How to HALT the Crazy and Be a Productive Writer Again

Carol Tice

Beach-road-end-with-tree-sunsetDo you sometimes feel like life just won’t let you write?

The kids are screaming. You’re juggling responsibilities with job, family, maybe even caring for parents or other relatives.

You find yourself not eating regular meals and getting way too little sleep.

The weeks start slipping by without much writing getting done.

One thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to take care of yourself to be at your creative best. Put your own oxygen mask on first, then help your child, as the airlines say.

I recently learned a formula for checking in with yourself to see if you’re running into trouble.

If you’re having trouble being productive as a writer, ask yourself:

Am I too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?

If so, it’s time to HALT what you’re doing and institute some better habits. We writers have to take care of ourselves or productivity just plummets.

Here are my thoughts on calling a HALT and improving my habits to inspire better writing:


I hardly know a writer who hasn’t worked through lunchtime because they were in the middle of an article draft. I know I’m always vowing to stop for lunch around 11:45, and too often at 1:15 there I still am with a hunger-headache about ready to pass out, thinking, “I’ll stop as soon as I finish this draft.”

It’s so hard to find a stopping point when you’re in the flow of writing.

But in fact productivity starts going downhill once the stomach starts to rumble. I’m trying to be better about stopping to at least grab a healthy snack and a glass of water to stay hydrated while I finish up.


This one definitely happens at my house. I can come home to find the house a disaster area and people shouting and fighting. Sometimes I want to just go to a hotel!

Or I’ve just been hair-pulling on a draft all day and not getting anywhere, and I’m just mad at myself for not being able to get it done.

To shake it off, I often walk about 10 minutes from my house, down to a small, gravelled, public beach access. Below a set of rickety wooden stairs is a tiny, rocky beach with one big washed-up log you can sit on.

And there I sit. It’s a spot of enduring beauty, in all weather and times of year, with views of the mountains and the forest on several nearby shores, across the channel and farther down my own island.

That’s actually a shot of a rare, clear sunset at my little beach getaway, up at the top of this post.

I find it peaceful in a drizzling rain, or with drifting clouds, with calm water or choppy, with ferries chugging by, with wheeling seabirds flocking together, or not another soul around.

It’s impossible to stay mad here.

My breathing deepens and I relax in every fiber of my body. This is what life is about. Experiencing this beautiful world. It’s worth a break to experience that serenity.

I always return refreshed and eager to get back to my writing. Even a bit of exercise and some fresh air do wonders.


This emotion creeps up on me sometimes, especially since my best friend died just over a year ago. Writing can be a lonely life.

If you feel isolated and alone, it can start to drag you down. Find local writers and connect, or just take a girlfriend out for coffee. Work in a coworking space or a coffeeshop for a day. Take a Skype call with a new connections. Go to a karaoke night. Whatever helps.

Connect with people and make sure you feel supported so you can keep on truckin’.


This one is a killer. Do you know people used to sleep for 10 hours or more a night before they invented electricity? Now, many of us are squeaking by on six hours or less, and we’re perpetually exhausted.

I’m making big efforts to go to sleep earlier, and I try to catch a short nap if I hit a slump in mid-afternoon.

After all, being able to eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired is one of the great advantages of being a freelancer. So do it to take care of yourself, and just as a matter of principle — a reminder of the freedom this freelance life affords us.

How do you HALT and regroup? Leave a comment and tell us how you get back on track.



  1. Lindsay Wilson

    What a good acronym to sum up the productivity killers, Carol. At the very least, it makes it easier to identify what’s causing your productivity problem! I am the first one to cave under these work busters! That is the problem with attempting to create my own job. When my schedule and expectations were defined for me, it was easier to discipline myself – not so when I am the only one accountable! I used to sleep for at least 9 hours a night and take an hour for lunch, then turn off at the end of the workday. Now I’m tuned in all day, to my freelancing, my son, or long-term goals. A lot of moms have down time after their child goes to bed – I sit down and try to build a business! It does take its toll. Thanks for defining the biggest problems in a neat little box. That helps tremendously. Sorry to hear about your best friend.

    • Carol Tice

      In my view, it was worth the 8-midnight shift to be able to steer my writing career in the direction I wanted it to go. I was so excited but what I was building, it was better than “down time.” It was more like “up time”! Other non-working moms might not be able to relate, but to me it was a great way to bill more hours without having it impact my kid time.

