5 Things to Do When You Can’t Write

If you read my post on starting July Camp NaNoWriMo, it exudes energy, ambition, and confidence. Maybe it’s because I completed April Camp NaNoWriMo, or because I was successful with writing almost every day over the first part of the summer. I was on fire, y’all.

And then, well, the fire died.

There are plenty of reasons to choose from. July was busier than I anticipated, I started a new writing project that I didn’t feel great about (at least not until my critique group read a small part of it, and encouraged me to keep going), and it’s like my creative juices didn’t kick in until end of July. The last few days of NaNo, I had a burst of innovation that spurred about five thousand words for my original project, and added some solidity and coherence to my new project. Of course, by the time I felt like I was in the groove, NaNo was over, and I only hit 12,118 of 20,000 words.

I’ve said before that some words are better than no words, so it’s not like I’m that depressed about this. I do work full time, travel a lot, and you know, do stuff with my husband, family, and friends, so I try to give myself a break.

But still, what do you do when the words won’t come? NaNoWriMo is great at forcing people out of writer’s block; you say that you’ll keep writing, even when it’s not fantastic, even when you’re not sure where the plot’s going.

Besides pushing through, there are a few things I like to do when I lose motivation or inspiration for writing.

  1. Read. Whether it’s reading another book or re-reading over my own work, this one frequently works for me. I either revive my passion for my own story, or I revive my own desire to write good stories through someone else’s. Reading also lights the fire within me to improve and assess, whether I’m coming up with edits for my own stuff, or sifting through what I like and don’t like about another author’s style.
  2. Write character backgrounds, or other “fluff.” This is great way to get words out, even if you know you won’t use them in the story. Sometimes I’ll do a word “sketch” in which I describe a character’s appearance in exhausting detail, or sometimes I’ll try to write a back-story for the character. It can be inspirational and revealing to write about a character’s childhood, or some other part of their past.
  3. Talk it out. When I can find someone to listen to me talk about my novel, sometimes it helps to talk out a scene that I’m struggling to write, or a plot hole that I can’t fix. This isn’t always feasible, whether because no one is around or because the issue is too complicated to explain, but if it’s an option, it can help you work out audibly what you can’t quite get on paper. Sometimes, when I lack an audience, or when I’m just not ready to go public with the issue, I’ll actually write about the problem in an essay-like way, and try to rationalize my way to a solution.
  4. Procrastinate, novel-style. This includes creating soundtracks for the novel, researching actor/actress lookalikes for my characters, Google image-searching locations that match my settings, etc. It’s not usually the most productive option, but it might be the most fun.
  5. Allow your mind to wander. In today’s overstimulated society, or at least for those of us glued to our smartphones, this one can be challenging. I sometimes force myself to go somewhere or do something that will disconnect me for a while so that my imagination can be free. Sometimes, this means going swimming. The water envelops all noise and all social interaction, and my mind can either go blank or run full speed, whichever it feels like doing. Sometimes this means cleaning, especially vacuuming. A quiet walk, a long shower, or a drive without radio also work for clearing my brain and allowing new, free thoughts to flow.

What do you do when you’re lacking motivation for a project, creative or otherwise?


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