3 Steps to Write When Life Goes Nuts

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Ever had one of those weeks? The kind of week where life boils over, and even if you have time to sit down and write, you don't have a lot of writing to give?

Writer: 3 Steps to Write When Life Goes Nuts

We all have weeks like that—I know I do—and  so today, I'm going to give you three steps to work through those troubled times when you can't write at all.

Sometimes, Life Boils Over

Sometimes, life goes nuts; when it does, it's harder to write.

I even found visual aids to demonstrate.

When your life does this:

happens-boil-milk_170693416fabfab4

It usually leaves you and your writing skills like this:

burnt_pot

It doesn't feel good. It smells worse.

Good news, fellow writers: there is a solution, and it can be boiled down (see what I did there?) to three steps.

Three Steps to Writing When You Can't Write

So there you are: your week's boiled over, and you're finally sitting in front of your computer/notebook/voice recorder, with a dearly-paid-for hour of time to write . . . and you can't.

There's nothing. No characters talking, no plot points singing. Your story seems dumb, your twist ending feels predictable, and you suddenly wish you'd never told anybody you were going to write because it's gonna be humiliating when you fail.

Every writer has been there. I've certainly been there. That's why I can tell you the first step; I've had to do it myself more times than I can count.

Step 1: Believe You're Still a Writer

Step number one to writing when you can't write is believing you're still a writer.

See, we all have a nasty inner critic. That inner critic loves days when we're burned out and can't write. It pounces, and in the back of our minds, whispers things.

It whispers, This is it. You'll never find the story again.

It whispers, You never finish anything.

It whispers, You're too old (too young, too inexperienced, too ignorant, too whatever) to become a writer now.

It whispers all kinds of horrible things, and all of them center on one nightmare thought: that this burned-out place you find yourself—this empty, sticky, awful spot—is where you'll be for the rest of your life.

Have I mentioned the inner critic is kind of a jerk?

It lies to you. That voice is a lie. All those you never and you're fooling yourself statements are lies.

And you may know that, or think you know that, anyway; but on those days when you're burned out, that fear rings in the back of your mind like a fire alarm going off in the house next door.

Step number one is shutting that liar down.

You need to believe this. Look in the mirror and tell yourself this. Write that down on a sheet of paper if you need to, in big, bold letters, and pin it to your corkboard.

You're a writer even on those days you can't write.

Step 2: Remember Your Passion

Step number two to writing when you can't write is remembering your passion.

Let me put that another way: do you remember the reason you got into writing in the first place?

Maybe it was something awesome you read—something that granted you escape, or opened your eyes, or changed your life.

Maybe it was because a story idea just latched onto your head and your heart, filling you so completely that you couldn't even imagine life without that story inside you, begging to be written.

Heck, maybe it was just seeing a need and knowing that your own personal experience or wisdom could fill it.

Whatever that reason was, it's time for you to remember it.

Maybe it means picking up a book that inspired you. Maybe it means clicking Google news and checking out that issue that got you so fired up in the first place. It means recalling to mind just how badly you need to write and why. Whatever it is, remember it. Take it to mind; remember how it felt in your heart and your head. Remember the heady, joyful feeling of knowing that you could—no, should—write that book.

Then write that reason down.

This can go on a 3×5 card. And yes, I know that when your personal pot is burned and empty, no matter what you write down, it'll feel stupid. That's your inner critic again. Ignore the jerk. This is about you, not it.

Write down that reason and put it on your corkboard next to your declaration that you're still a writer. (What, you don't have a corkboard? Then just put it where you can see it when you go to write.)

This reason is still real. Even if you can't feel it right now, it's just as valid as it was when it first spurred you to write.

So that's step one and step two. Ready for step three? It's a doozy.

Step 3: Write the Wrong Stuff

Step number three to writing when you can't write is writing the wrong stuff.

Don't freak out. I know your inner critic declares that you'll somehow be practicing writing badly, or wasting your time, or a dozen other excuses. But hear me: your inner critic says that because it will tell you absolutely anything to keep you from writing.

Any excuse is another lie.

Write the wrong stuff. Go into it knowing it'll be all wrong.

There are two reasons for this. Here's the first one:

1. Writing the wrong stuff calms down your high expectations.

In your burned-out state, those expectations can do more harm than good, so it's important to deliberately squash them.

In other words, there's no pressure.

You don't even have to write the story you were working on when life boiled over. You can write something else, or take your characters and put them in an alternate storyline, or switch the bad guys with the good guys.

Non-fiction writers? You can write intentionally bad advice.

Heck, if you do it full-bore, writing bad advice can be funny. And that's actually the key to this. Because here's reason number two for writing the wrong stuff:

2. Writing the wrong stuff gives you permission to play.

When was the last time you played when you wrote? Probably not in a while; life boiling over tends to sap the fun out of things, as I know too well. But it all goes back to that amazing little quote from Robert Frost, doesn't it?

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

No matter how serious the story, no matter how important the information imparted, there must be life in it for it to be readable. In other words, if you want readers to enjoy what you write, you need to enjoy it while you're writing it.

Don't freak out. (Yes, I'm repeating that.) I'm not saying this to put pressure on you. I'm saying this to remove the pressure by reminding you that sometimes, you've got to play.

Go on: give bad advice.

Go ahead: write a terrible chapter including every ridiculous literary trope and pitfall you know.

Write intentionally silly dialogue.

Write literal deus ex machina swooping out of the sky for no reason to fix the ending.

rocks-fall-the-creative-process

Write as terribly as you possibly can . . . and then laugh at it.

When you do this, you're actually becoming a better writer. There's something strange about the act of crystallizing terribly written things that helps you not to do them when you're writing for real.

When you do this, you're socking your inner critic in the eye.

Play. And just maybe, at the close of that terrible writing day, you can end it with a smile.

When You Can't Write, You're Still a Writer

I know how hard this can be. I know that sometimes the bad things keep happening, leaving you empty. But here's the thing, fellow writers: you're still a writer.

