Writing when you don’t feel like it–is there anything that sounds more torturous? The ideas just aren’t coming, so why force it?
I’m with you, friends. I know how frustrating it can feel to sit down at your computer only to wind up losing a staring contest with a blank screen.
But avoiding writing simply because you don’t feel like it is a huge mistake.
Those times when you don’t feel like writing are arguably the most important times to write.
You won’t miraculously “get over” writer’s block–you must go through it. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way.
Write when you feel like it and when the words and ideas flow freely–this is the sweet spot, and for me it only comes around every once in a great while–but you must also write when it feels like a burden; when the words feel like they’ve abandoned you and the ideas appear to be out of town on vacation.How To Write When You Don't Feel Like Writing (and Why You Must) #amwriting Click To Tweet
Writing when you don’t feel like writing is an invaluable skill, and here’s why.
The Ideas Are Always There
When dealing with a bout of good old-fashioned writer’s block, it’s easy to assume that you’re simply out of ideas for the moment.
On the contrary–we all have ideas, and it is our responsibility, our duty, to share them with the world.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” ― Martha Graham
I’ve discovered that even when it feels like I’m bereft of ideas, they’re actually there, usually hiding behind other thoughts that seem to have taken precedence.
The mind is a powerful thing, and it has this uncanny ability to create worry about things that we don’t need to worry about. Things in the past that can’t be changed, or things in the future that we have no control over just yet.
These negative thought patterns have a way of stifling our creativity and blocking our ideas, even leading us to believe we have no good ideas at all.
But with the simple act of writing, we can release those thoughts and free our ideas.
A helpful practice I’ve developed over the last year is to sit down first thing in the morning and free write with pen and paper. It doesn’t matter what I write–in fact, the idea here is not to write anything that’s good, I’m just helping to unblock my good ideas by letting go of the ones that don’t serve me.
The whole point of this exercise is to uncage the monkey mind by letting it run wild.
So write down your dreams from the night before. The song you can’t get out of your head. Your fears and insecurities. Your goals for the day, and your plans for the future.
Keep your pen moving–don’t think about what comes out. Don’t bother correcting errors or rereading it when you’re done. Write down anything and everything that surfaces, and don’t stop writing until you’ve filled at least three pages.
My morning pages exercise, even though I don’t always want to do it, almost always leads to better and more fluid writing throughout my day.
But, you don’t have to limit this practice to the early morning hours, and pen and paper aren’t required. Use this freewriting practice anytime you feel stuck. Get out those thoughts that are demanding your attention, realize that they aren’t worth worrying about in the present moment, and watch your creativity soar.
Producing Good Ideas Takes Practice
Here’s some food for thought: Producing good ideas is just a numbers game.
What I mean by that is, the more ideas you produce, the more home runs you are bound to hit. The percentage of your ideas that are good might be very small, so in order to produce a high volume of these good ideas, you must constantly be coming up with new ones.
When I’m writing, my first ideas are usually garbage. But getting something down on paper (or screen), no matter how terrible, will spark new ideas–and better ones.
I’ve written entire articles only to hit Select All + Delete immediately afterward, but getting that bad idea out of the way only brought me closer to my next home run.
It’s these times when I KNOW my ideas are bad that it’s most important for me to sit down and bang them out, if only to make way for the truly good stuff.
James Altucher, serial entrepreneur and author of Choose Yourself, implores people to produce new ideas constantly as a way of exercising your “idea muscle” so you can become an idea machine. As he puts it:
“It’s important to exercise the idea muscle right now. If your idea muscle atrophies, then even at your lowest point you won’t have any ideas.” ―James Altucher
I find this to be very true for me–the longer I go without writing, the fewer good ideas I have. The more I exercise my “idea muscle” by writing through the times when I feel the least creative, the better my ideas are and the faster they come.
A simple practice I use as a blogger is to come up with at least 20 different titles for every blog post I write. The first one might be “good enough” but the 15th might just be a home run.
It Will Force You to Grow as a Writer
Writing when it’s easy is a beautiful thing. Honestly, I can’t think of many activities more gratifying than typing away furiously, my fingers barely able to keep up with the ideas flowing through me as I attempt to capture them before they float on to the next person.
But, you don’t do much growing as a writer when the ideas come so effortlessly. You’re not forced to think outside the box or find inventive new ways to drive your points home. You rely on your same old tricks, the same conventions, a stale vocabulary.
But writing when you don’t want to write, oh, how much harder you must fight to achieve the same results.
“Anyone who says writing is easy isn’t doing it right.” ― Amy Joy
You seek inspiration in new and unexpected places. You read more. You rearrange your routine and place yourself in new and unfamiliar surroundings.
You sit by yourself in the middle of a goddamn forest if you must, or hike to the top of the very tallest mountain. You take it all in, and then you write.
You do whatever it takes to bring back that creative spark, and you discover new writing tools along the way. And when the battle finally ends and your knuckles are bare and bloodied, you emerge from the ordeal stronger than ever before.
So the next time you sit down to face off with a blank screen, just imagine that what lies before you is a battle to the death, and do whatever it takes to survive. Use new tools and come up with tactics. Be relentlessly scrappy. Fight dirty if you have to.
And most of all, don’t you dare give up.