Can’t write? Build a house

Hallie Beard

Column by Hallie BeardOpinion Editor

Hallie Beard


I’ve recently uncovered the holy grail of writing tips.

Faced with an ungodly number of papers to write and needing motivation, I consulted a blog called “The Thesis Whisperer” for tips on how to churn out a lot of pages or words at once, and found a method that is now my new obsession.

Let me summarize the blog post for you: Ph.D. candidates facing the grueling hell of writing dissertations and journal articles went through a bootcamp where each student had a goal of writing 20,000 words over the weekend. I don’t know the specifics of what the daily schedule was like, but the leaders of the bootcamp used a reward system to motivate the students.

For every 5,000 words the student wrote, they’d receive a large Lego block. Yes, Legos – the plastic chunks we stacked together as children. Each student would use the blocks to build a small wall at their desk – one that could only be completed by reaching the next word-count goal and “unlocking” the next piece.

If you have an affinity for things that fit together, you can imagine how satisfying it would be to complete a colorful little wall while also completing a huge writing assignment.

It’s a genius idea for visual learners. Hammering out a bunch of paragraphs can often feel like meandering without making a dent, but turning your progress into a visual display allows a fresh way to view accomplishment.

After reading the post, I knew I had to try it. As a creative writing major and opinion columnist, I constantly have writing assignments looming over me. At this point in the semester, I’m drowning in enough paper to summon the pages back into tree form.

The problem was, I didn’t have Legos or anything remotely similar. So, I took a much simpler route that would still capture the purpose of the reward: I decided to build a beautiful house. By that I mean: I would draw the most basic of stick-figure houses on a sheet of paper.

Since I had thousands of words to write, I decided to break down my goals into chunks of 100. For every 100 words I wrote, I could draw one line on the house. This means it took about 900 words before my drawing really resembled a house.

You could make the increments as large or small as you wish, but 100 words starts to feel like nothing when using this method. Before you know it, you’ve got a few pages and a cute little house.

It was incredibly satisfying. If I started getting tired or lost, I’d look at the half-finished house that begged for a connector line. With each connection I made on the drawing, it reiterated whatever connection I’d made in my writing.

Another helpful aspect of this method was that I wrote down on a separate sheet of paper my increments of 100. That way, I could cross off each one, once completed, and keep track of my progress.

I have to say, this is the most valuable nugget of wisdom I’ve encountered in a long time, and I’ll be sticking with this method on what I call “grind days” for a long time.

Try it out, Murray State students. You don’t have to build a house, but it certainly helps to have a simple structure.

Whatever it is, build a good one. Write on.