Yes. You are.

Let yourself have these off-days, and use them to practice your skills in unexpected directions. Take advantage of these empty days to fill yourself with the memory of why you started this to begin with.

And don't listen to your inner critic. That guy is a serious jerk.

How do you handle days when you can't write? Let me know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Have you had one of those days when you can't write lately? I know you have in the past, if not right now. So here's your homework assignment: take fifteen minutes and practice at least two of the three steps we talked about in this lesson:

  1. State that you are a writer even when you can't write.
  2. Remember your passion, why you started this in the first place, and write that down. If you're having that kind of day, you may need to allow yourself to write that reason badly, ineloquently, or clumsily. That's okay. Still write it down.
  3. Write something deliberately terrible. Take your characters and place them in a random situation, or start something new and purposely bizarre. Enjoy the process of writing with no expectations.

When you’re done, share your writing in the comments below, and don’t forget to leave comments for your fellow writers. 

Best-Selling author Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and was keynote speaker for The Write Practice 2021 Spring Retreat.

Author of two series with five books and fifty short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom, using up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon.

When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away.

P.S. Red is still her favorite color.

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79 Comments

  1. Michelle Becker

    I attended a writing conference a couple of years ago and in one of the workshops, the speaker had us all write a postcard to ourselves. A piece of advice, something we learned there, or something we wanted to be reminded of at a later time. She collected them at the end of the session and said she would mail them at a later date of her choosing.
    Fast forward a couple of months and there’s this card in my mailbox – just a little reminder to myself to give myself permission and freedom to write whatever was on my heart. It came at just the right time – during a battle with my inner critic.
    Jumping ahead a couple of years and I came across the card again. Again I was reminded of why I need to write. Now I have the card taped inside my journal so I am reminded on a more regular basis.
    The inner critic and I still do battle on a regular basis. My I remind myself that I am a writer and just like the little engine that could, I can too.

    Reply
    • Jonathan Hutchison

      What a great idea – the idea of having your own postcard return its message from you to you. And I am certain it will inspire you for years to come. I hope you have let the speaker at that session know how much that one suggestion has sustained you.

      Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      I could send a postcard to myself. What a good idea! I don’t need a conference, just a short message to myself. Maybe I could give it to someone to pop in a mailbox in a few months. I’ve actually done this kind of thing for other areas of my life, but never for myself as a writer. Thanks!

      Reply
  2. Tina

    That frying pan picture is actually very sweet, in its way. It’s kinda like the video shot by the Mr. Science guy who boiled out the contents of a half-liter bottle of Coca Cola http://www.worldstarhiphop.com/videos/video.php?v=wshh9216eSg2ftds4py3

    This is so much sweetness inside of you, waiting to be shared 🙂 … your writing is the boiling … it is much, much too early to feel absolutely like you ran out of steam … and feeling as if all you could offer is the residue in the frying pan …

    “Adela will not be joining us, Krisha. We need her straight and sober … as a guide …”

    “But she’s so much younger than us. Really! Not much older than that coed homewrecker you had started to shack up with. She could go with us and with her old man.”

    “No, this s#*t could be dangerous.”

    “And you’re my bae … I really would not prefer her at all on this trip.”

    “You referred to me as your K2 … now you want us taking its namesake? On this pathetic little mountain? Is this instead of the soma referenced in Brave New World? You’re the celebrity tutor. So, now tutor me on this! And meanwhile, I need you to explain to me that map. The one with the porn in it? That was file-shared with you?”

    “Porn—alleged by you, of course …” Gerrard took Krisha’s chin in his hand and pulled it close, very slowly …

    “I have been … waiting … a number of weeks for this …”

    “No, not the whole six weeks, though …”

    Gerrard kissed Krisha roughly.

    “Who cares?,” he exclaimed, finally coming up for air.

    “Hey, look, you two,” Adela interjected. “I have an idea Gerrard, that you two really should get a room … well, you’ve got a tent … certainly NOT soundproofed, and I’ll be just outside. As your guide.

    “This is not my kink. I just have to be alert as to if you guys stop breathing, knowhatImean? You, too, Jon … but I can’t really be messing with you as you will be stoned out of your mind …”
    “Can’t believe this … he’s finally gotten Krisha this far—My man! High five, bro!”
    Gerrard raised his right hand and slapped Jon’s left.
    ☺ You did say go for lousy …
    18 minutes … as I am nowhere near efficient and didn’t have my security blanket of the notebook, and the drunken muse was still passed out …

    Reply
    • Heather Fiske

      I liked it. Sounds pretty comedic. 😉

      Reply
      • Tina

        Thank you. This is actually is a would-be future scene or part of a future (!) scene; but I purposely disguised it so as to have discordant action elements that may function as a “test”, but have a low probability of working for the story (for wordplay and a bit of a privacy stake—I and my muse are paranoid). The stuff I said about comedic writing in another comment is absolutely true. So, in this regard, somehow this is where it’s going.

        And why I have the muse I do: “Thank you, may I have another!”

        Reply
  3. Heather Fiske

    I actually had “that day” about a week ago. This might sound weird, but my protagonists seem to route me on to doing what’s best for me and taking care of myself. I actually got to the point where one of them said “Just write something!”

    And, even though I write fiction- I love spoofing chain posts and writing things that are just meant to not be serious.

    Svied, looked around the unfamiliar bright bedroom. The large window stood to her left, framing a scene of the sky, grass and the house behind the one she was in.

    She looked at the posters on the wall, “How to Train Your Dragon” “How to Train Your Dragon 2”..and “Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor.” She did a double take, why did that brown haired, brown eyed actor on the poster look like her uncle? How in the universe did she land here?

    She looked next to the bed, seeing a night table and some still unpacked containers standing in as night tables. The “tables” were a bit messy, but the room itself was kept free from clunky furniture aside from the bed. A few DVDs lay on the farthest “table” The stuffed Dragon toys caught her eye- whosever room this was must be a big fan of those Dragon movies. Each Dragon had an equivalent on the How to Train Your Dragon 2 poster. The biggest poster in the room.

    Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      What a hook! Who wouldn’t want to know Svied after reading that intro? (Okay, lots of people. No book is for everyone. But I’d want to read it!)

      Reply
      • Heather Fiske

        I actually took Svied out of her own universe and put her in my room lol. I should write more of this small stuff more often anyway, it’s fun not to be soo concerned. The bigger story where she’s the protagonist is pretty dark.

        Reply
  4. Reagan Colbert

    Today is one of those days. I’ve been beating myself up, (like I always do) because I can’t write. And I pretty much need to stop it. Because I know, inside somewhere beyond that inner critic, that I am still a writer. I was made for this, and one bad day isn’t going to change anything. I’ll get back to the story. I’ll be given the next scene. And today will have little impact on my writing career.
    Because my passion for this is too strong to be held back. Because when God called me to this, it wasn’t so I could fail. Because this story is too important, too real, and too necessary to me for it to be stopped now. Because I live and breathe this story, and my passion will not be satisfied until it’s done.
    I can bring myself back to the exact moment I was given the story. It was Palm Sunday of this year, when watching a re-telling of the Passion story. That’s when I was inspired with the idea to re-tell it myself, from a completely different POV. Since then I’ve written and published the first two parts, and the third (and hardest) is what I’m stuck on right now.

    But that doesn’t change why I started it. And that doesn’t change the fact that I will finish it. Today will pass, but this story will be with me forever.

    (Oh, and by the way, I do have fun on some days when I can’t write. Though I can’t bring myself to do anything strange or different with my characters, when I’m stuck on my stories I write fan fiction episodes of my absolute favorite TV series. It’s an awesome way to unwind and have fun writing. I think I’ll go do that now! 🙂

    Reply
    • Tina

      Just one question, though.
      I am scared of being data mined on if I ever wrote fanfic …
      Do you consider that a possible pitfall?
      And do you do stuff you’d have to be scared of, like I would, that if the site is heavily commercial and popular and funny?

      Reply
      • Reagan Colbert

        I haven’t published my fanfic anywhere so far. I’m pretty new to it, and the show I write about is so popular that I’m actually scared of publishing, because of the legal side of it!
        I write episodes just as they were – I don’t try to make them funny or scary or anything like that. I just have fun because I’m such a big fan of the series. It’s a personal thing, and though I’d love to, I don’t see it being published. Just a hobby.

        Reply
        • Tina

          You really do you.
          The funnier one tries to be, the longer the work hours … who needs that? Ditto scarier, although I wouldn’t have first-hand experience; and have heard the opposite from braggart acquaintances who like to puff themselves up 😉
          Actually, if I find my WIP getting too dark to actually be a “romance”, I’ll have to go with that. But I still need the tropes, such as they still present themselves.
          The plausibility of the just-this-side-of-bad-boy nice guy and the like, the sort of Alpha-ISH woman; that would rarely see the light of day in the pulpy romances of America …

          And I’m a little too paranoid to be talking about fanfic .. really did think you had to post that stuff entry-wise online or something.

          Would take your lead in how it’s done.

          Reply
    • Jonathan Hutchison

      Can you tell me a bit more about fan fiction? I am not familiar with that genre. Great submission above. I can sense your inner passion and your determination to let your faith and hope help show you the way to the completion of your work. Very inspiring on this wet, grey, cool day here in Illinois.

      Reply
      • Reagan Colbert

        Thanks, Jonathan! Fan fiction is pretty much a story you write based on the worlds and characters created by someone else. I write my fan fiction based on my favorite tv show. My short stories resemble episodes of that show, with the same cast, plot, and premise. I don’t know about publishing, but they’re really fun to write, because when you run out of new episodes to watch, you can just write your own. 🙂

        Reply
        • Bruce Carroll

          One of the best anthologies I ever read was a collection of Star Trek short stories by several different fans. It was published as a paperback, so someone, sometimes, does publish fan fiction.

          Reply
          • Reagan Colbert

            Bruce, I just did a double take when I read this, because my fan fiction is Star Trek! 🙂 I’m not sure if it’s that good, (I’ve never shown anyone), but I’ll have to look up the one you mentioned! It gives me hope that maybe publishing is an option.

          • Bruce Carroll

            The anthology I read was published after the cancellation of TOS and before The Motion Picture. I’d LOVE to read your stories, if you’re willing to share them.

          • Reagan Colbert

            Wow, I’ll definitely look those up, b/c TOS is what I’m a fan of. And thanks for offering to read mine! I only have one finished in a PDF format now. Where could I send it to you?

          • Bruce Carroll

            Wish I could remember the title. I think the publisher was Ballantine.

            You can easily contact me through my website: authorbrucecarroll.com. Send me a message and I’ll let you know where to send the PDF. Live long and prosper!

          • Reagan Colbert

            LOL… same to you! I’ll send you a message. So glad to meet a fellow Trekkie! 🙂

  5. George McNeese

    I’ve been feeling like I can’t write anything these days. There are so many works I haven’t finished. It’s frustrating. I think one reason is because when I read them, they feel like they’re for high school students. I’m committed to write more adult-themed stories, and it doesn’t seem to be working. But after reading this post, I feel like I can write those kind of stories. I think it’s a matter of getting it all down.

    Reply
  6. Kikku

    I had been staring at the computer screen for almost an hour. Not a single word was formed. Just the cursor was blinking monotonously on the blank screen. This almost spotless clean white screen had become a nightmare for me. A week had passed and the screen was as blank as it was in the beginning.
    I wanted the scream in frustration. I wanted to smash the screen, which seemed to be mocking at me. I wanted to pull the computer overhead and throw it to the wall or out of the window.

    “Well that would be quite impossible considering your lack of weight lifting skill. But then again you don’t have any skill, anyway.”, huffed my inner voice.

