When You Should Be Writing But Can’t, Do These 6 Things Instead

by Joe Bunting | 39 comments

What do you do when you just don't want to write? You know what I mean. You know you should be writing. You tell yourself you should finally finish that short story. You should turn off the television, close up Facebook, and stop checking your email.

You should should should…

But you can't.

6 Tricks For When You Don't Want To Write

This happens to me, too. For the last month or so I have been blocked. I know I should be working on my fiction. I know just the story I should be working on, but I just can't seem to motivate myself to actually do it. I'm still writing for work, because I have to, but I've had little desire to write for myself.

Here are six things that I do when I know I should write but just don't want to.

1. Read Inspiring Books

Even if you can't write, you can always read. In fact, if you're not reading, that may be the reason you don't want to write in the first place. Reading fuels writing. It inspires. It motivates. Reading is one of the best ways to improve your writing.

In 2013, I've made it my goal to read 100 books, and I know this new focus on reading will help my writing. What's your reading goal for this year?

2. Write Morning Pages

I always forget this one when I'm stuck, but it's one of the best ways to unstick yourself.

Morning pages is a discipline invented by Julia Cameron. Julia suggests free writing three pages by hand when you first wake up as a way to ignite your creativity. You don't show these pages to anyone. They are not meant for publication. Instead, it's a way to remind yourself that writing is, first and foremost, for you. 

I did my morning pages this morning and had a major breakthrough. If you're stuck, you should try it.

3. Rest

The truth is, you are at your most creative when you're not creating.

Bob Dylan discovered this in 1965 when he decided to quit being a musician. Burnt out and fed up with the scene, he decided to retreat to his cabin in upstate New York and become a novelist. A few days into his exile, however, he wrote “Like a Rolling Stone,” one of the most successful songs in the history of rock and roll.

Rest makes you creative, and if you're not resting, you won't be as creative as you could be. (Note: for it to count, you have to be resting from hard work, not just resting for rest's sake.)

4. Have an Adventure

If you're feeling uninspired, maybe you're living an uninspiring life. If you want to write a good story, maybe you need to be living a better story.

As you think about the upcoming year, what adventure could you have? What can you do to make 2013 a year worth remembering? You don't have to go on a road trip or jump out of a plane to go on an adventure. Instead, visit your local library with your journal or read that 1,000 page classic you've been putting off.

Seize the day and break through your apathy.

5. Laugh at Yourself

Writing stories should be fun! However, when you're an English Literature major, like I am, you learn how to take stories very seriously. The problem is that when you try to take you're writing too seriously, it becomes this overwhelming burden that you have no desire to carry.

Here's a fun exercise: open up a story you've been working on, skim it, and then start laughing. It doesn't matter if it's not funny. Laughing itself will help you take yourself less seriously, making you more productive. (It's also a lot of fun. Trust me!)

6. Write Anyway

Can I be honest? I hate this advice. I hate it when you tell people you're blocked, you're having a hard time writing, you open up to someone, and they say, “You can't write? Well, write anyway.” Oh thanks. I didn't think of that. That's almost as good Bob Newhart's advice.

And yet sometimes, I need this advice. I can justify myself and explain my problem, but in the end, it doesn't matter. I was made to write and I need to do it, regardless of how I'm feeling.

Remember: Your feelings don't control you. You control you. If you want to write, then do it.

If you want to improve your creative writing and get published as quickly as possible, check out our new online course. It's free! Click here for details.

Does this ever happen to you? How do you motivate yourself to write when you don't feel like it? 


Spend some time free writing. Write for you and no one else.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you're finished, don't share your practice in the comments section. Don't use any of it in your work in progress. Just write for the sake of writing.

Oh, and have fun! 🙂

How to Write Like Louise PennyWant to write like Louise Penny? Join our new class and learn how. Learn more and sign up here.

Join Class

Next LIVE lesson is coming up soon!

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.


  1. Karl Tobar

    That is one of my favorite MadTV skits!

