Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Minimalist Secret to Productive Writing

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From Jeff: This is a guest post by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. They write about living a meaningful life with less stuff at The Minimalists. They have published three best-selling books (including Minimalism) and been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Zen Habits, and NPR. They live in Dayton, Ohio.

There is one secret that has improved our writing more than anything else. It’s a secret so simple that it seems banal to even talk about. But the cold truth is it has radically improved our writing.

This secret isn’t some law-of-attraction, spiritual mojo kind of secret either. And it’s not something you have to learn over many years of rigorous practice. In fact, you can take this secret and apply it to your writing immediately.

Minimalist Writing

Creative Commons: Paul Keller (Creative Commons)

You don’t need to wait to put this into practice

This secret is so easy you might skip over it or dismiss it as a writer’s platitude.

But we ask you to treat it seriously, to test it out for yourself and see how it affects your writing. If you do, you’ll thank us in 30 days — we guarantee it.

If you apply this secret to your writing every day, you‚’ll have the most productive, fulfilling month of writing in your life.

Our secret is this

Sit in a chair for two hours every day.

That’s right. Even if you don’t write, even when you don’t want to write, plant your butt in the chair daily for a couple of hours.

Eventually, the words will come.

Make sure you don’t have any distractions in that chair — no internet, no television, no radio, no phone. If you’re truly passionate about writing, you’ll do it.

That’s all you need to do to radically improve your writing

You needn’t worry about word count or producing a particular number of pages.

You just need sit in that chair daily with no distractions.

Give it a shot for 30 days and notice how your world changes.

See you in a month.

For more about writing productivity, check out this eBook from Problogger: Blog Wise: How to Do More with Less.

How has the butt-in-chair method worked for your writing productivity? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Paul Keller (Creative Commons)

Some of the above links were affiliate links.

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About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://www.adamlasky.com/ Adam Lasky

    I think this is the major difference between amateur writers and professional writers in the sense that “professional” writers write when they don’t feel like it.  It’s Steven Pressfield’s idea of “turning pro.”  I may have to fight tooth and nail for that one written sentence, but at least it’s something.

    Every night after work I sit in the chair for a few hours.  Sometimes it sucks and I get extremely frustrated.  Other times it seems like the words flow onto the page.  The interesting thing is that if I try to sit on the couch or in another room of my house, it doesn’t work.  I need to sit in “my chair.”  Whether I write 500 words or 5, I need to be in my chair.

    I think you’re on to something Jeff.  There’s a lot of writing advice out there that deals with productivity (some helpful, some pure fluff) but at the end of the day I need to sit my big butt in a chair.  Writing doesn’t come magically.  I have to “do the work.”  There are no shortcuts or life hacks on this one.

    Thanks again for your insights.  I’m always encouraged to keep fighting my inner monsters when I visit!!!

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Adam,

      You’re spot on. And I agree—there’s something to be said for “my chair” as well.

      JFM

    • Anonymous

      You have that right – professional writers MUST write when they don’t feel like it. We don’t have a choice. I have a deadline and an editor looming behind me. It’s lovely that you’ve cultivated that discipline – that’s key to the writer’s life :)

      http://elizabethtai.com

  • http://bit.ly/zrrbrW Mike

    That is the biggest thing! I’ve learned that just sitting down and spending a couple hours on a blog or an ebook I am now working on does wonders! I can’t say everyday is my best work but something shows up and is there to show for the time that I have spent there in a chair trying to write anything. 

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Mike,

      You’re spot on. Consistency is incredibly important.

      JFM

  • http://therantingbeast.com/book-review-under-the-avalanche-by-anne-mccabe/ stephen

    Sitting down for two hours, I like the sound of that, great guest post cheers.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Stephan,

      Thanks. I’m glad you found value in it.

      JFM

  • http://WiltonBlake.com Wilton Blake

    Eliminating distractions while I write is my real problem.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Wilton,

      Bingo. You can do it though. I’m certain of it.

      JFM

  • http://www.ryanhanley.com/ Ryan Hanley

    In basketball they say, “Shooters shoot to get hot…  Shooters shoot to stay hot.”