      9 hours a night — I’m impressed! Don’t think I ever had more than 8 and these days it’s more like 6 1/2. I just wake up after that. Too much I’m excited to get to…

      • Lindsay Wilson

        Yeah, I feel the same way about the 8-midnight shift (or 7-11 shift in my case!) I also sneak in a few hours when my baby is napping in the afternoon. I am lucky because he is very chilled about playing by himself so I can get essential housework like vacuuming and dishes and cooking done while he’s awake. The work time really is “uptime” but sometimes when I’m tired and I’d rather just read a book or surf mindlessly on the internet, it takes some effort to shift the thinking!

        Nine hours a night was great for my productivity at work, but my social life suffered for it! 😉

  2. Tracy

    I am all 4 of these things today! It’s been a grueling 4 days in a row with family stuff. I barely have had time to eat, sleep or breath and I am walking into a busy day. Thanks for this post reminding me that if I want to be productive, I need to HALT.
    I do make room for a few minutes of quiet time each morning, this helps tremendously when the days get crazy. Worth every minute of the lost sleep to get up before everyone else and get a head start on my day!

    • Carol Tice

      I’m always trying to explain to people who say, “Do you have time to do something quick for me?” that I don’t have time to pee or wash my hair…and I believe they think I’m joking. But I’m not. And I’m really bad about stopping for lunch…always about 90 minutes after I should have quit.

      It’s not part of the HALT acronym, but one of my bad habits is that I don’t want to get up to go to the bathroom if I’m in the middle of a draft. I keep thinking, “Soon, I’ll be done with this draft and then I’ll go…” and then it could be 2 hours later. And probably would have taken half as long if I’d just gone when I first needed to!

      Self-care is so important to our productivity. I’m glad to see sharing this acronym is sparking some writers to look at their habits.

  3. Angie

    Working right through mealtimes without even realizing it is a common occurrence for me. I’ve actually started setting the alarm on my cell phone for 11:45 to remind me that, hey, it’s time to EAT something already!

    I’m also guilty of not getting enough sleep. That’s one I’m still working on. And I definitely need to get up and walk around more often – I tend to zone out when I get really focused on a project, and “wake up” hours later with a sore back and shoulders and a raging hunger headache.

    Guess I need to set that alarm more often throughout the day. 😉

  4. Linda Hamilton

    This was so spot-on Carol. These productivity killers really do take their toll, especially long term, leaving you frustrated and looking at work that merely piles up because it’s not getting done. Fighting the tired issue is a constant and I’ve recently been making bigger efforts to get to sleep earlier so I can rise earlier refreshed and ready to go. It’s a challenge, but it’s getting better and making a huge difference all around. And yes, I’ve had that drive the delays the hunger feed leaving me feeling worse than I did when my stomach started growling.

    Once again an excellent post with worthwhile insight into the simple things that create the greatest challenges. Being a freelancer is great, but the ramifications of not paying attention and taking control of our own world can leave us dangling from the cliff that we created. Thanks for posting these for others to recognize.

  5. Miriam Hendeles

    I appreciate this post as this summer I’m going thru a writing slump. Identifying the problem in the halt equation is a must. And sometimes it’s a little bit of all 4 factors that feed off each other. Writing definitely takes a clear mind and happy spirit! Great post!

    • Carol Tice

      Good point. Being tired, it’s so easy to be frazzled and end up angry, for just one example.

  6. Lori Ferguson

    Saw this post hit my in-box and just started laughing, as I’ve been typing over the sound of my growling stomach for about 20 minutes now and feeling *completely* enervated by the pile of work I’m staring down on today’s ‘to-do’ list.

    I often find that a nice game of fetch with the dogs or getting up and going out to run a few errands–doing some things that need to be done, require little brain power from me, and put me in a position to interact with another living being (dogs can be especially nice ’cause they don’t talk back)–can be very palliative. 🙂

    • Julie Anne

      I laughed when read your reply to this post, although I have to eat lunch or I can’t concentrate. Coffee helps, too. However, sometimes the drama in my life gets so intense that I have to take time to vent on my own blogs about it — just like the writer of this blog has just done.

      I don’t have (minor) children, but feel like the people that live with me act like kids. What’s the use of trying to think of the bright side of never having kids of my own if I can’t enjoy it, right? The good news is, I took a crash course on writing AP style and took this writer’s (Make a Living Writing) advice to start doing practice assignments for free so I can stop working for content mills — or at least the sites that don’t even pay me enough money per job to equal minimum wage!