    “Why would I have weight lifting skill. I am not a weight lifter. I am a writer.”, I protested.

    “A writer! “, she imitated mockingly, giving an extra stress on the ‘w’ and burst out laughing.

    I glared at her.

    “Oh Don’t be angry. There is no shame in admitting it. Nobody can achieve everything. You can’t write. Admit it and be done with it. Simple.”

    “But…”, I hesitated. Was it true then? Couldn’t I really be a writer? But I wrote stories and articles at the past. Surely they were something.

    “They are called luck! You accidentally stumbled upon a few plots and wrote them down in a clumsy manner. That hardly makes you a writer.”, the inner voice reminded me.

    At this point I started to give in to its reasoning. I started to believe that writing was not for me. But the voice didn’t stop at that. It continued cruelly, ” This madness of writing is going to cost your relationship with Andrew. No one wants their newly wed wife to stare blankly at computer screen and brood! He must think you crazy and boring, considering the number of parties or dates you have cancelled giving the excuse of writing.”

    “What! What are you talking about? Andrew knows that I am serious about writing and supports me in every way possible! ”

    “Because at first he too thought that you could be a writer. But now….”

    “Stop. Please stop. I can’t take it anymore.”, tears were streaming down my face and I was hiding my face in my hands.

    Suddenly a soft touch on my shoulder startled me.

    “Andrew? ”

    “Hey sweetheart, it’s alright. Don’t pressurise yourself.”

    “Andrew I know you must think me silly for thinking seriously that I could be a writer, when I couldn’t form a single word in a whole week…..”, I mumbled pathetically, stifling my sobs.

    He frowned at first, confused. Then he burst out laughing.

    “You’re laughing at me? “, I accused like a petulant child.

    “Oh no sweetie. It’s just that whenever you listen to that inner lier, you start acting silly”.
    He pulled my in his arms, telling firmly, “I would never think you silly for thinking that you can be a writer. I would think you silly if you think you cannot….”

    “Really? ”

    “Really.”, he smiled, “I have been worried for your condition and was searching Google for some help. And look what I found.”

    I pulled my head away from her chest reluctantly and looked at his smartphone screen.

    “What’s it? ”

    ” Well, it’s a page of a community called The Write Practice. And here is today’s article which talks about exactly the phase you’re going through. Do you know what’s the first and foremost step to come back? ”

    “What? ”

    ” Stop listening to your inner lier and start listening to your husband, because your husband is always right.”

    “What! THAT is written there! “, I cried out.

    “Ha ha ha! Not the second one. I added it. Thought it a good advice! ”

    I hit him playfully, “Andrew! You’re such a….”

    “What! ”

    “Nothing.”

    And I laughed whole heartedly for the first time in a week.

    Reply
    • Tina

      Very cute!
      Wish a force/muse that absolutely kind could motivate me, but I realize there are not enough Andrews (real or imaginary) to go around.

      Anyway, some of us (me) need a lot of tough love and no two ways about it.

      Reply
      • Kikku

        Well Andrew is imaginary in my life too. But we have this beautiful community here which helps us struggling writers to listen to each other, instead of the inner lier. We can do it!
        A tough love for you from me. You can do it. You’re a writer. 🙂

        Reply
    • Jonathan Hutchison

      Nice submission to the task. It is helpful to get encouragement and affirmation from those who are directly affected by our writing madness so I hope in fact, your Andrew is as understanding and nurturing as my wife. You are a writer.

      Reply
      • Kikku

        Thank you 🙂
        And yes I totally agree with you. Every encouragement matters, specially those from our close ones.

        Reply
    • Debra johnson

      I love it! especially that last part about ‘listening to your husband..Mine would say the same thing… When we find the right ones it makes the journey that much more worth it doesnt it?

      Reply
  7. Jean Blanchard

    Here’s my 15 minutes worth of play in a rotten week. Number three: deliberately doo-lally

    I can’t help it. My feet just keep walking. In the wet. In the dry. When the sun’s shining and when it’s foggy. They just keep going in and out of shops. My feet are like dogs’ noses. They can tell if there’s any graphite in the vicinity. Or whether there’re are centimeter deep thin curls of sweet smelling wood in the bottom of a plastic cup. There might be tea or coffee in the bottom but my feet can sniff them out no trouble. My feet are so sensitive they are honed to a high level of sensitivity to find pencils every where. In the gutter, down the backs of sofas, or even stuck the noses of small boys as they search out the little pink rubbers the little perishers think it’s cool up which to push them.

    I hate my feet, even though I do secretly think they’re pretty wonderful and extrememly talented. Credit where credit’s due. They take me places in their search for stationery. And the worst effin’ thing is that it doesn’t matter what shoes I’m wearing. Leather, plastic, glass, canvas, rubber – plus socks, stockings, knee-highs, pop socks, arctic socks, school socks, tights, 10 denier or 6o denier opaque tights; it makes no difference to me feet, I can tell you.

    One day I went to a podiatrist and asked for a minute examination (to the nth degree) to see if there were nostrils in any of my toes. No, don’t laugh, please; I take it you are laughing. And guess what?! Both my big toes have under-developed nostrils just under the skin with pin holes to sniff through. That explains the cold sores I get on occasion, I reckon. Not that my big toes have been anywhere to catch cold sores, I hasten to add. Anyway, what it means is that I have to take particular care of my big toes now. I can’t wear nail varnish unless it’s purple (because I’m old) – just to let them know, (if indeed, they are also gifted with IQs of 190), that I think they are wonderful even though really I hate them; otherwise they might develop some kind of syndrome or intolerance like so many other self-agrandising members of God’s own creation. Not that I’m saying that intolerances don’t exist. My big toes fall apart if they get just a whiff of garlic; it completely puts them off their stride.

    Uh, Oh … We’re off again! No rest for the wicked. Going into a Stationery Store now; No! No! Get Down! You’re not allowed in the fountain pen cabinet …. nor on the Moleskin shelf ….

