When Writing Is the Worst Thing in the World

by Guest Blogger | 77 comments

Today's guest post is by Justine Duhr. Justine owns and operates WriteByNight, a writers' service helping folks like you to write more, write better, and accomplish their goals. For more solutions to common writing problems, download this free writer’s diagnostic now.

When Joe Bunting invited me to contribute a guest blog post to The Write Practice, I was thrilled. After all, this is a thriving community of dedicated writers hungry for craft discussion. It’s a writing coach’s dream come true.

Writing Process: When Writing Is the Worst Thing in the World

What is not a dream, however, what is in fact a writer’s worst nightmare, is when your creativity fails to flow, when despite your best efforts the words fail to come.

When your tried-and-true writing process fails you.

Which is exactly what happened with my first attempt at a post for you, dear Write Practice readers.

That Is So Meta

I had originally intended to write about story, how in my opinion story is often overemphasized, and what writers should concentrate on instead. I wrote a draft—it was a half-decent draft, too—then set it aside to marinate before diving in for revision. (This is my standard writing process, and what works for me most of the time.)

But that revision never came. After five painful weeks of planning, trying, and never managing to actually rewrite that post, I came to a realization. I can’t write this piece, not right now anyway, I said to myself and to Joe. But I can write something else instead.

That something else is this post you’re reading right now. Thousands of discarded words and one stress ulcer later . . . ta-da!

Why I was unable to write the piece I intended is a question for another time. What I’m concerned with here is what such experiences of creative blockage can teach us about our writing process.

What do we do when our writing practice unexpectedly goes off the rails? When writing feels like the worst thing in the world?

Your Writing Doesn’t Care

First off, let’s acknowledge that our creativity is largely a mystery to us. We are conscious of only a tiny portion of the creative process we undergo that (hopefully) ends with an original piece of writing.

Given this state of affairs, we better get used to the idea that when it comes to our writing, we know very little and are in control of even less.

Sometimes inspiration arrives as an avalanche, the words tumbling from our minds to our fingers and spilling onto the page. Other times working on a piece of writing feels like hacking away at a glacier with an ice pick. I know which creative experience I prefer, and I’ll venture a guess at your preference too.

But your writing doesn’t care what you prefer. The best we can do is show up and be open to what may—or may not—happen.

What to Do When Your Writing Process Fails You

I’ve written elsewhere about writer’s block, what it is, what causes it, and what the heck to do about it. When we find ourselves unable to write, it can be helpful to resist the temptation to label that difficulty a block. It’s not a block: it’s an obstacle, a hurdle, an impediment.

Most importantly, it’s data, data we can use to inform our decisions about how to move forward and respond productively to an unproductive situation. Obstacles can be overcome, hurdles jumped, impediments bypassed.

Consider this: Out for a walk, you encounter a “road closed” sign. There’s a barricade barring access to the route beyond. The data is clear enough. You can’t go this way. Now you have a decision to make. Do you turn around and head home, or do you find a new road?

Not all paths are available to us all the time.

Ultimately, the resolution to my blog post battle was to be found in my own frustration-induced realization: I can’t write this piece. But I can write something else instead. This was my new road.

As soon as I chose to understand this struggle as a communication from myself rather than a deficiency in myself, I was able to open up the process rather than close it down. And you can do the same.

Easier said than done, though. I’m not gonna lie, this post has been pretty ice pick-y for me. That last paragraph, I worked on it for half an hour, deleting, rewriting, cutting, pasting. That last sentence, same deal. This one, too, and the next.

Writing Failure Is Not the End

Writing is defined not by success, but by failure. Failure to write what we want, when we want to; failure to ever fully realize on the page the vast potential of what we see in our head; and sometimes, failure to make words at all.

If you choose to be a writer, you choose to have writing kick the crap out of you every day for the rest of your life. We are small, writing is big. It is ever present and never ending. For better or worse, writing practice does not make perfect. It makes more practice.

What do you do when your writing process gives you trouble? Let me know in the comments.