    • Joe Bunting

      Classic. 🙂

  2. Abigail Rogers

    This is absolutely fabulous advice! Man, I could take advantage of so many of these techniques. Thank you 🙂

    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Abigail. 🙂

  3. LetiDelMar

    I have time off from work and am “supposed” to be writing but am being so unproductive. Thanks for the tips. I’m going to try the Morning Pages. Also…I loved the Bob Newhart sketch. I will just “Stop It!” and get to work!

    • Joe Bunting

      I hate it when you have the time but can’t come up with the motivation. Good luck!

  4. Daniela Uslan

    Thanks for the advice! Today I found a site called 750words.com that is an online place to write Morning Pages and get points for them. It is pretty awesome. I know that getting points for things always motivates me. Check it out.

    • Joe Bunting

      I checked it out, Daniela. Very cool. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Kate Hewson

      Yeah, I took at look at it too. Going to try it out tomorrow.

  5. JamieB

    I’m reading two books at the moment — fiction and memoir — and writing poetry. Poetry is special, but I love writing fiction. I’ve done morning pages and have found important information in them. I just came from a small art exhibit, in which I have a photo, and I have the urge to paint. I have the finished product in my head. Perhaps I should break out the paints and get busy!

    • Joe Bunting

      Do it, Jamie. I’ve found painting to be helpful for my writing, actually: a kinesthetic way to learn about your story.

    • Peter

      @JamieB I would just say you are simply awesome. Keep going. You have a bright future ahead friend 🙂

  6. Jodie Jackson Jr.

    My free write was an extension of something I’ve been doing lately to spark completion of my NaNo novel. When my wife mentioned sometime in early December that it looked like I hadn’t been setting aside time to write, I replied that I wasn’t, and when she expressed concern that the novel might get stale, I said, “Oh, don’t worry. They’re talking.” She asked, “Who?” At the risk of sounding insane, I said, “My characters.” I won’t share the rest of that conversation and the trip we almost took to the local psychiatric center … But I imagine my WWII tail-gunner (male protagonist) and his flight crew sitting at a rickety folding table, under dim light, playing cards and chatting: about me. My free write is a record of that dialogue — sure has helped me learn more about my characters.

    • Joe Bunting

      Wow. That sounds like a breakthrough, Jodie. I’m glad you got back to writing. 🙂

  7. Rebecca Klempner

    Love the laughter advice (reminds me of Laughter Yoga). I’ve used most of the other strategies before, but I’d like to add a few others.

    1) Write a list. If you are really stuck (or even really lazy), just write a list of everything you have done in the last 24 hrs. EVERYTHING. Often, recalling the mundane events will prevoke a reaction that can get the ball rolling. If you don’t want to write that kind of list, just try a simple gratitude list.
    2) Do research about your WIP’s setting, the hobby or profession of the central character, etc.
    3) Close your eyes and take a breath and say to G-d (or Whomever you usually pray to, I guess), “I am ready for Your help. I can’t do it without You.” It sounds hokey, but I can’t tell you how many times I rely on Heavenly assistance and it works.

    • Joe Bunting

      These are great, Rebecca. I’m in a stage where #2 was actually causing the writer’s block, or at least allowing it, though. So I’ll skip that one. Thanks for sharing these. 🙂

    • Karl Tobar

      I like number 1; I think I’ll start doing that. Thanks for the protip 🙂

  8. Jeff Ellis

    I find that the biggest advantage I get from free writing is developing confidence in my language. Not that free writing improves my grammar or anything technical like that, but that it opens my mind to using words I am afraid to use. Words that I may think are goofy or plain or stupid and consider myself to be above when I am trying too hard. After a successfully invigorating free write, I always discover my prose to be more genuine and, because of that, more interesting.

    • Joe Bunting

      I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re completely right. Good point, Jeff.

  9. Reggievia

    Thanks for the great advice, Joe! Have an adventure is one of my #2013Resolution!

    I’m a young writer anyway, and “writer’s block” sometimes happens in my writing experience. When I stuck in writing fiction story, I will read some good books, re-read or read a new one. I have my own trouble when writing in English (because it’s not my first language), but my blog is written in English, I don’t know but I just like it (it’s fun and challenging!) So, whenever I stuck for writing my blog, I do blogwalking, read some blogs that really worth to read.