    I feel better now.

    Reply
    • Tina

      Great! Feet with nostrils. Your podiatrist must have the rockingest time treating you as a patient.

      Sometimes, there is a garden in mine. [and not of earthly delights …]
      I’ve a light-hearted, very very young, perfectionist podiatrist … it’s open mic time over there for him, so I neglect visits …

      Reply
    • bernadette

      Virtually sending a Bright Pair of Purple Crocs to wear on excursions!!! ;~ D

      Reply
    • Jonathan Hutchison

      I am laughing out loud. Such whimsy. Thanks very much. I am not going to be able to shake the mental picture I have of big toes with nostrils. You have a great mind and a way with words. Thanks again.

      Reply
    • LilianGardner

      Well Jean, if this is what you turn out on a bad day, then what you write on a good day is surely tops.
      At the end of the day I thank my feet for taking me every where. Good, faithful, tolerant feet that put up with my walking moods, even when they don’t feel like going any where.
      I enjoyed your post. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  8. n.harv

    after recently hearing/reading/watching the U.S. news pertaining to police brutality, my life has been boiling over. needless to say, this article was needed and is appreciated. THANK YOU!

    Reply
  9. Jonathan Hutchison

    Some smart aleck acquaintance stopped me the other day as I was finally getting to enjoy a well-needed cup of coffee from Starbucks. Yes, I am not so proud of this, but I do rob my wife’s purse to get money to buy a caramel mocha macchiato. Oh yea, the acquaintance who interrupted my reverie – well he asked me (for the hundredth time) “so are you still writing? Haven’t seen anything on your blog site or on the forum at thewritepractice.com.”

    “Yes, I still am a writer, just going through the blue period in my work. Hundreds of years from now when folks are reading my blog archives (or maybe my memoirs if I can ever get back to real writing) they will say, ‘oh that was Jon’s blue period.’”

    My annoying acquaintance continued, “well your blog stuff was getting pretty grim and that story about some 1929 hit man who finds his conscience all of a sudden – well Jon, that was just implausible. You know that right?”

    The reason acquaintances of mine never become friends is that they are such jerks. I can stand to say hello to them, but anything more than that and my latent homicidal tendencies start to bubble up inside that part of the brain that says “destroy that person.”

    So, just to get rid of my most recent acquaintance I said, “look I only write because I am an egomaniac and when I am not talking about myself, I am writing about myself. The reason I am not writing right now is that I have nothing to say to anyone about myself.” Actually, truth be told I don’t have anything I want to tell you about myself. And by extension, I don’t care to share my talent with you or anyone else. You philistines don’t understand me and the depth of my insight.”

    I was shocked when my acquaintance walked away without another word. I was also shocked when the barista who was eavesdropping gave me a café latte instead of my caramel mocha macchiato. He said I did not deserve his greatest drink concoction.

    That’s it, my barista won’t make the final draft of my next novel or even a blog post. Just for amusement and self-loathing, check out my blog site foundationalhope.com and send me a rant of how your feeble brain tries to surround my incredible thought process.

    Thirty-seven more seconds and I will be cured from the tortures of writer’s block. The end is near.

    So I tried to include points two and three of Ruthanne’s article – why I write (in which I told the falsehood appearing above) and writing something really bad. I believe I succeeded at that. This was fun. Now maybe the spell will be broken.

    Reply
    • Tina

      No. It is at times like these that I am glad that my abusive drunken old lady muse is just a figment of my imagination. She is about to recover from her latest hangover; and, when she is fully recovered, may want a few words with the guy who would criticize your hitman story and/or other things. Or, actually, compare notes …

      Actually, since, unlike you, I have little ego, I kinda need her to yell at me a lot, first … and then, over to him/them …

      That website of yours actually is a link that works … I’ll be gobsmacked!

      Reply
      • Jonathan Hutchison

        Thanks Tina for the feedback. When I get really crazy, I remember one early morning in Maine. The harbor where I lived was socked in with fog so thick that believing anything was really out there beyond the fog would have been a reasonable conclusion to make. But the morning fog lifted and a bright, beautiful, sunny day was waiting for my enjoyment. It doesn’t get much better than that. That memory has launched a thousand great moods over the years.

        Reply
    • Christine

      I only write because I am an egomaniac and when I am not talking about
      myself, I am writing about myself. The reason I am not writing right
      now is that I have nothing to say to anyone about myself.” Actually,
      truth be told I don’t have anything I want to tell you about myself.

      If you could only bottle that and sell it as pest control or insect repellent, you might make your fortune. 🙂

      Reply
      • Bruce Carroll

        When people post LOL online, they usually did not, in fact, laugh out loud. I did.

        Reply
      • Jonathan Hutchison

        You made me laugh. I am really not that harsh. If I earn a million dollars from your suggestion, I will share half of it with you. See I am a good guy! Have a great day.

        Reply
        • Christine

          I believe you’re a good guy. But I thought of how many other writers could use a neat line like that to spray at pesky acquaintances.
          I shouldn’t perhaps think of nosy acq’s as “insects” but they do sometimes pack a little sting. Like the implied, “When are you going to get a real life?”

          Reply
          • Jonathan Hutchison

            Yes, when someone asks, “what do you do?” and I say “I am a writer,” the next words I hear are, “so what have you written?” That’s when I take out my handkerchief and blow my nose. Usually that ends the conversation. I, of course, blow my nose with vigor and intensity just to be certain of the intended effect.

          • Debra johnson

            I have gotten that question and when they ask, I can say I have a few books out there, they are Christian stories and they are at,,, that’s when I get the ‘oh that’s nice dear well you have fun with that’, and they stroll away wishing me luck and silently laughing… I can’t hear them, I just know by watching their shoulders.