    In seems fitting to say, “Writers write to get read… Writers write to keep getting read.”

    • Shelley Pethy

      I love basketball. This analogy makes to much sense to me. I love it. Thanks.

      • http://www.ryanhanley.com/ Ryan Hanley

        It seemed fitting the NCAA Tourney and all!  

        • http://www.creativehogg.com/ Josh Hogg

          I agree with Shelley, Ryan; Great analogy!

    • http://motivatedmastery.com/ Paul Jun

      Oh yeah, well played. 

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Ryan,

      That’s incredibly well said. As a former basketball player, I appreciate the analogy.

      JFM

  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    This is so true. I think the challenge for most people will be finding 2 hours they can spend to sit in a chair. Not that they don’t have the time already, but they’re probably not using it wisely.

    With work, family and church I don’t have 2 consecutive hours to “sit in a chair”, but I’m gonna try 1 hour. I think the secret behind the secret is no distractions. The internet (email, social media, LOLcats, etc) are like kryptonite to productivity.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      One hour sounds great. Heck, half-an-hour sounds great, too—if that’s all you have at the time. Thirty minutes is infinitely better than zero minutes.

  • http://www.eileenknowles.com/ Eileen

    While I’m sitting in this chair can I sip coffee?  :)    Great idea.  The ideas come when we slow down. 

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Eileen,

      Heck yeah you can sip coffee or tea or water or whatever you wish. And amen—ideas do come when we slow down.

      JFM

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    Cutting out the distractions is something I’ve had to learn the hard way. I would always justify it by saying that I was taking a mental break – but next thing you know, I’ve clicked around watching youtube videos for an hour. The resistance is tricky like that.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Loren,

      I killed the internet at home and it helped immensely. You might give that a shot for a month and see what it does for you. That’s what I did and I never went back.

      JFM

  • Anonymous

    I thought I learned from Jeff that the minimalist way of writing was really very easy.  Just write:      :)

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Indeed.

      JFM

  • Anonymous

    Digginsmo writes about his post below: It is just a spoof, of course, Jeff.  David Whittacre

  • Anonymous

    I have a friend whose profession is as a writer, and he told me that to write he has to turn on the TV, the radio and put in a CD (the only thing he uplugs is his telephone.)  He says that all comes from having had to work in the middle of a busy news room with all of its clatter.  Once he has all of his “sound machines” going, he sits in his chair and starts writing with all the background racket which somehow seems to set the proper ambience for his work.  Funny, huh?

    • http://www.creativehogg.com/ Josh Hogg

      I guess I’m not fit to work in a news room then! Need a closed door and quiet myself. This is very funny though.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Interesting. That’s good if that works for him, though.

      JFM

  • Geraldallenbarrett

    I hope I can sit still that long….I’ll give it a go.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Give it a shot. If two hours is too long at first, attenuate it to something more tolerable (one hour?).

      JFM

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

    What they seem to be saying is that you have to commit to doing it. No matter what. Everyday. Kind of like a…..job.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Larry,

      Indeed. Discipline, commitment, dedication—these are all productivity platitudes, but they also happen to be true.JFM

  • http://www.patwashington.blogspot.com Pat Washington

    Wahhh.  It’s very hard for me to go without internet when I’m writing — unless I”m only journaling or reworking work for someone.   My dictionaries are online, and the news is online, information for the articles I write are online, event schedules and emails are online, writing collaborators are online, my ideas are in a document online…. 

    HOWEVER, I also have a problem with distractions. My son also has a problem with distractions when he goes online to get material for his homework (Facebook and Youtube, primarily. They have both been a help and a hindrance.

    So…any tips to those of us who are tethered to their distractions? 

    • Meg R

      Hye Pat, you won’t like my solution to this distraction.  A few years ago I discovered that being on the computer in the evenings interfered with my sleeping pattern.  IE: fall asleep for a short time, like 20 min then awake for hours afterwards; mind whirling.  Now, I turn the computer off between 6-7 pm each evening and go to things more manual labor intensive, and voila! no more sleep problem.  It also helps for doing writing projects or quiet time activities.  During Lent, like we’re in now, I only have it on from 2-6 PM as a discipline.  Much of what seems urgent turns into important and gets done first thing tomorrow afternoon.  I also write in pen and paper, especially first and second drafts.  I can’t write as well when my fingers can go as fast as my thots and can’t get them down comfortably.   

