April 4, 2013

When You Don't Want to Write

We're writers.  Thus it is, or ought to be, a given that we write.  But we don't write all the time, any more than a farmer farms or a painter paints or a poet poems all the time: we have periods where we can't write, and we have periods where we just don't feel like writing.  In those latter times we tend to rattle around like a pebble in a can, not knowing what to do with ourselves.

What do we do, then, when we don't feel like writing?

And no, this is not going to be one of those cheeky posts in which the author says, "Just keep writing! SURPRISE!"  It is absolutely true that we should not give in every time, or even half the times, we feel the inclination to wander away from our work: if we have the ability to write and yet put it off over and over again, we're cultivating a spirit of laziness, which is no more acceptable for us than it is for a farmer.  But all the same, there are times when it is acceptable to take a break, to rest the mind, to gather creativity once more for another foray into our books.  So,

what do we do when we don't feel like writing?

1. Clean.  I think Jenny may have mentioned this at one point on The Penslayer, but there are few things that rejuvenate the mind as well as a good round of cleaning house.  As writers we tend to be fairly inactive - I know I do, at least - and it is good for the body and the mind to get moving and do something like scrubbing a bathtub or mopping a floor.  (I like bathtubs as well as the next person, I'm sure, but scrubbing them is horrible.  Its misery is only outdone by the task of formatting manuscript chapters in the body of an email.) 

But at any rate, no matter how clean your home or your writing area is on a day to day basis, you can always find something to clean: it's a law of nature.  If you find your creativity running dry, vacuum a few rooms!  Dust bookshelves!  Turn on a little music and scrub dishes!  Honestly, they could do a government study on the creative properties of suds.

2.  Organize.  This may come from being a fairly organized personality, but I find the practice of organizing helps to cheer me up and get my mind working again.  If you have a wardrobe or a closet, spend some time rifling through the clothes and sorting out things you don't wear: it is a productive task and has absolutely nothing to do with writing, which can be very nice. 

Or, on a more literary note, tidy up research material so it isn't tumbling all over the place.  This year I got myself a wicker basket - from Hobby Lobby; wonderful place, that - for some of the books that I use frequently and don't fit on shelves: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady and W. Keble Martin's The Concise British Flora in Colour; an atlas of the ancient world; a Smithsonian Handbook of Birds of the World; a box of rejection letters.  It helps keep the room nice, and a clean room, I think, is far more peaceful than a chaotic one.

3. Exercise.  I'm pretty bad at this one: I find exercising incredibly boring.  But again, we tend to be inactive, and this is a good habit to inculcate no matter what your vocation is.  Turn on the music again - preferably sprightly tunes - and do some aerobics or some weight-lifting or whatever it is you prefer.  Go out for a walk, if you can, or just toddle out to get the mail (there might be books in it!).  It is not always much fun (though it can be), but it is good for you!

4. Read.  Some people find their reading increases when their writing is in a bit of a rut; I generally find that both flounder at the same time.  But at any rate, if you find yourself with more time on your hands, allow yourself to settle down with a good book.  Whether it is new or well-loved is not critical, although for myself I find that light reading is best.  I can't say David Copperfield has been terribly beneficial, but The Inimitable Jeeves seems to be doing wonders at present.  I think there have been splashes of Wodehouse in this post, actually.

5. WorkWriting doesn't compose the whole of our work: there are other facets of being an author that can be turned to when the actual business of scribbling has slowed down.  If you have reached the stage of pursuing publication, take this time to work on query letters and research agencies or publishers.  (I know for myself I have no inclination to do this when my current book is coming along briskly.)  Spend a little while researching: more on that to come in a future post, I hope.  Respond to emails or think about marketing.  Edit a previous work, if you have the energy for it.  You can generally find some neglected bit of work that wants doing when your creativity is sparse!

Just because we aren't writing doesn't mean we cannot be productive in other ways.  There is nothing wrong with resting from one labor and turning to another for a time.  Laziness is not acceptable, but a timely break can be both well-deserved and helpful.


  1. Ah, Abigail, I did love this post! You hit it spot-on with this phrase: "...we tend to rattle around like a pebble in a can, not knowing what to do with ourselves." Exactly! At times, however, I have found it the other way 'round, when my fingers are itching to be typing away in my WIP on the keyboard, but my mind is so blank, my inspiration so flat, my creativity so squashed, that it is near impossible to do so. Then is when I rattle around, sometimes wandering about the house with tingling fingers and a desperate sort of mindset.

    But, Abigail! your post is quite a helpful one indeed! I love it so much that I may just save it to my favorites, for when I am in a lazy, unproductive rut it should be such an invigorating inspiration to climb out.

    On another note, which does concern laziness, how do you suggest disciplining one's self? Of course, if it is one of those, "Why, I just do it!" answers (which is so simple to some and so difficult for others), than I suppose it shouldn't be such a post-able reply; but if there was perhaps a method you use to organize and discipline yourself to get many things done, than I would be terribly interested on learning such a method. :)

    1. I think we can all relate to that feeling! I've been bumping along from writing rut to writing rut the past few weeks, so this post was as much for myself as for Scribbles' readers. It is difficult to be away from writing, and I know I don't feel as productive if I haven't written during the day; but sometimes it really is necessary to step back and give yourself some space.

