I have read many valuable "5 tips", "10 ways", "50 hacks" provided by productivity gurus to help you move forward when you have trouble being productive. To my surprise, none of these lists mentions an easy to grasp rule Ernest Hemingway applied to his writing process. His hack is perhaps too nonconformist to be part of the "getting things done" gospel…
The winner of the 1954 Nobel prize in Literature explains in simple words how to keep the momentum going and how to avoid writer’s block, a common affliction amongst authors. But his hack applies to any task related to an important goal. Here’s what you should do to avoid being stuck and maintain the flow state that maximizes productivity.

The quote :

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start. Ernest Hemingway
Roald Dahl’s comment :
Let’s see what another famous writer, Roald Dahl, has to say about Hemingway’s hack (excerpts) :
« I never come back to a blank page; I always finish about halfway through. Hemingway taught me the finest trick : “When you are going good, stop writing.” You don’t go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next? You make yourself stop and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next. »

To summarize, Hemingway tells you :

Don’t finish your daily task if you want to keep the momentum going :

* Make finishing your task your « next task »
* Stop when you know what you will do to finish it
* Stop when you feel the drive to finish it
* Stop when you reach a creativity peak
* Stop thinking about it until the next day

The benefits. You :

* Avoid being stuck
* Keep the momentum going
* Start your day by the rewarding work of finishing a task
* Boost your self-confidence and motivation levels before starting the « next task »
* End your day on a high note
* Put your brain to purposeful rest when you stop working
* Allow you subconscious to work profitably on « it » = « the bigger picture » = your goal.

My comment
Of course if you want to get into the completion habit, you should start by finishing your daily task (related to an important goal), no matter how sloppily you do it. But often, if you limit yourself to this way of getting things done, you cannot help worrying about the poor quality of your work and feeling dissatisfied with it until the next day.

And this is not good for your self-esteem. What is not good for self-esteem is not good for motivation. And without boosting your motivation level you cannot get into the completion habit.

My experience
With some practice, you can go from don’t stop when you get stuck to avoid being stuck. In my 22-year career as a professional journalist I went through all the stages : I started by being a perfectionist , rereading and rewriting every sentence of an article, therefore getting stuck all the time. I moved on to practicing sloppy drafts whenever I was stuck and improving them afterwards. Until one day, when I stopped when I was "going good". Why ? Because it was a beautiful summer evening, because I wanted to listen to the Rolling Stones, because I knew exactly what to do to finish my article.

Since then, I always make myself stop when I know what I am going to do next ( and not when I want to listen to the Stones on a summer evening - which is what I dream of doing all the time). And I learned to apply this rule to other tasks, when I decide to clear up my wardrobe or to sort out my record collection for an easier access to my 325 Stones records (pretty obvious).

Via: The Second Act

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Replies to This Discussion

I could have used this in November during NaNoWriMo!
Good article, you know of any other techniques to break "writers block" or to stay more creative?


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