    Well, last December I just found my new way to solve this problem, DO BRAINSTORMING. It really works, at least for me 😀

    I have some friends that I really like to share with them, they are open-minded, have some crazy ideas that I never thought before, so yeah… I love do brainstorming! (:

    • Joe Bunting

      Impressive that you’re writing in a language that isn’t your mother tongue. I enjoy the occasional brainstorm-fest myself. It doesn’t beat freewriting that first draft for me, but it’s good for when you’re stuck. Thanks for sharing!

    • Joe Bunting

      You’re quite welcome, Renee. 🙂

  10. Daniel Lynch

    I’ve read many blogs and websites about how to write and how to get inspired. This is the first blog to actually make me leave the couch, get up and open a word processor and just get writing for the hell of it.

    Thank you.

    • Joe Bunting

      Dan, thank you for telling me. I love to hear that. It’s why I do this. Thank you.

  11. Giulia Esposito

    So, it took me a few days to sit down and do my free write. I often think I have writer’s ADD. I say to myself, I want to do some creative writing today, and I sit down and write four blog posts instead. Anyway, my free write was a bit of a short story, involving ghosts and a set of twins. It really confirmed something for me that I already knew, that I use dialogue to drive my plot. If I had to sit down and do something serious with that free write, I’d have to go back and add in a wee bit more narrative. But just letting my characters talk carried the free write through to an actual ending, so I think from now I have to let them talk more.

    • Joe Bunting

      I’m like that, too. But at least you’re writing, Giulia. That’s a good think to know about yourself. Go with it. On the second draft you can go back and add action and detail. I sometimes do that, where i’ll have a full page of dialogue, and then I’ll have to go back and fill in details.

    • Giulia Esposito

      Yes, at least I’m writing. It feels so good! Thanks very much for this great blog, it’s been a true inspiration.

    • Joe Bunting

      I’m so glad to hear that, Giulia. 🙂

  12. Gary

    I am a poet. I would like to publish my poems. I found that Lithasa is also doing the poem publishing. I found about lithasa in an article and also seen a guy talking about lithasa in a big way. They are good. they have defined a new publishing format and the design is so good. But have guys know about it? let me know. I am thinking to publish my poems and atleast earn what I deserve rather giving them to some publisher who don’t even care about me.

    This is their website. http://www.lithasa.com//

  13. Angie

    It is probably the most inspiring place and people you might encounter in Ireland

    • Hannah Angela Gonzalez

      Maybe you should feel with your heart to express these words you feel when u read the words n order to produce the notes on music or maybe you just need time to let it come to you at the right time.

  14. Angie

    It a short intens retreat: award writers who read and comment your work with tips to make it better, music and lanscape to inspire you and adorable people to make the retreat unforgatable.

  15. Nicole

    This is all very good advice for me when I’m attempting to write words, but right now I’m trying to write music and feeling very stagnant. Most of this advice is not transferrable for note-writing.

  16. eresatay uffyday

    Just letting you know that your article has struck a chord in 2016!! 🙂

  17. Daphne Mullins

    I am new to writing novels, I am a pro at creating a story, yet my problem is filling in the blanks. I am a person whom avoids lengthy conversations so it is hard for me to put this into my writing. Any suggestions on creating conversations between my characters?

  18. Stephanie

    Thank you so much for these suggestions! I just tried #2, and did a little free writing in the form of putting myself in a situation where I could talk to characters I already know – allowing them to be the voices of my struggling and conflicting opinions. Through the imagined conversation, I wrote just under 2000 words in no time and I feel much better about the writing assignment I need to finish! That was a great exercise 😀


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Say Yes to Practice

Join over 450,000 readers who are saying YES to practice. You’ll also get a free copy of our eBook 14 Prompts:

Popular Resources

Books By Our Writers

- J. D. Edwin
Surviving Death
- Sarah Gribble
Under the Harvest Moon
- Tracie Provost
Share to...