Writing When You Don’t Feel Like It

In theory, I should always want to write. I do it for a living, and I’ve done it in my free time since I was in first grade. In practice, though, whether I want to write tends to depend on a lot of nebulous conditions: my emotional state, how much other work I have to get done the same day, whether I stayed up too late watching Game of Thrones. I wish I could say I only sat down to write when it was the thing I most wanted to do, but the truth is, like most other people who get paid to write, sometimes I need to put words on the page whether or not I feel like it. It’s enough of a challenge to produce vibrant, creative and informative content when feeling your best—so how do you do it when you’re anxious, tired, pressed for time or simply not in the mood? Here are a few strategies, favored by me or other people I know who write for a living that might kick start your brain to get you writing when you don’t feel like it.

1. Go outside.

Resist the temptation to wander away into the woods like some sort of Tolkien ranger and never return, but going outside for a minute or two can help relieve both stress and exhaustion. I’ve discovered that remembering life goes on outside the office helps put things in perspective—I feel less overwhelmed knowing that my computer and my assignments, while important, do not comprise the entire world. On a smaller level, when I’m stuck on a single sentence or paragraph I often walk away and return with a new way of phrasing it that hadn’t occurred to me before.

2. Listen to music.

This one is a bit tricky, of course, because sometimes you’re writing in an environment where music isn’t allowed, and some people can’t write while listening to anything at all. But for those who don’t need complete silence and have access to it, nothing works better than music for changing your mood and generating energy you didn’t know you had. One of my friends swears by dramatic instrumental music, like movie scores—I prefer upbeat alternative rock that I already know the words to so I don’t have to pay attention. The type of music doesn’t matter, just that it doesn’t distract you but does make you feel energized and ready to go out and dance/take a road trip/save the world (you’re not going to do any of those things, but if you have the energy to do them, you have the energy to produce some quality content).

3. Write something, anything.

Nothing is more discouraging than staring at a blank page. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just get words down—short phrases that remind you what you’re trying to write, a list of details you have to incorporate, a sentence you know you’ll revise later but that gets you started. I usually go with strange phrases that I can later transform into sentences, but the important thing is getting something down, not what that something is. You’ll need to revise anyway, so fix it later, once you know you’re still capable of writing sentences.

4. Read

This tip helps when you’re trying to write at home with books at your disposal, but it can also work in an office setting. Find work by another writer that’s similar to what you’re doing—another blog post, another website, another presentation—and read for a little while. You’re not trying to copy their style or steal what they’ve done, of course, but being exposed to words has the strange quality of making it easier to write your own. I’m not sure what sort of chemical reaction other people’s words trigger, but it works.

5. Don’t beat yourself up.

I’m terrible at following this advice, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Nothing stops good writing faster than thinking that you’re writing badly, or too slowly. The more you think those words, the less you’ll want to write, and as a result you will definitely write slowly and probably write badly. Focus on the words and sentences, not how you feel about them, and keep going. You will revise your work, and it will be strong, compelling and energetic, even if it isn’t yet. The important thing is that you’re writing.

Do you have any strategies that help when writing under less than ideal conditions? I’d love to hear yours (or thoughts on mine) in the comments!

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Taylor DavidsonWriter/Editor

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