5 Best Tactics to Get Writing When It’s Not Happening


I think we all know those moments when it seems we just can’t do it.

Maybe we’ve been working a bit too hard lately. Maybe things have been really hectic. Maybe we have been on vacation for a little while. Maybe we let things slide a little too long. It could be anything, and often we don’t know the reason why. We just know we can’t get ourselves to get to work.

And it’s not distraction. That’s when it really sucks. When you can’t blame it on distraction. You’ve got a little bit of time. You should be working. You thought you would be working. But it’s not happening. Sure, you might be reaching for distractions, and lots of them, but deep down the whole time you know you these are coming after the fact. A symptom not the cause.

So here are 5 Tips you can use at these moments. You only need 1, but let’s really shoot a whole bunch of them at this and see what happens.

1. Just do a little. Only about 5 or ten minutes of work. I know if I want to exercise but can’t seem to get up to do it, all I need is a few sit-ups or something and often after that taste, it’s not so bad and next thing I know I’m back at it full steam ahead.

Other times its just a few sit-ups. Tactic #1 will not be effective if you don’t make room for 3 sit-up days. If it’s always a full workout you are not going to believe in it. After a while, some day you will say “C’mon just 5 minutes writing” but you’ll know you really mean 50 and won’t be satisfied with less. 

2. Use a Trigger. This works great with #1. My trigger for exercise can be “Move the couch.” For writing it can be “put tea next to the laptop, close internet connection, and open the file” or “sketch out the main tasks I will work on next.”

So it’s like– “I’m not working out. I’m just moving the couch!” Many times, this trigger will lead to the next thing. Find a trigger that works for you, and on these hard days focus only on the trigger and don’t think beyond it.

3. Use a Reward. Identify a specific reward that you will get after you do the specific, doable amount of work. It might be food or other prize, an activity, or it might even be that distracting thing you want to do like check Facebook. Increase value of reward as necessary!

Focusing on the anticipation of reward brings some of the exact right energy into the process. Plus you are going to enjoy that reward a lot more than usual because you earned it.

4. Reconnect with Why You Are Doing This. This can be either long or short term or both.

You might recall exactly why you are writing a review of books about nature magazines in your representations of baby seals article. Know your purpose for reviewing that literature in that section.

Of course, at least as good is to recall how you got interested in your topic, why it is good that someone is looking into it.

And it is great to also recall what writing means to your career and what the purpose of the writing is to your personal life situation and your goals. On all these levels, consciously identifying the purpose is just plain smart.

and last but not least–

5. Maybe you were just not meant to work today. Trust your instincts!

Some of our process is beyond the conscious mind and maybe our resistance is just a sign that now is not the right time. Something may also be telling you that what you are to work on is not right for you now. Maybe there is something else you should be writing. Or maybe it’s just time to pause and recharge.

If such a pause makes you feel guilty, then do something that you know is recharging for you and that you know will help your writing process in the long run. It is natural for a writer to do activities with an ulterior motive that some people do for their own sake. That is typical of writers in a state of momentum. Don’t resist that. So go ahead with that fun walk, ride, 12 step recipe, playing with children, or a meaningful or dumb movie (the single most rejuvenating movie experience I ever had in my life was watching This is Spinal Tap, during a hyper-intellectual period at University of Chicago).

Use these 5 tactics liberally as you need them, or incorporate them regularly. It’s not always easy to get yourself writing and you need some firepower on your side.