    • Kikku

      That is why no one but my mother knows that I am writing in my spare time and am gradually thinking of taking it seriously. There are always those people to disturb your resolve. My own inner critic is enough to do that job already.
      I would much appreciate feedback from unknown people online, who know what they are talking about, i.e, you people on the community. 🙂

      Reply
      • Jonathan Hutchison

        We are all in this together aren’t we? We all struggle with our writing and with our ideas, but it is a blessing to be able to share it all with folks who are also committed to the writer’s journey. Thanks for your part.

        Reply
  10. LilianGardner

    Dear Ruthanne,
    Your post came just at the right moment. I am experiencing all the feelings you’ve written, and I love that you said the inner critic is a liar and a jerk. I want to hold this in my mind… it’s a life saver, or rather, a writer’s saver.
    When the blank page gets the better of me, I feel empty and beaten. I play a game of Spider, then turn off my PC and do the chores, hoping that physical excersie will inspire me and lead me back to the PC. Some times it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Or I take a walk but my inner critic nags, telling me I’m wasting my time writing when I haven’t the talent. It’s a ‘lousy’ feeling, but it seems I’m not alone.
    I’m going to read your post once more. It’s encouraging and getting me back on track.
    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  11. Lola Palooza

    I’m currently off work and very poorly, and I promised myself I was going to write a really terrible first draft of a book by the end of this week.
    I sat down to write… Nothing.
    I go to bed… Suddenly there are characters and integral plot points coming out of my ears.
    I’m shattered!
    Sat down today to work on the story…
    Poetry came out! Some absolute corkers as well and I’m trying to submit them for a competition (‘trying’ because the website seems to have a glitch where it won’t accept any Word document format and I’ll be damned if I’m converting to Excel – colour me gutted).
    But I do come up with new and interesting, and sometimes quite impressive swear words to sharpen and aim at myself on a daily basis.
    I doubt it’s lack of coffee. I’m assuming my brain has a ‘path of least resistance’approach to the pressure I myself ladle on.
    Does anyone else get that?

    Reply
  12. mikemwxs

    Esse puxão de orelha era justamente o que eu precisava ler, obrigado!

    Reply
  13. Ruth

    Thanks ,Ruthanne , for a needed lift.
    Sometimes there is one little bright spot in the day, a child’s comment, a quote just read, a flower just opening, an act of kindness ….if you jot it down in a journal, it is a seed for a new story. Don’t miss it.

    Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      Don’t miss it. I need to tattoo that on the insides of my eyelids. I am trying each day, every moment, to find the story, or at least a detail; a character, a setting, a description, an artifact. Especially in those off moments in which I am bored, in which my experience seems to be a waste of time. It doesn’t have to be a waste: I need to find the story!

      Reply
  14. James Noller

    I am a writer. That just it. Even when I can’t write or feel as though I have nothing to say. The skill and pen of a writer is still mine. To keep. Forever. And while a writer is not all I am, it will never stop me from the joy of putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard and just typing. How long it has been since my fingers hit the keys just for enjoyment.

    I started writing long before I realised I enjoyed it though. It was called school. I just started writing recounts, short stories, or whatever was asked by the teacher in my little primary school class. But there was something different about me. I actually sought to write more. I would have competitions with my twin brother about who could write the most. (What? A student who enjoys work?) And then there was that time I filled out my entire English writing book with the one story…

    Well, I know knew I enjoyed writing. But I just enjoyed school, right? I was just a fantastic student, right? It took me a couple more years of loving creative writing before it dawned on me – I could be a writer! What a revelation! I found something I enjoyed and something I wanted to get better at!

    But then, I made a huge mistake. I bit off more than I could chew and decided to write … the school production. It was never perfect. Never good enough. Never just what I wanted. My inner critic tore down my ideas as worthless, amateur, not good enough, until I was left scraping the bottom of the pan for ideas – completely burned out.

    After another couple of months, I finally realised what I was doing to myself, and stopped writing. It has taken me about a year and a half to actually find that joy of writing again. But I’m back. And I’m ready to write. Watch out world – get ready for some crazy stories with deep, intriguing themes. No inner critic is going to stop me writing this time. I will not live by lies, but by the truth about myself – I have something to write.

    So much has happened to me in my short seventeen years. I ponder about the world around me – different moments of life. Sometimes, characters and plots just grip me. They intrigue me and they inspire me, and before I know it a story is bubbling up inside me, just waiting to be written.

    This time it’s going to come out, no matter how bad it is. Time will be obedient because I want to write. Fifteen minutes a day. I can do this. No more lies about not having the expertise, because how do you learn? You practice. It’s time to unleash my thoughts and ideas and plots and characters to others to be read so that they too can be inspired, and that their lives can be impacted too. I can write, and nothing and no-one is going to stop me. Ever.

    Reply
    • Debra johnson

      Keep that attitude. And all of your stories that you have written for class, I wish I had .. they will show you how far you have come in your writing, or given you ideas when you ever get to the point of not having any ideas or want something new. I wish I had saved my things,, although I have many years on me the writings are few but they were enjoyable to work on back then. In fact I had only saved one story which turned into a mini set of stories…. Never let anyone tell you that you aren’t a writer….

      Reply
  15. Christine

    I’ve spent this spring and summer going through chemotherapy to deal with my leukemia. And i wrote nothing except a once-in-awhile blog post. My head was just too occupied with thoughts of feeling rotten … or maybe my brain was just slowly being fried.

    By the time I had my last sessions Sept 7 & 8, I had about given up ever having another story idea, never mind actually writing anything. I tried to construct scenarios and story lines but couldn’t think anything through. But the good news is, a few days ago I started to get an idea. A story started to come together! So I grabbed a pen and scribbled it down, seeing as my memory is full of holes. We’ll see how far I get.

    And last night I was applying your Suggestion #3 about writing anything, even the wrong thing. For this often I turn to my book of quotes, Words of Wisdom and read a few before bed. Sometimes writing a few thoughts about a certain quote, restating it or trying to portray it with a short illustration, gets the juices flowing for me.

    I read the words of Charles Kettering, A problem well started is a problem half solved.

