How to write when you can’t write

If you write for a living, even if it’s a small part of your duties, you know how fickle the muse can be. And how little anyone else cares about that fickleness. In the end, a professional writer is someone who can meet deadlines and do good work even as inspiration and energy ebb and flow.

That’s why writers develop rituals as ways to find the magic when it seems hidden, as described in this Copyblogger post: 8 Strange Rituals of Productive Writers. Here are their rituals:


  1. Try writing horizontally.
  2. Take a walk or bike ride without a destination in mind.
  3. Put on some tunes (preferably without words).
  4. Write at a time of day that suits your productivity.
  5. Loosen up.
  6. Save your back.
  7. Invoke the help of some divine inspiration.
  8. If all else fails, have a drink … or two.

This kind of stuff can save the day when you’re stuck.

Here are some of my rituals:


  • Go someplace different to write. Offices are not very writer-friendly, with their ringing phones, friendly colleagues, and steady stream of important duties. I go to cafes, the park (weather permitting), hotel lobbies, or take a ferry ride.
  • Drink a glass of very cold water.
  • Read junk mail. This is my main use for Uncle Maynard’s Treasure Trove of Direct Mail Knowledge. I find inspiration in both good and bad pieces.
  • Breathe deeply.
  • Music. For me, most music is too involving to have playing while I write. But in certain moods, slower, less rhythmic music can loosen me up. Like Indian classical music, Gregorian chant, or Byzantine chant (if you aren’t familiar with this genre, check out the recordings of Cappella Romana).

Care to share your rituals?


Comments

16 responses to “How to write when you can’t write”

  1. Good reminders, all of them. One not on the list that I might add is to indulge in a bit of rowdy camaraderie during the day. I play a foosball game or two each day with a few locals. In previous lives there was lunchtime Halo…foursquare in the parking lot…snowball fights…shooting a few baskets. Best post in a while there Brooks.

  2. Good reminders, all of them. One not on the list that I might add is to indulge in a bit of rowdy camaraderie during the day. I play a foosball game or two each day with a few locals. In previous lives there was lunchtime Halo…foursquare in the parking lot…snowball fights…shooting a few baskets. Best post in a while there Brooks.

  3. Thanks for your post, Jeff.
    My rituals are to
    1) drink hot black tea
    2) have a walk outside.

  4. Thanks for your post, Jeff.
    My rituals are to
    1) drink hot black tea
    2) have a walk outside.

  5. Great post Jeff. Sharing three of my favorites:
    – Take a shower.
    – Walk the dogs.
    – Ditch the keyboard for a pen or pencil and a legal pad.

  6. Great post Jeff. Sharing three of my favorites:
    – Take a shower.
    – Walk the dogs.
    – Ditch the keyboard for a pen or pencil and a legal pad.

  7. Not a ritual, but helps with writer’s block: I stop thinking about what I’m writing–particularly when trying to figure out the intro–and just allow myself to start from where my thoughts are. That usually works. Then, it’s all word, sentence and paragraph tetris and then of course, some refinement.

  8. Not a ritual, but helps with writer’s block: I stop thinking about what I’m writing–particularly when trying to figure out the intro–and just allow myself to start from where my thoughts are. That usually works. Then, it’s all word, sentence and paragraph tetris and then of course, some refinement.

  9. Listen to really morose music, drink wine, get into an amplified emotional state! Current soundtrack: http://vimeo.com/33234007

  10. Listen to really morose music, drink wine, get into an amplified emotional state! Current soundtrack: http://vimeo.com/33234007

  11. If Earl Grey tea doesn’t work, I do a small task I know I can complete. Then I use the warm feeling of having done something successfully as ‘start up’ energy for the writing job.

  12. If Earl Grey tea doesn’t work, I do a small task I know I can complete. Then I use the warm feeling of having done something successfully as ‘start up’ energy for the writing job.

  13. I’m a big fan of starting from the end. If you know the summary of your writing, then often the middle bits are much easier to compile!
    Failing that, I am lucky enough that I work with a second person so we quite often swap and overcome each others hurdles instead of our own.

  14. I’m a big fan of starting from the end. If you know the summary of your writing, then often the middle bits are much easier to compile!
    Failing that, I am lucky enough that I work with a second person so we quite often swap and overcome each others hurdles instead of our own.

  15. Good ideas Jeff – my personal preferences are:
    Have a change of scenery – I go to my local library to write
    Go for a run and clear my head
    Leaving myself a short deadline – I know some people will throw their hands up at this one but if I leave it until the last minute, the writing usually flows much better.
    Great post – dugg and stumbled

  16. Good ideas Jeff – my personal preferences are:
    Have a change of scenery – I go to my local library to write
    Go for a run and clear my head
    Leaving myself a short deadline – I know some people will throw their hands up at this one but if I leave it until the last minute, the writing usually flows much better.
    Great post – dugg and stumbled

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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