Well, if you get an idea for that, start there and complete that chapter then go back.
  3. Be mobile in your writing - If you have a tablet or laptop, great. If you don't, a good old fashioned notebook will do. Just have something around you so that when you get that urge to write, you can. Also, the change of scenery will help. I used to get stuck when writing on my computer. But then I'd go off with my little IPod touch, watch TV, and the next thing I'd know it'd be four hours later, TV's on the music channel, and I've got a good chunk of writing done. (I've since switched to an 8 inch tablet, much easier on the eyes and the brain!)

Work backwards.

Visualize the completed work in it's entirety

In Dr. Wayne W. Dyer's PBS special 'Excuses Be Gone' he recommends actually having the cover sleeve made before trying to sit and write.

Break it down

In writing research papers, I usually start with having a full outline of each section, including figures. With a book, however, there is no reason you not to brainstorm what each chapter might be about.

From there, you can consider the substory; what things will you cover in each chapter and how will they flow? And you may also want to consider if there will be sub-chapters, or some other form of sectioning.

Fill in the blanks

If you haven't already been inspired to just start writing at this point, start writing down possible topics for each paragraph you'll write. When you've run out of ideas, consider how to organize them, or move them in with other chapters if necessary. Then just start expanding the topics

Save formatting and editing until the end

CLockeWork's suggestion of using LaTeX shouldn't be ignored. Use a logical editor instead of a WYSIWYG one if possible, or just write inside notepad.

Save the typesetting, punctuation, and spell checking, and grammar for when you are stuck. Chances are the editing process will spur new ideas and allow you to keep progressing forward.


"A writer is someone who writes."

Psychologist Paul J. Silvia, in How to Write a Lot, a guide to academic writing, states that there is no such thing as writer's block. What people perceive as "writer's block" is caused by waiting for inspiration to hit before you start to write. The fact is that inspiration will happen while you write. Always. Therefore Silvia's one stop solution to all writing problems is to write.

I really recommend that helpful book. It was recommended to me by my psychology professor. A short summary is:

  • Set yourself a time for writing. It can be half an hour each week, or three hours each day, or whatever time you have available. It does not matter at all how much time you can invest, but it must be a fixed time, the same each week, and you must sit down and write during that time.

  • If you find adhering to some random schedule difficult, perceive that writing time as you perceive your job. A problem that many non-professional writers face is that they themselves don't take their writing serious enough. You wouldn't not go to your job because you didn't feel like it. Unless you are seriously ill, you get up, get dressed, drive to work, and work. It may not be your best day, but you get through it. Do the same with your writing. No matter if you didn't sleep well or have no ideas or would rather cuddle with your girl friend – get up, get dressed, go to wherever you can write without being distracted, and write. And don't be late. (You may work overtime, but you cannot substract that from the next appointed time.)

  • The quality of you writing does not matter. Your first task is only to write. If you want, you can delete/throw away everything you wrote at the end of each session.

  • It does not matter what you write. Just write whatever comes to your head. With time this will sort itself out and you will get into what you really want to write.

  • Keep at it. No excuses. The idea behind this strategy is that you need to build a habit of writing. If you don't believe in this strategy, set yourself a date until which you will adhere to this schedule and then evaluate its usefulness. You must do this for at least 30 days, for it to become effective. Three months is better. Habits don't happen in one repetition, so give yourself some time, before you decide this is not for you.

If you cannot find the time to write, you should accept that writing is not important enough for you, and stop agonizing over it. Enjoy the things you do! One can be happy without writing.

Writer Steven Pressfield in his non-fiction instructional manual on how to "break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles", The War of Art, recommends the same strategy for "going pro". He lists ten principles you need to apply to your writing if you want to write professionally:

  1. Show up every day
  2. Show up no matter what
  3. Stay on the job all day
  4. Commit yourself over the long haul
  5. The stakes are high and real
  6. Accept remuneration for our labor
  7. Do not overidentify with your job
  8. Master the technique of your job
  9. Have a sense of humor about your job
  10. You receive praise or blame in the real world

I'd like to comment on a few of these principles, as they apply to the non-professional writer.

re 1. That's essentially the idea I already outlined above: Create a schedule that you as a hobbyist with a job other than writing can fulfill, and then stick to it.

re 2. Take your writing serious and don't make any excuses. If writing is something you want to do, you need to follow this decision with the necessary discipline.

re 3. Again, I already mentioned this: If you set yourself an hour to write, then write an hour. You can work longer, but you as your own boss should make sure you stay on the job for the time that you expect.

re 4. Don't see yourself as writing this story or writing for one month, but conceive of yourself as writing from now on. Make writing a habit like brushing your teeth. You want to be a writer (a person who writes) not an author (someone who once wrote a book).

re 5. and 6. If you can and dare, reduce your daytime job and earn money with your writing. Or find another way so that failing to write will seriously impact you and your life. This is one killer motivator, but not for everyone, certainly.

re 7. Steve Pressfield writes:

We may take pride in our work, we may stay late and come in on weekends, but we recognize that we are not our job descriptions. The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance [Pressfield's concept for what keeps you from creating, what others call "writer's block" or procrastination] loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.

