Seven Things To Do When You Don’t Feel Like Writing

By Ali Hale

Sometimes, you’ve got an hour or two free – but you don’t feel like writing. All the advice in the world on becoming inspired or getting self-disciplined just isn’t helping you. For whatever reason, you know your ability to string together a new article or story is temporarily absent.

This needn’t be a problem: there are lots of writing-related activities that you can usefully get on with whilst waiting for the muse to reappear. Here’s just seven of them:

1. Grab your notebook and start brainstorming

Sometimes, a lack of ideas can cause you to get stuck. Maybe you want to write, but you’re not sure what to start on. Find your notebook and a pen, and start scribbling. Mind-map, write a list, use pretty colors – it doesn’t matter. Just get as many ideas down as you can. Once you’re past ten or twenty, you’ll start reaching the creative, original ones.

2. Read some great writing advice

Daily Writing Tips is a good place to start. 😉 But there are lots of other blogs out there devoted to all aspects of writing – and hundreds of different books that could help you. Look for something aimed at writers in your genre (poetry, science-fiction, article writing, academic journals, etc). Don’t just skim through a load of advice, though: take a note of any points which make you think “aha!” and scribble down ideas of how you can apply them to your own work in progress.

3. Organise your writing files

This is one writing chore I always put off: organising my files. If you have bits of your novel in a dozen different places on your computer (emails to yourself, Word documents, notes in your journal software, bits you keep online in Google docs…) then get it all sorted out. If you’re a freelancer and write for dozens of different markets, start a folder for each. That way, you’ll know exactly what you need to invoice for at the end of the month.

4. Create a portfolio of your writing

If you don’t already have one, start a portfolio of your writing. Get together some of your best pieces from the past few years (published or unpublished) and, ideally, put them into one folder on your computer. If you have the online rights to them, you might want to put them onto your website or blog. Now, when you’re writing to editors and agents, you’ll be able to respond straight away if they ask to see samples. And if you’re applying for college-level courses, you’ll have some great examples of your work to include with your application.

5. Research some markets

If you’re aiming to be published, you need to do some homework to find out which magazines, websites or publishing companies might be interested in your work. There are lots of ways to do this. You could search on Amazon for books in your genre and see who published them (Amazon lists the publisher on the book details page). Or you could use one of the many websites devoted to writers’ markets – try Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau for short stories and Ralan’s Webstravaganza for a huge listing of markets. Also check with Writers’ Market or, if you’re in the UK, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook to make sure that company is accepting submissions.

6. Send out some short stories or articles

For those of you who know the markets you have in mind – send them some of your work. Proof-read that story languishing on your hard-drive, print it out (double spaced, nice white paper), write a cover letter to the editor, include a self-addressed envelope with return postage, and pop the whole lot in the post. Many markets accept emailed manuscripts, but check the submission guidelines first.

7. Read some great fiction

Finally, if all else fails, just put your feet up with a good book. Choose an author who you love, and luxuriate in their prose – but keep half your mind on figuring out why exactly you love their writing, and spotting what techniques they use. Alternatively, pick up something you wouldn’t normally read, and cast a critical eye over the ways in which the style differs from your usual favourites. You’ll almost certainly learn something.

What writing-related activities do you get on with when you’re lacking the energy to write?

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14 Responses to “Seven Things To Do When You Don’t Feel Like Writing”

  • Onera

    Great advice. To the above 7 advice, I will add one more. Here it is: Take a short nap. Napping rejuvenate your brain and makes it fresh for new ideas and thoughts. It is said that Gandhi (the nonviolent leader of India’s independence movement) used to take a couple of 10-20 minutes short naps everyday.

  • Ultimate Blogging Experiment

    I know reading altogether works to make me a better writer. Great ideas.

  • Edward F. Gumnick

    Since this blog places a lot of emphasis on grammar, I feel compelled to point out that the “who” in the second sentence of #7 ought to be “whom.”

    And while I’m on the topic of that sentence, convention suggests that it ought to read “Choose an author whom you love, and luxuriate in his prose – but keep half your mind on figuring out why exactly you love his writing, and spotting what techniques he uses” (Or, these days, most grammar mavens would accept a substitution of “her” and “she” for “his” and “he.”)

    Or am I mistaken about the consensus on this particular standard? Have the so-called “singular they” and “singular their” become broadly acceptable?

  • Edward F. Gumnick

    To my previous comment, I meant to add: I’m enjoying the blog very much. (I don’t want to be one of those people who only comment to say something negative!) You’re offering some very useful material.

  • Racheblue

    Very helpful tips, thank you 🙂

    I totally agree with reading other books by authors I admire. It gives reading a whole new dimension to analyze the form gently (too much is off-putting I find unless re-reading a favourite book) whilst enjoying the content.

  • Amy Derby

    Some great suggestions here. Reading fiction is one of my favorites. Journal writing is another. Sometimes I make a word collage. 🙂

  • meghnak

    Some awesome tips there. I do some things like brainstorming and reading, but others are worth doing. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ali

    Hey Edward,

    Thanks for the comments!

    Yes, I agree “whom” would be correct in that sentence, but I find the use of “whom” seems a little formal and stuffy for blog posts. See the BBC’s take on this at http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/radio/specials/1535_questionanswer/page12.shtml

    Maeve wrote about the use of “whom” on DWT: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/beware-of-whom/ and said “More and more educated speakers and writers use who as both subject and object.”

    The singular use of “their” appears to be becoming increasingly popular and isn’t new — it can be found in Jane Austen! See http://crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/austheir.html#X1a

    Thanks again for commenting — and do come back to me if you disagree with my reasoning!

    All the best,

    Ali

  • PreciseEdit

    Off topic: “Whom” is no more stuffy than “him” or “her,” and just as correct.

    On topic: All great ideas. We’ll add two more just for fun.
    1) Take a shower.
    2) Drive your car.
    For some reason, many people find that their best and most creative thinking occurs during these two activities. Of course, if you find yourself taking 3 or 4 showers a day or racking up a lot of miles on your car, a different approach may be better. 🙂

  • Annlee Ellingson

    Great site! And great advice here. I too often use reading as an excuse not to write, but numbers 3-6 above are particularly good strategies for staying productive when the muse doesn’t strike. -ae

  • wqamar

    Thanks for good advices, will follow these steps.

  • Essays

    This post made me smile=) As a freelance writer, there are times that I don’t feel like writing at all. Even thinking takes a lot of effort…haha=) Kidding aside, I love your post. This is indeed helpful. It inspires me to finish my essays due next week…uh-oh…Thanks for the post=)

  • Rita

    Personally, in destitute of energy to write, i lay my diary in front of me, concentrate on which topic has inflicted shock or surprise in me most and make missive-like compositions to it. Whatever enters my head, i assemble the thoughts and beautify it somehow. Writers Have done enough writing beforehand as general practice. we know the writer’s block is temporary. The gap in between writing does not suggest that the writer has lost his touch to his gift. We don’t always need a gigantic sensational idea to manifest our words of expression.

  • Anna Cott

    For me, I don’t have the power or control to seek writing, it generally seeks me.

    It comes to me when I least expect it and then I have no trouble at all; the story comes to me already created, all I do is transfer it to paper.

    This of course is troublesome as if ‘it’ (being the story or inspiration) decides to do it’s own thing for the day, I’m quite stuck.

    Something to work on.

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