The biggest danger to a writer’s productivity isn’t writer’s block.
It’s an attitude of “I don’t wanna.”
Sometimes writers (especially nonprofessional ones like me) just don’t feel like writing. Our muse is missing. Inspiration is absent. Our brains sneeze at the thought of the effort involved in stamping words on screen or paper. And besides, there are dishes to wash and TV shows to watch! So many things other than writing that we should be or want to be doing.
But the reality is, if we don’t sit down and write regularly, we won’t get any better at our craft. And all those poetic, wise, funny, powerful, wonderful words bobbing around our heads will have no outlet.
First as an English major in college and now as a graduate trying to keep my writing alive, I’m always on the lookout for ways to help myself get some writing done. Here are the five strategies that have helped me the most over the last few months. Hopefully you’ll find them useful, too!
1) Think about your writing goals
When you’re feeling unmotivated, the best thing you can do is to get yourself excited about your writing again—remind yourself why you love writing and what you hope to accomplish by devoting so much of your time and energy to the written word.
What do you want to write? Why do you want to write it? With whom do you want to share it?
I have two main goals in my writing. First, I want to get better at writing fiction. I want my stories to be deep, interesting, and well thought out, striking a balance between pretty wordplay and clean, clear action and dialogue.
Second, I want to get more of my writing published. Unless it’s a diary entry or something, pieces of writing—especially stories—are meant to be shared. That’s why this blog exists. That’s also why I want to publish more of my work. I want to write stories built on a framework of truth that will be entertaining and thought-provoking to people of many different perspectives and life experiences.
If that sounds vague… well, that’s because it is. I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to do any of this yet. Getting things published isn’t exactly easy. Neither is inserting my worldview into my work without bashing people over the head with a morality hammer.
But if I don’t keep on writing, even when I don’t wanna, I will never find out what does and doesn’t work, what gets me closer to success. If I want to experience the excitement of finally achieving my goals, I need to sit my butt down and write!
2) Read things similar to the things you want to write
This is a great way to get inspiration, to see how other writers tackle challenges similar to the ones you face in your chosen genre.
I’m currently reading a short story anthology called The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois. Some stories I’ve liked, others were “meh,” and some I didn’t finish. But they’ve all been useful in showing me how a successful (i.e. published) sci-fi story is constructed, from sci-fi concept or setting, to plot arcs, to character development.
Just reading through this book is getting my creative juices flowing and ideas are starting to develop in my head. I have one or two good ideas for short sci-fi/fantasy story settings. Now all I have to do is invent some characters and plots to play out inside them.
3) Start small
If you don’t wanna write because the task of crafting an entire article or novel seems too daunting, break it into manageable chunks. Start by writing just one page—or even just a single paragraph. Whether you write a hundred words or a thousand words each day, you still get some writing done. You still have more words than you did before.
Granted, breaking up your writing sessions this way is not the fastest way to create a story, but it still helps you get the job done. And you can always increase your daily word count later, when the muse returns.
4) Use a writing prompt
If starting small still seems daunting and the words just aren’t flowing, try a writing prompt. Google knows where to find them.
I used two prompts—one from the internet and one I made up myself—to help me write the flash fiction I posted last week.
Prompt 1 (from the web): Grab a dictionary, open it to a random page, and put your finger down on a random word. That word will be the title (or part of the title) of your fiction piece.
Prompt 2 (my own prompt): You must include in your story at least half of the words from the last game of Scrabble you played. You can get creative with how you use the words. For example, if one of the mandatory words is “sail,” you can include it as part of a compound word like “sailboat.” (For those interested, the list of Scrabble words I used is at the bottom of this post.)
For my flash fiction piece, my dictionary prompt word was “earthbound,” which immediately made me think of planet Earth and outer space (probably because of all the sci-fi stories I’ve been reading lately). From there, I zeroed in on the word “cousin” from my Scrabble list, and suddenly, I had a character: a woman whose beloved cousin died on the moon and has to be transported back to Earth for burial. From there, writing the flash was just a matter of filling in details, trying to include as many Scrabble words as possible. Using this prompt was challenging, fun, and productive all at the same time!
5) Give yourself a deadline
Unfortunately, in college, I got conditioned to write only when I had a deadline coming up. After I graduated, this made it hard to keep writing. I suddenly had no due dates, no external motivation or pressure to make sure I got my stories done on time—because there was no longer any such thing as “on time.”
So, I’ve had to cook up some homemade deadlines.
This blog is the main way I’ve been keeping myself on task lately. One of my New Years resolutions is to write a post every week throughout 2017. Weekly deadline: Sunday, midnight. So far, it’s been going well and I haven’t missed a week (of course, this is only my third post of the year). Let’s hope the streak continues!
Last November, I also participated in NaNoWriMo and gave myself a one-month deadline to write a novel (or at least half of one). I didn’t make it all the way to NaNo’s 50k word-count goal, but I still got a lot of writing done—far, far more than I would have without that Nov. 30th deadline.
Ultimately, the strength and weakness of self-set deadlines is that they’re flexible. You can pick a deadline that works for you based on your availability to write and adjust it as needed when life gets busier or slower. You just have to be careful you don’t get too flexible—because then you’ll just keep pushing your deadline back and back until you become a full-time procrastinator.
And anyone who watched Spongebob as a kid will know what kind of havoc procrastination can wreak on your writing!
Note: When I wrote down these words, I simplified the verbs to their present tense and listed any plural nouns as singular.