Personally, I call amateur writing "masturbation". The amateur artist creates art to satisfy himself. He is not a lover, who communicates with his partner to please both himself and her, but a social incompetent loner. The professional creates art for a paying audience to earn a living. The real art in creating art, as in any job, is to find the right balance, where you have fun and your customers are satisfied with the product they buy from you.

If you are a hobby writer, you can still write from this same perspective, and I believe that you need to create art that someone else than yourself cares about, if you truly want to make yourself happy. Because the true "fun" in writing comes not from expressing your inner self in a way meaningful only to you, but in writing what someone else wants to read in a way that only you could have written it.

re 8. That's in fact part of learning the craft of writing: to find your own themes and style, yet tell your stories in a way that interests and excites a significant number of readers. Write socially, like a lover of your audience, not to pleasure only yourself.

re 9. Humor implies that you don't overidentify. If you are your writing, then any critique will feel like it devalues you. Distance yourself from your writing in the same way that a baker does not get a depression when a customer does not like his bread. Attempt to bake good bread, of course, but take it lightly, if not everyone loves it. You are not your writing, you are a writer. Don't love your writing (i.e. your texts) in a way that makes it impossible for you to heed constructive criticism, but love writing (i.e. the creation of texts). Laugh at your bad writing of last year and learn to do better.

Apart from these ten principles, I didn't find Pressfield's The War of Art very useful. I do not recommend that book.


Well, if it's fanfic specifically, then something about the source material got your brain going. Go back and rewatch the show, play the game, chat online with other fans, surf tumblr, read other folks' fic. Get back into the headspace of the fandom and see if that re-ignites your creative spark.

Also, drop the MMO game. The mental energy you would be expending on plotting is going into the twists of gaming. Keep the game night, because you want to interact with actual, you know, live human beings. :)


I'm terrible at time management too. So instead of times, I have PLACES where I write. There's a tea shop and a bar where I go when I need to get words on paper. I leave my networked devices at home and take a notebook and pencil with me.

Good luck.


Make writing feel like downtime

I think the biggest problem, from your description, is trying to write while having a day job. As you said, you wrote plenty while unemployed, but now, it has dried up. This isn't surprising. A day job takes time and energy, and you need to take time off to do things you want to do.

If writing feels like a chore, or an effort, you will never get there. You simply don't have the time left over. The trick is to make writing feel more a treat, like downtime.

This won't work for all writing, but for certain parts, like the first draft, writing can be very pleasurable. If you cultivate the right mindset, it's not unlike watching a movie that your brain plays for you. Treat it that way. Make time, allow yourself an expensive takeaway and a beer or whatever treats you reserve for your downtime, and just write comfortably.

Some tips to make this work:

  • Don't be too ambitious in what you write. If you aim to be the next James Joyce, it'll always feel like work. Save that for when the writing pays your bills. For now, just relax, and aim to write something uncomplicated and entertaining.
  • Make a playlist for every story. Take some time to select music that sets the scene. Look for film soundtracks in a similar genre, or certain types of instrumental music that fit well. Services like focus@will are helpful for focused work, but in your downtime, it's more important to create the right mood.
  • Have some tricks for when it starts to feel too much like work. The aim is to make the business of writing feel pleasurable and entertaining. When you're done it should feel like you've watched a movie, not like you've spent a day at the office. That means that whenever it starts to feel tough, you should do something easier and more fun. Within the story, you can just jump to a different point in time or space (jumping to the future is a particular favorite of mine), or have something dramatic suddenly happen. Or, just jump to a different chapter. Another thing you can do, is to reread some of the earlier writing, to get into the flow.

All of this may feel lazy, but it can actually be a great way to keep your writing compelling. Your readers are reading for enjoyment. If it feels like work writing it, there's a good chance it'll feel like work reading it.

At some point, of course, you will need to do some actual work. Editing, fixing pacing issues, checking for plot holes, these are things that will require you to sit up and get the job done. But at that point, you're in the home stretch, and you won't have any trouble getting motivated.

The first draft is where you need to relax and let yourself enjoy it.

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