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3 Effective Ways to Get Started

Shut up and write, Kevin J. Anderson quote

Shut up and write, Kevin J. Anderson quoteI have a great idea. I think it over, twist and turn it in my mind. It’s good. No, it’s brilliant, it’s freaking amazing! It’s something that could actually take off, go somewhere. People would enjoy it. I should totally do this.

I think about it. I jot down notes. I look for free slots of time when I could do this.

And I don’t.

My name is Filip and I’ve got procrastinitis*. I’ve got trouble getting started. Once I get going I can crank out a thousand words no problem. I can whip up a game prototype in no time flat. I can transcribe interviews, sort notes, fold laundry, anything and everything.

If I get started.

So over time I’ve built up a repertoire of tricks to fool my brain into forgetting that it’s scared/tired/lazy/really wants to go to the bathroom. No, brain, it’s time to act. So here are my fav tricks to fool yourself into getting going.

Ridiculously Small Goals

I like to set ambitious goals. Unfortunately they hover on the horizon like a flock of cardboard Gozillas waiting for me to try and get them so they can stomp me.

Seriously, that’s how it feels. Getting something big done is daunting. It’s way safer to sort my emails into folders based on sending server’s country code. So I cheat. I don’t face my Gozillas. I look for a frog.

Find the smallest, discrete unit of accomplishment and say that you’ll do that. For writing it could be “find an idea I’d like to work on”. For housework it could be “fold a sock”. When I was trying to get into the habit of flossing my teeth it was “floss one tooth”. Yeah, it’s ridiculous – who’d ever want to fold a single sock? – but it works because it’s ridiculous.

There’s absolutely no pressure. I can floss that single tooth and be done. I don’t need to do more. Of course, I can if I want to. If I find that idea I’d like to work on I can begin writing that story. If I fold one sock I can fold the other. And since I’m already there, staring at the laundry, I often do. Hey, I went this far, might as well go a tiny bit further. It’s the productivity way of throwing good money after bad: throwing good effort after bad. And it works.

Pat Yourself on The Back

Another so simple it’s ludicrous: make sure that you reward yourself for the effort. Not by binging on ice cream but by recognizing that yes, you accomplished something. That feeling, that accomplishment that gets your heart all aflutter, is important. It builds pride in your work, it builds a recognition of your self worth and it builds an identity for you as someone who acts, who gets things done.

It gets you to want to do it again.

Measure Then Compare

Squirrel nibble out of our happiness, Chuck Wendig quoteIf you don’t record what you accomplish you’ll never see the totality of what you do. This year I’ve been out of sorts, I’ve had some rough periods and been low on time. I’ve written a grand total of 50 000 words. That’s half of a major genre novel. At this rate I’ve have written the equivalent of Lord of the Rings by next summer.

Measuring what you do shows you exactly how much you accomplish. Then compare it to something impressive after a decent amount of time. I’m not comparing what I wrote this week to Lord of the Rings, I’m comparing this year. Lord of the Rings is massive, it took Tolkien 12 years to finish the trilogy. Comparing what you do in a week to that it a recipe for disaster.

If you’re going to compare, compare to something successful on same scale. “Hey, I wrote The Cat In The Hat this week. That book sold millions. Yay.”

Then go pat yourself on the back.

* Actual word. Guaranteed. I promise.

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  • Getting started is absolutely the hardest part of any creative endeavor. Ridiculously Small Goals is a great term for what _Getting Things Done_ calls Finding the Next Action: you can’t make any progress unless you know the first step, and once you make the first step, the next step usually follows pretty naturally.

    • Filip Wiltgren

      Yeah, I love GTD. I hit the wall a couple of years back and started looking for ways to work smarter instead of harder. GTD came as a godsend. I haven’t implemented it fully but just using the bucket/catch-all method (for which I use Evernote, but that’s another post entirely) and the “two minute rule” of doing everything that takes two minutes or less right away has done wonders for both my stress levels and my productivity.

      Also, if you liked GTD, take a look at Tim Ferris’s 4 Hour Workweek.

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