5 Things To Do When You Can’t Write

Sometimes, writing is hard. Not hard in the same way digging a ditch is hard, or keeping a polite demeanour whilst an obnoxious customer harangues you for merely existing is hard, but it is hard.

Sometimes it feels like an endless slog, or the mere thought of putting words on the page makes you mentally (and/or physically) curl up into a ball, until either the feeling subsides, or a meteor hits the earth causing the next great extinction. Either way is fine, as for right now, you don’t have to write.

So, what to do?

1. Don’t Write
Seriously.

Sometimes you just need a break from the whole thing. Give yourself permission to take some time off. Don’t think about it, don’t worry about it, don’t feel guilty for not doing it. Just take some time, be it an hour, a day, a week, and simply decide not to write, or think about writing.

Writing is writing, even if you can’t get a single word out. If you are worrying and stressing and trying to force it, and not getting anywhere, then you are simply wasting time and energy that could be spent doing other things.

Worse still, you’re likely holding back future writing by not allowing yourself the time to actually relax and get back into the mindset where the words comes from. Like going to the gym, if you don’t rest properly between workout sessions, then you are going to hamper your progress.

Listen to what your mind/body is telling you, and take the rest days.

2. Write Something Else
Sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

If you’ve been working (or not working) on the same idea for a long time, doing something completely different can be a good way to clear the cobwebs from your brain.

Whether that takes the form of writing a short story or script, or a poem, or anything else, doesn’t really matter. It can even be just free-association nonsense that just comes spewing out of you. Just sit down and write.

Don’t think about it, don’t judge it, don’t even read it. Just write something, anything.

It might turn out to be a work of genius, or the worst thing you’ve ever written. But you will have written something, and sometimes that is enough to get the juices flowing.

writing on a notepad

3. Write For Someone Else
There is a sense of isolation in being a writer. It can be lonely and at times feel completely pointless, especially if you’re working on something that may never see the light of day. So, find someone/thing to write for.

If you write articles, short stories, or poems then you might want to consider submitting something to this very website.

If screenplays are more your thing, then it might be worth looking for film-makers in your area with whom you may be able to collaborate. Or, if you live in the middle of nowhere, there is always the internet. Places like Reddit’s Produce My Script offer a chance for writers and film-makers to connect.

As always, be careful who you’re dealing with, but such an outlet might help to give your work a sense of purpose. So when you return to your opus, the batteries are recharged.

4. Refuel The Engines
It isn’t uncommon to run out of steam, or struggle to think of where your current story should go. If that is the case, then it might be time to refill the well.

Step away from the keyboard and watch a movie, or read a book, go to a show, or an art exhibition, or just stay at home and binge-watch that box-set you never got round to.

Immerse yourself in stories, in culture, in music, in anything you didn’t create. Leave the genius ideas to someone else for a bit and just enjoy them. Hell, they don’t even need to be good. Sometimes the best ideas come from seeing something done really badly.

Just go and experience something you had no part in, and let your subconscious do the heavy lifting. Hell, you might even enjoy yourself, too!

5. Just Write The Damn Thing!
There comes a point where all of the above stop being ways to revitalise your writing, and simply become excuses to avoid doing the actual heavy lifting.

If you’re on your third month of consciously resting your mind, your sixth seven-season long boxset, your five-thousandth article, your ninety-third short film, or twenty-seventh binder of free-association scribblings, then the odds are you’re either procrastinating, or there is something structurally unsound with what you are avoiding writing.

If it is the former, then you need to recognise that and put in the work. If it is the latter, then you need to identify what the issue is, and deal with it (how to do that is a different article entirely).

It is easy to get wrapped up in a project to such an extent that we cannot see the woods for the trees. Sometimes all it takes is giving yourself permission to step away for a short while for everything to fall into place. Other times, it is more difficult. But often, that short (guilt-free) break is enough to get things going again.

Good luck, and keep writing, well, most of the time!

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