      • Carol Tice

        When we’re around chaotic people, all we can do is set healthy boundaries, detach, and take care of ourselves. This is one reason I’m using a co-working place this summer…need to get away from the home crazy stuff.

  7. Taheerah Barney

    Hi Carol,

    I’m with you on the water thing–I find that water is really soothing when I’m frazzled. And some of my best ideas come to me in the shower, of all places. Sometimes just taking a relaxing shower is all I need to get my head back into the writing game.

    If anyone else gets inspiration in the shower, I found a great little tool to make sure that I don’t lose my ideas. It’s called Aqua Notes, and it’s a waterproof notepad that you can suction to your shower wall. I used to keep notepads and pens in the bathroom (and in every room of my apartment, for that matter) because I always wanted to write my ideas no matter where I was. Now I just use these bad boys instead.

    • Carol Tice

      Love the Aqua Notes idea…I need one of those!

  8. Nida Sea

    Great post. Loneliness is my biggest problem out of these four. I’m starting to wonder if this is the cause of my recent panic attacks. While I don’t miss my 9 – 5, I do miss the interaction of other people. It was nice to be around others, just to see another face. Going day after day staring at the four walls takes a toll on some people. I love working at home and I love my writing career, but the loneliness really brings me down at times. I’ve considered a part-time job just to get out of the house for a bit. We’ll see. . .

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Nida —

      Some of us miss the office chit-chat…and some don’t (me!). But there are loads of ways to get socialization without an office job. Try a coworking place, work at the coffeeshop, get a writer accountability buddy, start a book group.

      The way I think of it is now I don’t spend time talking to people who don’t care about me about things I don’t care about (what was on Grey’s Anatomy last night, etc.). People who the minute I leave this day job will never talk to me again, because it was just a relationship of convenience.

      Now I get together with people I care about and talk about things that matter to us. You have to make the effort to create the social life you want as a freelancer.

  9. Darnell Jackson

    This is inspiring and very true it’s so easy to get caught up in life’s troubles and then fail to write as a result.

    Hey It would be cool if you could share a picture of your view it sounds awesome.

    • Carol Tice

      I did Darnell — it’s the photo at the top of this post, though that only shows one side of what is a panoramic view of islands, channel, ferries, water, birds, a bay inlet, and more. But it’s the part of the view I often turn to most, where the sun sets.

  10. Julie Sheridan

    All valid points, but for me the tiredness one is the absolute killer. I feel a bit daft at times, living in Barcelona but protesting that I have to be home at a ‘decent’ hour basically so I can get a good night’s sleep…but I feel so much better for it the next day. Switching everything off and simply walking away also works wonders.

    • Carol Tice

      Having been through so many days when I had 2-4 hours sleep from dealing with kids in the night…getting a full night’s sleep makes a HUGE difference.

  11. Amandah

    I can relate to being “lonely” because I was a part of three writers groups when I lived in Arizona. I miss my Gilbert Writer’s Group the most. I keep in contact with one of the member’s via email, but it’s not the same. Maybe it’s time for me to peruse to find a writer’s group in my area. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Oh, it definitely is time.

  12. Sara Korn

    I agree you don’t want to get up and eat when you are on a roll writing, but you need to keep your energy up. My solution to this is that I have a food bowl on my desk. It has healthy snacks like fruit, a whole wheat roll, cereal bar, etc. I stock it each morning before I sit down to write. That way if I am “in the zone” and get hungry, I can eat a snack right there without stopping.

  13. Casey Hynes

    Hi Carol,

    Thanks for this post. It resonated so much with me, as I feel I’ve been grappling with all of these things lately – especially working past the point of hunger and not getting enough sleep. I’m trying to make some changes to my routine, and your post reassured me I’m not the only writer to fall into these habits.

    One other thing I find useful when I’m feeling particularly stuck or annoyed is to journal, even for a few minutes. I let out the storm of negativity and frustration and figure out if there’s something bigger from blocking my productivity. But sometimes it just helps to reconnect with my emotions and pause from work for a few minutes to clear my head and get back to it in a more positive frame of mind.


  14. Willi Morris

    I read about HALT recently in reference to having arguments with loved ones. Definitely applies to work!