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Pat,

      Remove them for at least 10 days—you can do anything for 10 days, right? Then reincorporate certain aspects as you need them (if you need them at all, which you likely don’t). 

      Also, I use an offline dictionary app that works great. There are plenty of those out there.

      JFM

  • http://twitter.com/msobaskie Marissa Sobaskie

    This has really inspired me. Distractions are my biggest problem and fact-checking on the internet quickly gets out of hand. As soon as I have a little money,  I’m going to get a small table and chair and put it facing an empty wall in my bedroom. Just going to have paper and pens on it. I think it will be life-changing.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Marissa,

      That’s awesome. Getting rid of the internet at home was by far the best thing I’ve done in terms of productive writing. I wrote about it here: http://themins.com/internet/

      JFM

    • http://winningateverything.com/ Winning@Everything

      Crazy!  You’re your father’s daughter all right…

  • http://www.love-laugh-learn.com Deanna

    If I could sit with blinders on and ear plugs in all day, I just might not distracted so easily!  :)

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Deanna,

      I know what you mean. Perhaps getting rid of the distractions (internet, phone, etc.) while writing is the same as the blinders and plugs—no?

      JFM

  • Meg R

    Isn’t it too bad that life has gotten so busy and obnoxious that we actually have to be instructed on how to give ourselves the peace and quiet that we need to allow our minds to work properly and lose the stress.  Getting all that mental garbage out releases the stress, less depression, less denpendent on external gadgets.  We get in touch with who we are.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Meg,

      Yes indeed. We often take our silence and peace and quiet and solitude for granted, and when we do it’s hard to get in touch with who we are as individuals.

      JFM

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    This post is along the lines of what Marty Chamberlin talks about at the twohourblogger.com. I especially think this method will be effect if you stick to no distractions, also I would add to watch out for checking social media while you’re writing on your computer. Great post guys

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Kimanzi,

      Thanks. I agree: no internet also means no social media. That stuff can be incredibly pernicious.

      JFM

  • http://www.ontargetcoach.com/ Brent Pittman

    Does driving with no radio count? 

    I’ve always written and studied with music in the background. I usually have something to write about as I try to keep a list of possible topics, but this might only work for blogging. I couldn’t imagine writing a book at this point. 

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Brent,

      I find it incredibly difficult to write with any distractions, be it music, TV, or even ambient noises. I’d cut out whatever I could and see how it impacts your writing.

      JFM

  • Anonymous

    I agree. It’s about giving yourself the space to write…Some days it’s just watching that curser flicker on a blank page. Other days your typing like your possessed.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Amen! Let those demons walk onto the page.

      JFM

  • Anonymous

    This hits home in several ways. Not only does it pay to simply sit and allow the words to come. It pays to just SLOW DOWN. Turn OFF electronics and let the mind be at rest with itself. Wonderful words of simplistic wisdom. 

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Thanks!

  • Ethan

    The key here is the “no distractions” part. I’m sure many of the people reading this sit in front of their counters for at least 2 hours a day. You’ve gotta shut off the Internet to make it work!

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Ethan,

      Exactly. No distractions really is the key. Hopping on the internet or watching TV or getting caught up in household chores will kill the experience every time.

      JFM

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Agreed. So hard but so important.

  • Flora Brown, Ph.D.

    This is the most profound advice on writing ever. It’s how every book gets written.

  • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

    Great advice. So simple but hard to do until you actually DO it. 

  • Anonymous

    “…with no distractions”? Spoken like someone who doesn’t have kids :}

    The only way I can guarantee two hours of focused time for anything — writing, editing, detailed reading — is to sit up from 1 to 3 am after everyone else has hit the hay. And though we’re a family of night owls, I’m generally too tired by that point to accomplish much. Plus, y’know, there’s that sleep-dep problem.

