Writing under the influence: productivity and motivation tips to help authors write faster

Years ago I started working on a book called “The Creative Brain on Drugs.” It’s a book not just about the various mind-stimulating or sensation-altering substances that the majority of writers and artists have depended on for creative insight, but also their political views on the inherent right to self-modify, without government oversight.

But after years of trying to write professionally and struggling to produce a satisfactory number of words over long periods of time, I’m starting to realize that mindset, ritual and habits are just as, or more important than nootropics, stimulants or smart drugs. So I’ve decided to change the title to “Writing under the influence” so that it can include confidence boosting beliefs, or productivity enhancing psychological tricks to fool ourselves into doing the work.

I’m going to be revising and updating this post quietly all year (if you’re seeing this, you’re too early). But I’ll announce it once the skeleton is done before I start focusing on the full book form.



I want to be the Balzac of my time and publish hundreds of novels. I’d be happy averaging 6 a year. 

3 a year would be laid back, leisurely, but I’d rather work hard while I still can and build up my backlist. When I’m older I can fiddle with covers, sales copy or platform building to keep them selling. The problem is, I’ve been averaging 3 books a year for the past few years, even though I only spend 1% of my time actually writing.

A “successful” writing day for me right now – when I’m consistent – is 1500 words a day, with two big problems.:

#1. It takes me about 5 sprints to hit 1500 words, but I spread them out throughout the day. So even though technically they only take me about 2 hours, they actually take up my whole day.

#2. I don’t stay consistent. Weeks or months go by without actively working on my books. But when I open, when I start, I can do 1500 words.

This is my bench lifting ability right now. But if I ONLY do this much, I won’t be building my muscles or increasing in stamina. I’ll be coasting, not improving. I WANT to be writing 5,000 words a day, though I’d be happy with 3000 words. That would give me a longish novel a month, plus editing – and I could finish shorter works of 50K in a month (or less!)

So this summer I’ll be experimenting with RAPID IMPROVEMENT by challenging myself, experimenting with lifestyle design and brain hacking, etc.

Right now I can do about 1200 words/day consistently. Sometimes 1600. The main problem is it takes me ALL DAY to do this; even though I space out the sprints, I procrastinate and avoid. Then I get behind on other work or projects, and get anxious.

This is a big problem: I can only hit my wordcount goals if I literally do NOTHING else.

And this is due to resistance. But why am I resisting the writing? Because I say stuff like “I’m slow, I’m no good at drafting, writing the first draft is HARD for me.” I don’t believe writing HAS to be a struggle, but it obviously is for me… so I’m avoiding it. How can I write and still have time and energy for everything else on my list?

Think of the difference between sprinting and jogging.

Jogging is exercise. You have to force yourself to get up, go outside and do it. It sucks, but you do it anyway. Plus it’s slow, boring.

Compare that with sprinting. Sprinting is exciting, playful. Like running a race, or just because you have too much energy and don’t know what else to do. Running fast is exhilarating, you feel energized. I want to do that. I don’t want to be a writer who forces themselves to sit down and squeeze out the words.

I want to be writer who can set down and open the valve to release a steady, constant barrage of words that overflows the page. I want to get in a state of flow and lay down sentences like railroad tracks. I want my pages to cover coast-to-coast.

The difference, is probably to be found in cultivating and enjoyable writing experience, and build confidence in my abilities to write quickly. But that doesn’t mean I’m not looking for shortcuts.

My GOAL for the summer is to increase my word count to 3000 words a day (without ruining my day for other productive work) and maintain it for the rest of the year. This would allow me to put out six new books this year, effectively doubling my writing income.

This article will be a list of the short cuts I’ve taken.

PS. I can write 57 words a minute (according to this writing speed test). So with an uninterrupted sprint, I should be able get around 500 words in 10 minutes, or 1000 words in a 25 minute sprint. 




Deep work, focus, positive thinking… but ALSO overwhelm, confusion, frustration… 

Doing the important work first.

Organized intent/awareness

Deep work

-Saying no (thesis research, refusal, defiance.) Bartleby the Scrivener, I’d rather not.


-Selfbelief. Story, energy drink. People who bought a discounted energy drink performed less well than someone who got it at full price. Seeing motivational picture. Think of yourself easily doing it. The belief that you can do it. 

Placebo effect: if something doesn’t *actually* work, but makes you THINK it works and gives you confidence, then it *does* actually work, right?