    So I need a problem that seems difficult until the worker gets a handle on it… As I mulled it over, I came up with this novice quilter who receives a box of some elderly lady’s quilt patches, squares and triangles, with a few blocks assembled. But there’s no accompanying pattern or illustration. To make matters worse, the woman who started this projects told people she’d goofed when she put the first blocks together and it didn’t look anything like it should. They needed to be taken apart and resewn correctly, then the rest done right.

    So how was it meant to go together? How would the inheritor and her good friend find out? Once they figure out the pattern, of course the rest is easy-peasy.

    I thought this would be a good illustration. And, hey, the muse hasn’t been fried after all! It’s comforting to know she’s just been waiting for the tempest to pass.

    Reply
    • drjeane

      Your courage is amazing and your gift of writing gratefully received. I really resonated with the quilt analogy. My mother left many quilts put together over years – so much of her is there. I wonder how much I haven’t discovered by not looking deeply enough at her legacy in pieces of cloth.

      Reply
      • Christine

        Thank you. I’ve done many myself. And I know how it is when a project gets off on the wrong foot and you tend to stuff it in the back of the closet. The “block put together wrong” comes from another quilter who did this — and thus invented a new pattern.

        Reply
        • drjeane

          What an amazing life lesson. If we can look at our mistakes as having potential for a new way of approaching something, they might just serve this purpose more often than not.

          Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      “And, hey, the muse hasn’t been fried after all! It’s comforting to know she’s just been waiting for the tempest to pass.”

      That was incredibly moving. Thank you for the image of Mavis and her quilt. I’d better get my needle and thread — er, my laptop.

      Reply
      • Christine

        Thank you. 🙂

        And things just keep getting better! This morning I wrote & posted a fiction tale to go with a Pixabay image. (christinegoodnough.com.)

        If you’re skillful with a needle and thread as well, more power to you!

        Reply
        • Bruce Carroll

          I just read your post. Very clever. It was both funny and a little scary. I like that you leave the conclusion of the story to the reader.

          Reply
          • Christine

            Thanks. this could be the beginning of a longer tale but I didn’t want to go there, so readers can just guess what happens next.

          • Bruce Carroll

            I’m a big fan of the open ending. By not resolving the story, you get a whole sea of endings and sequels written in your readers’ heads.

    • Kikku

      Wow. A very inspiring post. The post itself tells that your brain is not fried yet and you are still a writer, through and through. All the very best for your writing and your health. You can do it.

      Reply
      • Christine

        Thank you. 🙂

        Reply
    • Debra johnson

      Because of what you have been through you may be taken to a whole new place, not better just different, even writing about what you have been through could be used as a character … that always works for me,,, any issue and problem is created into a story or character and issues are solved or answers dealt with in a creative sorta way.

      Wishing you the best with your health.

      Reply
  16. TerriblyTerrific

    Right on time. I have been so tired with my kids. I feel bad not getting to do my writing. I am still a writer, I am still a writer. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Lola Palooza

      Me too! Oh sweet lord I’m so glad no one is alone on here (even me; the cat lady with no cat).
      This site is absolutely invaluable to at least vent if nothing else.
      Thank you for posting this. x

      Reply
    • drjeane

      Yes, you are a writer. You are probably composing throughout your day – some days it’s just very difficult to get the words from inside your head and onto paper (or onto the computer screen).

      Reply
  17. Writing Expertise

    Another great post Ruthanne!

    I’ve struggled with my fair-share of traumatic experiences, family disputes, and occasionally the good ole’ energy-sapping sickness. And I’m ashamed to say, on most of those occasions I just put down the pen (Or more likely close the lid of my laptop) and toddle off to watch some terrible reality show to numb the writing senses even further.

    It was only later on in life, that I realised A) This is incredibly stupid and B) I’m wasting precious writing time by watching MTV Catfish!

    I’m now at the pleasant point in my life, where the world can be falling to pieces around me – family screeching in my ear or meteors falling from the sky. And I’ll still be able to drill out a few words or so.. now whether they’re any good? That’s a whole other can of worms!

    I think, with all writers, it takes a lot of practise before anybody can slog through the ‘blues period’ of their lives and still write. But once you manage it, your hectic emotions become a literary tool that adds sizzling embers to your novels and splatters of morbid-humour to your blog posts.

    To me, the more we struggle in life, and face those moments of “Am I really good enough?” or “Can I really write something right now?” we hone our writing abilities and strengthen our writing prowess. We become hardened veterans of the craft, able to face adversity and the occasional bout of familial hysteria without batting an eyelid. We become literary creationists, who, don’t give a crap about shit hitting the fan!

    I guess, uncomfortable situations and poor writing circumstances will always plague us writers. But the sooner we accept that everything is a journey, the easier it will be for us to actually ENJOY that journey and battle through the tough times in our lives.

    Reply
  18. drjeane

    I am still a writer even when I can’t write. And, usually I can’t write because I haven’t made it a priority and am busy doing other things. I’ve been a writer since age eleven when I won a stewardship essay contest, then was asked to write the play for the church Christmas program. There are a lot of years between that time and now – when I’ve finally given myself permission to take time to write. Most of those years I was so busy coping with life that I forgot I was a writer. In fact, 63 years have passed, during which time I have done some writing. In the past decade or so it’s been mostly academic writing, so it’s great fun to begin exploring other possibilities. Five years ago I finished a novel – written in isolation and published without the benefit of an outside editor. As a professional editor, I didn’t think that was required – and there was no money available to pay an editor. I’ve now learned that I can maintain my integrity as a writer – and accept input from others during the process. This input from others requires that I think deeply about why I want to express something in a particular way and when I need to explore other suggested possibilities.
    The instruction to write something terrible is a challenge. That brought up a big-time block. And, one I’ll need to explore. As an editor, I tend to reread everything I write frequently before moving on. This seems to provide some kind of permission to engage with the writing process again. This isn’t pursuit of perfection, but a way of clarifying exactly where I am with the piece I’m working on. Exploring simply writing and postponing any editing is a new challenge and one that is not calling to me today. I do write without editing in my daily journaling. When I re-read my journal entries, it is not with any intent to “improve” them, but to simply review where my mind has wandered over time and to glean any potential lines that might be useful in other writing.

