Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 2:

“I just can’t sit still.”

Some energetic people find it hard to stay in one place.

As one student put it, “I was writing when I suddenly found myself sweeping the kitchen. I have no idea how I got there!”

Some solutions are as follows:

Time Restriction

Aiming to write no more than fifteen minutes at a stretch can be helpful for this problem. It’s easier to sit still if you know it’s not for hours and hours.

Audible Reminders

One student would set a kitchen timer for fifteen minutes. “When the alarm went off, it reminded me that I was supposed to be writing. I would often find myself doing something else and the alarm would help me refocus.”

Physical Restriction

A British professor once told me that, when he sat down to write, he belted himself into his chair. This was not a metaphor. He literally pulled his belt out of some loops, threaded it through the back of his work chair, and then belted it back up. That way, if he got distracted, he was quickly reminded to stay seated! This technique seems extreme to me, but he swore by it.

Stop Fighting It

If you can’t sit still, maybe your body is telling you something.

Taylor Eggan, a productive scholar and dancer, told me that he dances while writing. Mostly he sits to write, but when he has to think through something, or is losing focus, he finds himself getting up to dance. It energizes and focuses him. When I asked him whether he does choreographed routines, he said something quite interesting: “never, because improvised movement yields unexpected kinaesthetic information, which in turn helps me make new connections.” Moving your body moves your writing.

Build Movement In

If you can afford it, you can get one of those treadmill desks and keep moving while writing.

If you can’t afford it, some standing desks are inexpensive. Or, if you need it to be free, one hack is to stack some books on a top of a three-shelf bookshelf, and put your computer on top. I did that one year with great success. Just add a spongy rubber pad to stand on.

Standing to write encourages movement. Just naturally, you will find yourself pacing while trying to think of the right word or transition. Or waving your hands around, as you imagine giving some part of the article as a lecture.

Improve Your Writing Site

You might be fidgeting because you are uncomfortable. Make sure you work in a chair where your feet can touch the floor and at a table where you are not lifting your elbows to your ears to type. A lot of people swear by writing in bed or on couches or the floor–but if you can’t sit still to write, this may not be working for you. Check out the writing workbook for more advice about improving your writing site.

Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 2, one of the motivation obstacles listed on page 31 of Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (University of Chicago Press, 2019).