How To Write When Nothing Will Come Out

Basically, stop trying to write. But just for a little bit.

I’ve talked a lot of the basics of creativity and building a creative habit. I’ve enjoyed writing about this so much that I have both a (free!) workbook getting ready to launch. I’m also developing an online course aimed at helping writers build and sustain a regular, productive creative habit. Today, I want to talk about the days where writing feels next to impossible.

Two-thirds of the normal gas station crowd, at the usual time, were either in pajamas or something resembling pajamas, hadn’t brushed their hair, or said “Damn it” out loud as they spilled coffee on themselves. I also didn’t secure my coffee lid that morning.

Yep. It was one of those days.

Normally I would already have a post for the day scheduled; I don’t like having immediate, looming deadlines hanging over my head. Even if those deadlines are self-imposed.

Early on in the month I started working a couple of days ahead, specifically intended to act as a buffer for days like today when I really struggle to get into the right state of mind.

But… “Damn it.” I had nothing ready to go that morning.

“I’ll write about not being able to write,” I thought.

The days where nothing comes.

Let’s assume we are not talking about publishing something every day. The potential outcomes of publishing something every day are debatable and vary widely from person to person, and are impacted by a number of variables. Let’s assume we are focusing on building a daily writing (or other creative) habit.

Quality versus quantity

As writers, we often hear that we will write 10,000 pages of bad work before we will begin to produce good work. While 10,000 pages sounds a bit dramatic, the idea is still there: you have to do the work. You have to practice, rewrite, hone. You will not be on par with your favorite authors straight out of the gate.

That’s okay. Actually, that’s more than okay. That’s kind of great.

Not everything you produce will be ready for publication — this goes for beginners and experts alike. There’s a kind of freedom that comes with really understanding this idea.

Let’s look at the foundations of a creative habit.

Let’s say we do everything else right. We keep our minds challenged and rested. We actively seek out inspiration — maybe we even remember to write our ideas down. And we take the time to ponder our ideas to look for the deeper message or story. But still, some days the words just won’t come. Why? Is there an actual, invisible muse in the room refusing to give you her words?

No. That’s silly.

Getting past writer’s block

I don’t believe in writer’s block as a functional issue that plagues a writer. I see it as a symptom of not attending to your mental energies and writing environment. Writing, along with most other acts of creation, involve being in a specific state of mind. We can absolutely be in the wrong state of mind when we sit down at our desk, with our ritual cup of tea, at our appointed time — and nothing comes out.

You’ve met all the criteria. So what do you do?

You stop writing. Just… walk away for a while.

Really. That’s it.

I hope you don’t feel cheated. This really is the quickest way to get back into a groove on off days.

Do what you can. A single page. A paragraph or two. Revise something you wrote yesterday. Then walk away. Go take a walk, or drive to the Target on the other side of town, or see a movie by yourself. Let go of the pressure. Toss off any self-imposed deadlines — but just for now. This is the important part.

Don’t let your single day of going easy on yourself turn in to two, or five, or eighteen. Catch your breath, then get back to work.