    Reply
  19. Jason Bougger

    “Write the wrong stuff” That’s a great advice that I hadn’t ever thought of before. It’s so easy to get discouraged when real life pops in and does everything in its power to disrupt your writing, and you’ve got a lot of ways to deal with that here.

    Reply
  20. BeingTheWriter

    I needed this today. It’s funny, I’ve been under such tremendous stress lately in my personal life (sadly, writing taking a bit of a back seat) but over the last few weeks, I’ve been finding myself drawn to fantasy novels and reading YA dystopian fiction and just…books I read when I was a teen (the best writing time of my life so far!) And just feeling myself go back to a genre I thought I left behind made me drawn to story ideas that were a bit more fantastical. I gave my mind permission to play with one particular ideas (inspired by what I’m going through now actually) and I can’t wait to see what my inner teen writer comes up with 🙂

    Reply
  21. BeingTheWriter

    OH! And I felt like I wanted to share my why (which I wrote before commenting here) :)) It says, “I love writing – and started writing – because I love telling a story and “watching” it play out before me in the printed word.” I plan on keeping that with me until I break through the stress barrier!

    Reply
  22. Ai-tama

    When I feel burnt out, I like to write about my characters in increasingly silly and altogether pointless situations. For instance, I’ll write about an alternate universe in which the hero and villain somehow became roommates, or I’ll give someone a giant robot arm that does the opposite of what its owner wants it to. Basically, I just create nonsense that makes me laugh to myself until I feel better. It works practically every time.

    Reply
    • LilianGardner

      Hi Ai-tama,
      I find that writing when one is feeling ‘burnt out’, as you call it, is an excellent way of getting things off your chest.
      Writing nonsense is even better.
      I usually write a letter to one of my brothers, (mentally) when I take my afternoon walk, and pour out my feelings.
      I return home renewed.

      Reply
  23. Mariposa

    I have been working on the same novel since 2012. I did Nanowrimo for 2 years in a row but still haven’t finished it! Then I took a writing class and gleaned from it that I pretty much did everything wrong! Finally, I decided that I will finish it and I may not even do it the correct way, but finish it I will. The plan of action is to read the whole thing (120,000 words) so I will refresh my memory of the story. I started that about 6 months ago, then life got really crazy. But I’m still working on it as I’m able.

    I will now attempt to write something terrible and change things a bit since I can’t seem to actually start writing on it again, even though I love the story idea and some of what I’ve written.

    …..Emerson knew he was a total jerk and that’s why his wife left. He thought the Earthquake and tsunami would have her crawling back to him, but that did not happen. She was just outside the worst of the epicenter and so she lived through it. He knew this because his kid called at midnight secretly to tell him they were OK, which was a relief.

    The rescues went well. Everyone that he’d went to help were all safe and sound. But he couldn’t rescue his wife. Sure, she was alive, but he was dead to her. He had seen the tsunami coming a long time before it did. It came suddenly and there was nothing he could do. He wished it had been the actual tsunami and not the one in their lives ….

    OK, I know it’s really bad, but wasn’t that the point of this exercise. It was sort of fun to write something and not worry if it was good or bad….ha ha.

    Reply
  24. Lions45

    I’m a writer even when I can’t write.
    “Yo!” Paul screamed across the stadium. “Jason!” He started waving to the basketball player, who, coincidentally, was just about to shoot. But that idiot Paul distracted him for a second, and Henry pushed Jason backwards and he died instantly. all of the sudden paul was hit by a falling piano and his ghost went on twitter and wrote “LOL just got hit by a falling piano #piano #ghost” The end

    Reply
  25. Taomu

    Hello, I loved this article. Really good write up. It got me smiling all the way. The number 1 advise is my major issue. Inner critic.It keeps saying “Who really wants to see your boring and annoying posts?” “When last did anyone commend you on your posts?” Then point 2 regarding my reason. I write because I want to share what is burning in my heart. Not looking for validation from people. I write because I want to write to myself and many people like myself. This quote by Jennifer egan on Brain pickings changed everything. “You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.” This made me free, now I post once a month on medium https://medium.com/@mr_kore_t and now trying to make it twice a month. Be free to mistakes, be free to explore. The initial reason of writing is to be free.

    Reply
  26. Debra johnson

    I used for my writing practice #1. Here is my contribution…

    I am a writer, I have been a writer since junior high but its just been recently I have begun to take it to the serious extreme of wanting to be published and famous.
    Each day is a new day to learn something new and seems like a waste when I don’t learn. Even when it’s the same thing every day. There is still something new, a new boredom or now recollection, a new recipe that I never knew. Something. Then without thinking I put pen to paper fingers to the keyboard….

    “After the death of my husband things for the most part either went downhill
    or stopped, it even went downhill until I hit bottom, and what a big bounce
    that caused. It registered 10,0 on the ricterscale and people were talking about
    it from miles around. You might have heard about it on the evening news… Woman’s
    husband dies of cancer film at 11. Then as you turn to the 11 o’clock news you see a womansitting at her desk books, notebooks computer and other things just sitting
    collecting dust.

    “I’m not a writer, nothing matters right now he was my inspiration.”

    I know I am a writer because when I don’t write there is a part of me
    missing. The twin they say we all have vanishes somewhere, and the characters
    who were so actively moving in my mind are silenced. They soon head to the character café I created years ago to keep the character’s company when I wasn’t working on their story. When they are here they can get to know each other. Even when I can’t write,
    I go there and just sit with my coffee and watch them. Sometimes they see me
    some times they don’t. If they don’t that’s okay, a respite sometimes is nice.”

    Reply

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