Feeling Stuck? Focus on a Single Sentence

Recently, I learned a trick for falling asleep when conditions are not ideal for rest. (I promise this has relevancy for writing, stick with me.)

Starting with closed eyes, relax the eyes. Feel them deepening into your sockets. Then let go of any tension in your face.

Move on to another part of the body. (I like to start with the feet.) Focus on the muscle group, release it. 

I never make it past the feet; by then I’m asleep. If I’m not asleep, I’ve allowed my mind to wander onto something else.

Why this works for me: I stop thinking about trying to sleep, and focus my attention on a single thing.

Focusing on the smallest thing you can accomplish: this is my magic trick to making progress or getting unstuck.

In this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin, fiction writer Jane Delury says that when she’s overwhelmed with her novel draft, she goes to her bookshelf, opens a book she loves, and finds a sentence she’s underlined. She writes:

It’s easy to forget about sentences. They don’t call out for our attention like plot or character. They rarely get chapters in how-to books about fiction. But without them, there’s no plot or character, no story at all. … So for now, instead of going back to fix a scene or make a stretch of dialogue more interesting, I suggest that you set yourself the goal of writing a perfect sentence.

Read Delury’s essay Go Small to Go Big.

Also in this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

Join the conversation

3 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
2 Comment authors
PJ ReeceMelissa Henderson Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Melissa Henderson

Years ago, one of my doctors taught me similar ways to relax. I start with my feet and work my way up, Deep breath in and out and focus on the particular part of the body, feet, ankles, knees, hips, etc. and on up. This method helps my body to calm and prepare for sleep. 🙂 This can help when I am stuck with my writing, too.

PJ Reece

“Better Golf through Self-Hypnosis” — your relaxation method was the basis of just such a book when I was a teenager… way back… and I;ve used the technique to fall asleep throughout my life. But never mind that, I love to focus down on the single sentence… when I’ve given myself permission to spend that kind of time on a piece. It doesn’t work if we’re in a rush. NO RUSH!


[…] more productivity. Lynn Dickinson explores the pros and cons of binge writing, Jane Friedman shows how to focus on a single sentence when feeling stuck, Linda Wasmer Andrews advises that to become a better writer, be a frequent walker; and Ange de […]