    My mantra is “this too shall pass,” but at the moment I’m struggling; I don’t want to shelve the writing but it seems unrealistic not to.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I think the trick here is to not do “all or nothing.” Start with five minutes a day, if that’s all you can do. As with exercise, writing is about regularly showing up and seeing results over time. Stay encouraged, start somewhere, and don’t give up.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      I’ll echo what Jeff said—start somewhere, be it five minutes or two hours. And Leo Babauta (of Zen Habits fame) has six kids and writes uninterrupted every day; I’ve talked with him about it, so I know it’s possible.

      JFM

  • http://twitter.com/aprilinspired April Byrd

    Yeah it’s called praying!

  • Cheryl

    I haven’t exactly tried the 2 hour “butt plant” method, but I have made myself sit at the computer when I had no real idea what I would write that day. It didn’t take long, and with the start of just a few words, the story would begin to flow. It works!

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Amen!

  • http://twitter.com/mnmlxstnc minimal existence

    I’m writing  about minimalist lifestyle and self-help every day since March 7th. I know it’s not a lot of time, but I feel way more comfortable on my writing, also I can write more in less time.

    • http://twitter.com/joshuamillburn JoshuaFieldsMillburn

      Congrats. 

  • liz tai

    Ironically, I learned this only five years into my journalism career. I’ve always been an ‘emotional writer’ – I write when I feel like it. It’s only when deadlines became too numerous that I changed my song. I have to place my butt in that chair for not two hours but six to seven. Sometimes I do get incredibly frustrated, but very rarely do I not produce words. I may feel like shit when I do it (like, blah, this copy absolutely sucks) and I may produce crap, but the next day (or a few hours later) I’d go over it and realise it ain’t such a tragedy.

    I’m applying it to my fiction writing as well. And that I didn’t do until two years ago. Writing fiction has always been an emotional experience for me. It didn’t seem right to reduce it to the robotic way I approached my reporting, but I did it anyway and realised what you feel really is irrelevant. work is work, fiction or non-fiction.

    Lovely post and so very true.

    – Elizabeth Tai @ http://elizabethtai.com

  • run

    Jeeff–I love you article.I learned  from you so much anout writing/

    [b][url=http://www.canadiens-shop.com/]Montreal
    Canadiens Shop[/url][/b]jixiyt0320

  • http://twitter.com/pieter_bouwer Pieter Bouwer

    Hi Jeff

    Great advice, yet very hard for me to
    adhere to…

    I sit in two chairs every day for many
    hours.  During daytime I sit in my office
    chair.  There I churn out formal writing
    while the sun shines.  Here in South
    Africa we have plenty of it.

    At night I sit in my chair at home.  The switch between formal, professional
    writing by day and conversational, relaxed blogging by night is hard.

    At night I still tend to act like a trained
    dog; programmed to be productive.  I don’t
    just want to be oohing and aahing.    Some nights I simply cannot throw the switch.  I really want to write real vivid, to-the-point,
    breathtakingly awesome, absolutely gorgeous content, but sometimes I wrestle to
    give birth to about five words.

    I
    thoroughly enjoyed your post.

    • Vera Bryant

      Pieter: Perhaps you might try writing in the morning, before you go to work.  Or an hour in the morning, an hour at lunchtime. I find I am too exhausted and “talked out” by the end of the day.  I use my commute time to ask myself questions that prompt the next bit I am working on.

  • http://twitter.com/LianaMir1 Liana Mir

    For those of us writers who cannot get rid of distractions (being of the human, friendly, and FAMILY variety), sit there longer. Really. It will still come.

  • http://twitter.com/LianaMir1 Liana Mir

    For those of us writers who cannot get rid of distractions (being of the human, friendly, and FAMILY variety), sit there longer. Really. It will still come.

     

  • Faseeha Harthim

    lol This was funny! I expected some real big secret! But this was just short and sweet! Sit in a chair for 2 hrs hahaha =D. I agree 100%. This works for me. I feel like a writer when I sit at my work desk and inspiration keep coming to me as long as my butts are planted. I’ve also got one more secret. Write longhand! That’s when the creative juices flow for me! Love the post! Best one on productive writing ever!

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