  15. Anu

    My dogs unleash me from the computer every day. Even if I’m on a roll, when my pup wakes up from power napping and tells me he needs my attention, I save what I’ve written and push away from my desk.

    Whether it’s to play together, potty, or take another walk together, time spent with my dog is the best kind of break. I can ignore any timer I set, my growling stomach, and pretty much everything else, but I cannot ignore my dog.

    And after relaxing with my dog, I’m refreshed and ready to work again. I think every writer needs a dog sleeping underneath her desk even more than a cat sleeping on top of it.

    • Katherine Swarts

      Reminds me of an old quip that “there’s no snooze button on a cat who wants breakfast”–so if your problem is wanting to stay in bed past the designated “report to work” hour, getting a pet may be a solution there, too!

  16. Colleen Kelly Mellor

    Ah, the old HALT acronym, the famous 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse every 12 step program warns to avoid, lest you fail. And so true, for when any of these–or a combination–confronts, they jettison us from success. Sometimes, too, I just have to step away from writing, tho’ it is hard to do…or I have to attack an old project I never finished…anything to get me out of the rut.

    It’s worked…I’m in year 4 of my blog, with other writings, in the works, too.

  17. Rohi Shetty

    Hi Carol,

    I love the way you paint such vivid pictures with words – beach, sea, mountains, forests, sunset… wow!

    Among the four in HALT, sleep is the only one I have a problem with but even that’s not too bad.

    I don’t tolerate hunger at all well. We have an old saying about this:
    “You can’t pray if your stomach is empty.” 🙂

    My biggest challenges are disorganization, distractions, and tiredness.

    This DDT is lethal to my writing.

  18. David Gillaspie

    Not a ‘good sense’ post, but a great sense. How often are the aspects of HALT blamed on something else? We’re conditioned to avoid food if we don’t want to be fat, and then eat something devoid of nutrition and flavor.

    If we talk about sleep, we’re just old or a sleep apnea patient. The idea of good mental and physical health comes out in our writing. If writers don’t keep themselves up, they the work suffers, or they quit doing it.

    Thanks for the reminder Carol.

  19. Cindy Killip

    Great article! I found myself smiling in recognition as I read each section. It’s always a relief to discover that others experience the same roadblocks as I do. I’m not alone!

  20. Erica

    You really struck a cord. I’m currently in one of those all-too-famous slumps and am trying to identify the causes. And cures. One of my biggest problems? Being overwhelmed and tired all the time. Which makes me eat my way through the day and rely on sugary sodas to keep going.

    I’m not taking care of myself like I should be. So I’ve started making little changes like drinking water first thing in the morning when I get up, more walking during lunch, small cleaning binges (tidy on the outside = tidy on the inside).

    Most of all, acceptance of some personal things I can’t change. Sometimes, you can fight for something and want something so much it brings you to tears. But somethings just aren’t going to happen.

    • Carol Tice

      That’s why I like this acronym – it’s all focused on things within your sphere of control.

      I think when we’re tired it’s more easy to feel overwhelmed, hm? These do all go together, like Miriam was saying.

  21. Rachel

    Sleep is the biggest one for me. One day I was so “hyper” I thought I must have drunk too much caffeine, then realized I’d actually had 7 hours of sleep – so much more than my usual 4-5 hours, that I didn’t recognize what it was like to be rested!

    Since then I decided that life can wait until I get more sleep. I’m up to 6 hours, but 10 hours- wow- that’s almost unimaginable.

    Thanks Carol for the reminder – we do need to take care of ourselves to be able to do for others, whether in our business or personal life.

    • Carol Tice

      Any time I end up with 8 hours of sleep I hardly know what to do, the experience of feeling that rested is so novel. But under 6 hours is really bad…lots of studies about cancer risk. I try to get to 7 if I can.

  22. Katherine Swarts

    This may be a launch point for a “whole nother” post: It’s common knowledge that people (in any field) who consistently ignore problems in any or all of the above areas are going to wind up in serious trouble eventually, physically as well as emotionally and vocationally. Are there any warning signals that may indicate you’ve stepped too far across the line and may need to see a doctor/counselor/therapist as opposed to simply changing your habits? (Most sources of information on that topic take a “when in doubt” approach, which often isn’t too helpful to someone with a writer’s imagination.)

