Some days you feel energized and excited to start writing. The words just flow. You get into a rhythm, and it’s as though the rest of the world melts away. It’s just you and the page, working together.
Other days it’s a whole different story.
Other days you’re antsy and unfocused. Other days your brain is bare.
This is common and normal and happens to all writers. So what’s the solution? We asked six writers to share what they do when they’re completely and utterly uninspired—practices that might very well inspire and help you, too.
“There’s a subtle difference between needing to put my body in a chair to do the work, and energetically feeling depleted to the point where it would be unproductive to force myself to work,” said Nicole Gulotta, author of Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry, and a blog by the same name.
When the latter is true, she gets up and does something else. She takes a nap or reads a magazine. She cooks or goes to a yoga class. In other words, she said, “[I] generally just honor whatever I’m feeling.”
Sydney Campos, author of The Empath Experience: What To Do When You Feel Everything, also takes a break. She rests or sleeps. Or she dances or plays. “I go do something fun that I know for sure will get me back into my body.” Sometimes, she meditates and focuses on her breath or labels her senses (in vipassana style). “When I can be fully present and at peace and ease in my being without the thought of needing to do anything else, it’s in these moments of deep relaxation that I tend to receive the most powerful inspiring insights,” said Campos.
When psychologist and writer Ryan Howes, Ph.D, is uninspired that usually means he’s surrounded by oppressive expectations—from others (e.g., too many deadlines) or from himself (e.g., trying to tackle too much at once). “On those days, I turn to the task manager in my head and organize the best system to relieve the pressure.” That might mean plowing through certain tasks or turning down assignments. “After I clear out enough of my to-do list to find some breathing room, I can return to the writing I love to do without the weight hanging over me.”
It doesn’t happen often but when Howes runs out of ideas, he turns to journals, books, blogs and movies about therapy to see what others are saying. Inevitably, he’ll come across something he’d like to explore further, something he disagrees with or someone he’d like to interview.
When the words really aren’t coming, Howes, co-founder of Mental Health Boot Camp, turns to Julia Cameron’s practice of “morning pages.” “This daily free-writing exercise helps me get past my internal editor and just put words on the page, which tends to get the wheels moving. The practice alone is more about removing blocks than finding inspiration, but I find that once I get moving I can find inspiration more easily.”
Tanaaz Chubb, author of numerous books, including The Power of Positive Energy, takes her uninspired state as a sign that she needs to slow down and re-center her energy. She focuses on other tasks and projects, such as replying to email and updating her website. “If I absolutely need to write something and need inspiration quickly, meditation, going for a walk, or reading an inspiring book or blog post can also help,” said Chubb.
When psychotherapist Susie Herrick, MFT, feels uninspired she eats chocolate cookie dough and watches English literature costume series. “I am a glutton for English sentences and vocabulary use. The variety of verbs alone in just one paragraph is gripping,” said Herrick, co-author of Your Story is Your Power with Elle Luna.
For Karla Starr, a journalist and author of the forthcoming book Can You Learn to Be Lucky?, starting is usually the antidote. “If I sit down, get started, and have patience with myself, eventually I can see that I’m making progress—and that’s what motivates me to keep going.” She has a go-to ritual of making a big cup of coffee and disconnecting her computer from the internet. This is when her brain knows it’s time to work.
“When I’ve kept the faucet open for a long time and still don’t feel like that’s working, I’ll find another way to make progress, like organizing, outlining, researching, or editing,” said Starr.
It’s very frustrating when you feel completely and utterly uninspired. Sometimes, the cure is to take a break, to engage in a different activity. Other times, it’s to work through it, to keep going, one word at a time. Either way, as Howes said, “don’t just sit there, you’re more likely to gather rust than inspiration.”