The Minimalist Secret to Productive Writing

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.

70 thoughts on “The Minimalist Secret to Productive Writing

  1. 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!!!

    1. 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 🙂

  2. 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. 

  3. 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.”

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

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

  8. 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?

  9. 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? 

    1. 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.   

    2. 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.


  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. This post is along the lines of what Marty Chamberlin talks about at the 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

  13. 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. 

    1. 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.


  14. 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.

  15. 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. 

  16. 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!

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

  18. “…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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.


  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. 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 @

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

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  23. 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.

    thoroughly enjoyed your post.

    1. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.


  26. 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!

  27. I think this is great and very true. I would also say you need to one other thing, like Stephen King says: Feed the well. In other words, read something everyday.

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