How to write when you don’t feel up to it
by Loren Rhoads
Sometimes, especially these days, it’s hard to do the creative work you want to do. I’ve used a bunch of tricks to get around the blocks. I offer them here, in hopes they’ll inspire you.
- Make a list. Whether it’s topics you want to explore or scenes that need to be written, it’s easier to begin writing when you have a prompt.
- Set an alarm. Promise yourself that you will settle down to write when the alarm goes off. Giving yourself the anticipation of writing time can be inspirational.
- Set a timer. Anyone can write for 15 minutes. There’s something about the tiniest amount of time pressure that tricks your brain into thinking it’s on a deadline. Start a timer on your computer, phone, or in the kitchen. You might find yourself pounding out the words to beat the bell. If the words are really flowing, you can always add a second 15-minute sprint.
- Make a date with a friend. Whether you sit down together in a cafe (someday!) or meet online for a video chat, it really helps to know that someone else is working alongside you. The key is to find someone who will write, rather than chat.
- Put your headphones on. Many writers make a playlist that they listen to only when they work on a particular story or book. Listening to the same music every time you write can train your brain to provide inspiration on command.
- Write somewhere else. If you normally write at a desk, try moving to the sofa or the kitchen table or sitting in bed. The simple act of shifting to new surroundings can shake loose the words.
- Try a different writing tool. Do you usually write on a laptop? Try writing by hand in a notebook or attach a keyboard to your phone. Some writers swear by word processing keyboards like AlphaSmart or FreeWrite, which only allow you to see a small amount of the text you’re working on. That way you’re forced to move forward, rather than editing what you’ve already done.
- Experiment with dictation. The simple act of telling yourself your story can inspire you. Whether you use a dedicated dictation program or simply take a voice memo on your phone, the trick is to speak the punctuation at the end of each sentence. Also, edit while the words are fresh in your mind, or you may have trouble deciphering Siri’s interpretation.
- Write first thing in the morning. It’s tempting to start the day by checking email or scrolling social media, but what would you come up with if you listened to your own thoughts first thing in the morning?
- Write last thing at night. Take a notebook to bed and draft one more scene before you turn out the light. Do the words feel different as you’re settling in for the night? Maybe your subconscious will solve a writing problem for you in your dreams.
- Step away from writing. Sometimes the best ideas come when you can’t write them down. Go for a walk, wash the dishes, or take a shower. Let your mind play without the pressure of a blank page staring at you. As soon as you finish your break, sit down to record the thoughts that occurred in the interim.
- Remind yourself why you write. Do you have a story you’re burning to tell? Do you have a lesson you want to teach? Are you curious how your story will turn out? Clarifying why you want to do this can show you the path how to do it.
- Ask “And then what happens?” Sometimes the next scene isn’t clear. You can get wound up trying to figure out what needs to happen. Instead of insisting on what the story needs, narrow your focus until you only need to come up with the next step. Then write that next step…and the next one after that.
- Perfect is the enemy of done. Don’t waste time choosing the right word. Put down the almost-right word, enclose it in parentheses, and keep going. You can always fix it later. This works for names, descriptions, and anything you might need to research. Aim for momentum over poetry in your first draft.
- Chart your progress. Whether you put a check on the calendar, color in a box on a habit-tracking chart, or simply make note of your word count, record the days you write. If you only write 500 words a day for 100 days, you’ll have 50,000 words for your book in three months. It’s addictive to see your progress.
What other tricks have you found for getting the work done? Make your own list, so you’ll have some tools to use next time you feel at a loss for words.
Loren Rhoads is the co-author of the Spooky Writer’s Planner with Emerian Rich.