      But you are right: there is a flip-side, and sometimes we aren't so much worn out as just plain lazy. I don't think I have a terribly helpful, wonderfully brilliant response, but I do know that it's hard to inculcate discipline in one area if you aren't inculcating it in all other areas. You have to introduce a lifestyle of discipline, a lifestyle of rejecting laziness. "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today" has been said so often that it's become trite, but still, it's worthwhile to think on. If you don't feel like doing something - anything - ask yourself why you aren't doing it. If you come to the realization that it's because you're being lazy, go do the thing - even if it's something as little as making yourself a sandwich when you don't feel like taking the time to do it. In writing, if we realize we're being lazy, then we've got to sit our rear ends down and put our noses to the grindstone. It ain't no fun, and there isn't much method to it, but I think it starts with simply plugging forward.

  2. Loved this post, Abigail! It probably wasn't the best idea to read it during Newspaper class, seeing as how I started laughing aloud about two sentences in, because it was so accurate.

    1. I feel as though perhaps I ought to apologize - but I'm glad you found it humorous!

  3. Thanks for this. I am so afraid of being lazy and getting into a bad rut, I write like there's no tomorrow, even when I am sick to death of it. Of course, it isn't always a bad thing, but it is nice to hear someone else say a small break isn't a bad thing. There's a difference. So goes on with the story of balance of everything in our lives. I clean all the time, it's my second hobby, so maybe that's a good thing. I don't need as many breaks. ;)


    1. I think that's the downside of writers harping on the "write every day" refrain: people stress, and so then they do write, but what they write is frustrating rubbish and in the end they're worse off than if they took a few days' hiatus. You're right: most things do come down to balance! All things in moderation, breaks included.

  4. I heartily agree with you. Especially about cleaning and organizing—I just did a massive cleaning-out and reorganizing of my closet and drawers last month. Not only was it wonderful to get them neat and organized, it was nice to do something that required both mental and physical effort and left me with a sense of accomplishment (something that's always nice if you're stuck with writing).

    Another thing I enjoy is working on a craft or project of some other kind. I did a lot of crocheting in recent writing dry spell—I hadn't crocheted in ages and I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed it.

    1. Oh, goodness, that reminds me how badly I need to clean out my own wardrobe. Piffle.

      Projects do make a good addition to the list. I don't have many, which, when I'm in a rut, I occasionally find irksome; I dabbled in knitting some years ago, but for whatever reason it didn't hold my attention. I think I have a hard time sitting still and concentrating on the pattern. I have been working on a notebook of sketches and notes for British plants, though, partially for research and partially for fun, and it is nice to take a break and settle down to that.

  5. Wow! This was awesome, Abigail! I know that when the inkwell of creativity seems to run out, you can get frustrated. I've tried to force the words, but then that gets frustrating. I love the ideas you listed in the post; I try to do them, but I'll have to keep them in mind when I'm attempting NaNo. :-)

    Thank you so much, Abigail!

    Wielding the pen,

    1. I hope they help! There are numerous things you can do when not writing, of course, and it will always vary depending on the person, but I do know how easy it is to get frustrated. I can't say these projects will keep that at bay, but at least they're productive uses of our time!

  6. I like these ideas! I thought I was the only one inspired by housework (it must have stemmed from vast Cinderella-pretending as a child) but it appears that wasn't true. ;) Exercising is probably my favorite though: a nice jog through the park, a bike ride around the neighborhood, or a good 100 situps always do the trick for me. ;) I don't really like sitting on my backseat too long - I get somewhat antsy after a time or so. ^_^

    1. Housework and showers are amazingly inspirational: I'll have you know I solved two plot problems during a shower just the other day. It was wonderful.

      As for exercising, I really ought to be more regular about it than I am. I do think it helps clear the brain and get the inspiration flowing again, but I have a hard time buckling down and getting started - it is so dashed inconvenient!

  7. Noticed how the first three points seemed to rhyme? 'Clean, Organize, Exercise' - such good points, along with reading and doing 'other' work. Truth be told, I rather enjoy the scrubbing of floors, vacuum cleaning and cleaning bathtubs - not my ideal pastime, but they're good, physical hard-working sort of jobs that make me feel good. *blushes* me too - exercise is my weak point, but I really need to work on this more. Thanks for the encouragement.

    And reading... <3 Wish I had more time, because I need no incentive for that =)

    As to the other work, well that is all supposing that one's main job is writing. If, like in my case, we are students studying away our textbooks and PACE's then that is work, and writing that pastime that relieves the mind. That, anyway, is how things are right now for me :/.

    1. They do have a nice rhythm, don't they? It was completely unintentional.

      I enjoy going a few rounds with the vacuum cleaner or the mop at times, but generally only when I'm on my own and can think properly. As far as school goes, I'm afraid I don't find it very inspirational at all! But it is work, and it is necessary, and we have to treat it as both. We've just also got to treat writing as such if we're going to make time for it!


meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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