    And, for those who do push themselves to the breaking point and wind up “in recovery”–or, for that matter, who are simply nearing the “severe fatigue” stage of Tired–how do they judge if a “don’t wanna get up” feeling is a genuine need for more rest, a possible sign of physical illness, a case of depression trying to happen–or simple laziness and procrastination?

    • Katherine Swarts

      Maybe I should have said: Are there any warning signs that indicate you’re becoming “addicted to the medicine,” that your offsite relaxation/social time/extra rest is slipping out of “recharging” mode into “excuse not to work at all” mode?

      • Carol Tice

        I think you can tell that by looking at your balance sheet. Are you billing more and more over time or less and less? That gives you the data on whether you need the rest and it’s making you more productive, or you’re just shirking.

  23. Terri

    I once suffered from all of these productivity killers. I’ve since been lucky enough to find a cure for all of them. Running. The first thing I do when I wakeup each morning is jog/walk. Once I started doing this everyday, my productivity surely increased. I wasn’t tired as much, had more energy, and I satisfied my need to see other people. I really fell as though the way you start your day has a big impact on what happens for the rest of the day. Jogging is surely my cure all.

  24. Susan Pawlicki

    I’ll second Amandah above when she says finding a good writing group can make a significant difference. I don’t find myself lonely so much as I miss the positive influence of creative people around me; I am much less tired when I get a dose of other people’s creativity now and then. It’s too easy to continue working or to tell oneself, I just don’t have time to go to a meeting…but in the long run, the right group of people can rejuvenate and inspire.

  25. Holly Bowne

    Man, am I ever jealous of your “happy place.” Maybe I can close my eyes and imagine it while sitting in my backyard which butts up against four of neighbors’. ;o)

    I do cave in and take naps if I need to, although I find it less necessary in the summer for some reason. That feeling tends to hit more in the winter.

    I definitely relate to the hunger one, though. I’ve started stocking up on apples. I keep one along with a big paper towel on my desk. If I’m in the flow, it’s easy to take bites and keep on typing. It tides me over till I can reach a stopping point and eat a real lunch. Plus…it’s an apple! Makes me feel all healthy.

    • Carol Tice

      Seems like apples are getting the popular vote in this thread! I do grab one myself now and then…I like the bitty little ones that are just a few bites.

  26. Vidya Sury

    For a moment, Carol, I had a horrible sense of deja vu. As I read your post, I was thinking, hey, this is a character sketch of me right now. Okay, So I haven’t been sitting and sulking. Instead, I took action. First, I resolved to sleep and wake up at a specific hour. Then I took a huge sheet of paper and listed all the things I wanted to do. From it, extracted a priority list. For good measure, I split that into a must-do and allotted each task a time. I set the alarm to lunch time and other breaks and – I stick to it. Easy to resolve, challenging to keep up. But I am getting there. While writing, I disconnect from the internet and focus only on writing.

    And of course, the powercuts are helping. 🙂

    I am loving the comments here!

  27. Sheila Bergquist

    I am so guilty of all of these! I really need to take better care of myself and this helps to remind me! Life can just be overwhelming and you can get too tired to know how to stop it or where to start. Thanks for the tips!

  28. Jennifer Gregory

    Great advice! While it seems counter intuitive, when I am not being productive at writing, even when I am under a deadline, I often just stop working for a bit. I go watch a DVRed show, read a magazine or go for a walk. I don’t typically give myself a time limit This works especially well when I am completely stuck. Then while I am doing something else, I usually start thinking about writing, get in the mood and then start again.

    If I find myself continually surfing the web, my mind wondering and not getting anything done then I will go do something else productive like relaxing or housework cuz I might as well be getting something out of my time.

  29. Joanne

    This is very relatable…both the condition and the remedies…I remain a work in progress…one of the things I try to do is schedule mini-time outs into each day. Not long stretches just a few moments to let the pressure out – I may web surf, watch TV, exercise, read, walk, do writing that has nothing to do with deadlines and assignments, whatever during these breaks…and then I get back to it. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and these mini-mini-time-outs allow me to breathe.

  30. Ahlam

    Carol – snap a picture of where you go when you need to take a break. The log and surrounding area sounds majestic, every writer’s dream break time. I would love to see it!

    • Carol Tice

      Ahlam, I did — it’s the photo at the top of this post! I should take more shots of it though, I love the view to the left of this one as well, which is of the canal and peninsula and the back side of my island.


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