Write Like Hell


How many times have you sat down to write and gotten instantly stuck? How many times have you been writing and hit a wall because you were nervous you weren’t taking the story in the right direction? How many times have you felt “blocked” “bogged down” or “frozen” during a writing session instead of free and flowing and moving ahead?

It’s not writer’s block.

It’s nerves.

The number one reason writers get stuck while writing is because they’re worried they’re writing the wrong thing. They’re worried about audience response, or the messiness of the draft, or the sound of their own writing voice.

But there is a way to break through.

The Write-Like-Hell Method

Take 20 minutes. Any 20 minutes during any part of your day. Use a timer. When the timer starts you Write Like Hell for 20 minutes. No stopping. No pauses to think of how you want to say the next thing or decide where the story needs to go. Just writing, full steam ahead, for the full 20 minutes.

Yes, your hand will probably cramp up. And yes, resistance will kick in and you will feel like you have to take a break to use the bathroom, get water, or get a new pencil. Ignore it. You can bear anything for 20 minutes.

And that’s why we’re only doing this for 20 minutes, because you’ll know that anything that shows up and tries to get you to stop writing is just an excuse.

Think of this exercise as a 20-minute sprint. It’s okay to get messy, sweaty, and out of breath. And if you hit a rough patch where you don’t know how to spell something, or you need to do more research, put it in brackets and come back to it later. Because during this 20-minute sprint you really don’t have time to go back and make sure your sentences are perfect. You only have time to move ahead.

I recommend using the Write Like Hell method for at least a month. After you finish each 20-minute writing session, put the pages you wrote away. That means in a closed drawer or a file that you don’t open on your desktop. You are not allowed to go back and obsessively reread these pages, picking at them and worrying over details.

The purpose of this exercise is forward movement, not circling back.

The benefit of the Write Like Hell method is that anyone can schedule 20 minutes for writing, even if they have an extremely busy life. You can set your alarm for 20 minutes earlier in the morning and do it then, or sit in your car for 20 minutes after you get off work and rip out a few pages. You don’t need big chunks of time and you don’t need to wait for everything else in your life to cooperate.

Schedule 20 minutes. Sit your butt down. Set the timer.

Write Like Hell!


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  • Reply Mari Biella 11 March, 2014 at 9:18 am

    I try something similar already, Lauren. I find it helps just to break through those mental blockages. It’s especially helpful when I’m not really sure where to take the narrative next; very often as I work a way forward becomes apparent.

    Great post!

  • Reply Asia Aneka 11 March, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    I will start doing this. I’ve have several stories floating around in my head for years now and I just can’t complete a narrative like I did when I was younger. I keep getting stuck and doubting myself. I hope this will help because I have a lot of great ideas and a lot of stories that need telling. Thanks for the advice.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 11 March, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      Yay! Good luck to you Asia. I do believe you will get great results!

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 11 March, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    Great idea!

  • Reply Setsu 11 March, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Love that mural… I think that’s another “Longo” piece from Skull and Sword — he did the Massive Magenta Medusa that they covered up.

    Such a perfect picture for this post. This quick sketch of a snake-haired woman, while not as great and glorious as the MMM has so many of the same elements. The look, the feel, the vibe, and a lot of the same movement and “brush strokes,” even if the color scheme is totally different.

    I think the 20 minutes of getting everything out there is such a great way to tune in and amplify the first whispers of an idea. There’s some essence we’re trying to capture, and even if we don’t get it in those twenty minutes — every word on the page brings us that much closer. You nailed it, once again!

    You can work up to anything if you start right now.


  • Reply Jon Simmonds 12 March, 2014 at 6:21 am

    Love it! What a superb post Lauren, I am absolutely going to give this a go. I’m terrible at getting stuck and I know it’s for exactly the reasons you described. Particularly the fear of not liking what I’ve written or worrying that a chapter may have been better before I revised it. Hence I don’t start. Thank you!

  • Reply Glynis Jolly 12 March, 2014 at 9:50 am

    I like this idea for getting unstuck. Although I usually just go do a bit of housework, which, believe it or not, does help me when I’m stuck, sometimes cleaning the house is the last thing I want to do. This should work for me.

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