-Mentorship. Hypnotist, author…methods of persuasion. Confidence, confidence man, herman melville.


Running, avoiding what makes you uncomfortable. It will win.

Almost didn’t host a meetup. Then I did. These twenty minutes were worth the cost of the whole conference and trip. A total marketing plan. Imagine what we could do in a full day (camping trip)


“Rather than outwardly state my skepticism, I projected a fake air of confidence to assure my friend that it would work. My friend witnessed my confidence and assurance in the hypnosis, and he then became more confident and assured in my ability to hypnotize him. As a result of his heightened expectations, I was able to guide him into a deep state of hypnosis, and after 10 minutes of giving him a few helpful suggestions, I guided him out of hypnosis, and he has been smokefree to this day. If I’m hypnotizing someone I’ve just met, after 5 or 10 minutes of speaking with them, I smile and say, “It’s funny. You seem like someone who could easily go into a deep state of hypnosis. That’s a great quality to have.” That statement removes any mental defenses that the person may possess, and it reinforces their expectations that they will be hypnotized. In turn, that makes it easier for me to guide them into a deep state of hypnosis.” 

So: if you have lack of confidence in yourself or your ability, an experienced coach or mentor may be able to transfer their confidence to you. It’s easier to have confidence in THEM and their ability to help you take action and see results; your confidence in them will actually help you take action and get results. You have to believe it’s possible before you take action. That’s why I begrudgingly respect the War of Art, it’s not set up as a motivation book, it’s a religion, and ideology, and Steven has to make you BELIEVE that it’s a real thing, even though actually it’s an invention. Belief is critical to action; action is critical to results.

ONE thing. How do you balance, how do you get it all done? I don’t I slack off on 90% of the things I’m supposed to be doing. I try not to make any commitments. I dissuade people from contacting me. I put my writing first, because I know it’s difficult to seduce. I need to be quiet, ready, waiting – I need the manuscript open and the time blocked out. Once I hit that timer…



Sleep schedule

YouTube Red



headphones noise cancelling headphones (These are so good my wife and I had to learn how to communicate through sign language).

notepad todo list (Physical, on desk). I get lost in my computer, dozens of tabs open, all my programs open.

Community/competition – accountability.

ipad/keyboard. Lock app. ulysses app.

Best writing apps.
A motivating coffee mug.
A motivational picture of someone winning.

Case study: more productive than the group who got discounted energy drink.


Best Nootropic stack

I’ve tried a lot of stacks and I generally don’t like them, because of ingredients like…

  • L-theanine
  • Choline
  • Huperzine

I’m neuralatypical 


My “stack”

Pictures: marijuana, mate, puerrh tea, coffee, port.

Not pictured: yogurt-covered-pretzels and animal cookies.

Refined sugar is the perfect brain food.

Unlike alcohol, which was the only commonly available psychoactive substance in the old world until they arrived, sugar, nicotine and caffeine had at least some stimulating properties, and so offered a very different experience, one that was more conducive to the labour of everyday life. These were the “18th-century equivalent of uppers”, writes the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson. “The empire, it might be said, was built on a huge sugar, caffeine and nicotine rush – a rush nearly everyone could experience.”

Sugar does induce the same responses in the region of the brain known as the “reward centre” as nicotine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol. Addiction researchers have come to believe that behaviours required for the survival of a species – specifically, eating and sex – are experienced as pleasurable in this part of the brain, and so we do them again and again. Sugar stimulates the release of the same neurotransmitters – dopamine in particular – through which the potent effects of these other drugs are mediated. 



Tea (green, mate, puerh)
Coffee (Bulletproof, espresso, drip)
Caffeine (pure)
Lion’s Mane

“Men are eager to talk about productivity drugs like modafinil that are strictly for getting things done, but the moment you stay “I want to get more done, and feel awesome doing it” you sound like some sort of degenerate stoner. Work is supposed to be, well, work. You’re telling me I can get a bunch done, because I feel so good that I don’t even notice time passing? Isn’t that cheating? Pleasure is a productivity hack in itself. If you feel good doing what you’re doing, you’re more likely to do more of it.”

Kratom: The Productivity Booster And Anxiety Killer That You’ve Never Heard Of


The consolations of philosophy… = ? What’s the resistance thing, grift, graft

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book editor turned book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors write and publish bestselling books. FREE GUIDE: Sell your work without selling out.