Read over a piece of writing you’ve struggled with and left unfinished. Write for fifteen minutes (in stream-of-consciousness style, if you wish) about the experience of leaving this piece and returning to it now. What is your creativity telling you? What will you do differently this time around? How will you pivot?

When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to leave feedback for a few other practitioners.


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  1. manilamac

    I too write something else…or edit (always plenty of *that* to do). Or I write about what I’m *going* to write (lots gets solved that way!) or do a journal entry…or zip off a few hundred words off the top of my head & stash the doc in my “story ideas” file. On rare occasions, I even drag something out of that folder to see what it might become. Or I may give some time to an intelligent & personal social media comment…or respond to a blog. (Ahem!)
    But most of all, I keep tapping down lightly on the little buttons on my keyboard…makes me a writer, you know…

    • Justine Duhr

      These are great tactics to keeping the creative wheels turning and fingers moving across the keyboard. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Nancy Dohn

    Perfect for me at this time. I am struggling with a piece that seemed good in my head but just isn’t coming out of my fingers. I did as you suggested, just wrote the second part of it in stream and when that was done went, Ugh. I am not feeling it at all. BUT….good news is that after reading your blog I am okay with this break in communication between my brain and my fingers. Thank you!

    • Justine Duhr

      You are very welcome, Nancy. That *is* good news. It sounds like you’ve come to a place of acceptance and understanding with this piece rather than self-punishment which gets us nowhere fast. Stay on that path and I’m sure your brain and your fingers will be talking again in no time!

  3. Jonathan Hutchison

    Part of the reason I am stuck with the piece that follows is denial on my part. I want to deny that my friend is dying. I want to deny that the story will soon be over. I want to deny that our friendship will no longer be the same inspiration it has been in the past. That’s why I am blocked here. The emotional hurdle I have to vault over is just too high for me to attempt at this time..

    I realize that not all blocks to writing suffer from my particular writer’s block, but this is what is stopping me now. I would imagine there are lots of reasons for the creativity genie to stay in the bottle. I would imagine that many blocks to writing are just excuses to forego the pain.

    With that in mind, here is the result of my fifteen minutes of trying to get back on track. It is still a work in progress and as you will see, I am in no rush to finish this particular story. In fact that’s the final line of this unfinished piece.

    Waiting to Die

    A good friend of mine is waiting to die. He doesn’t really want to die but he is at a point when the things he does want to do, can’t be done. They can’t be done because of physical limitations such as being hooked up to various life-keeping machines. He also can’t use his left arm. He can’t talk; eating is a chore.

    My friend is hard to describe so I am not going to try to do that for you or to him. He is more of an an experience to be encountered than a series of descriptive sentences. I can’t do him justice. He is a larger than life kind of guy, who slowly reveals himself to his confidantes at a pace comfortable to him. Ask him a question before he is ready to provide you with an answer and you will get silence or jibberish.

    I can tell you stories about how he has lived and how he affects folks. This is my way of helping you become acquainted with him. I promise you that I will not embellish or otherwise exaggerate the stories that follow. I used to be put off by my friend’s lack of forthcoming and the pleasantries of interactions that most normal folks offer without as much as an initial question.

    All I can say is beneath the hints he has allowed me to experience, he is the kind of guy whose passing will not only leave a gaping hole that emotions will rush to fill. His passing will also cause a cessation of many of the creative nudges he has provided to my writing exercises.

    N.B. This is where I ran out of time. Below is how I’d like to end this piece when the time is right. As I was writing I also remembered that a very practical block to writing is not being able to grasp hold of the right words to put to paper. Seems obvious but it is very true. Also sometimes my mind gets ahead of my fingers and I have to stop. Those pauses create gaps of time that might last a few seconds or several hours. Another block to writing, The last four sentences below will be my ending I think. Now how to get there?

    So, I am consciously holding back. I am procrastinating on purpose. To finish this story means a life that is dear to me, is finished. I am in no rush to finish this particular story.

    • Justine Duhr

      Thank you for sharing this very personal piece, Jon. The material sits so close to your heart, it’s no wonder you’re feeling stuck with it. What we feel intensely connected to, we can’t easily write.

      There’s also the limitations of language to content with. You write, “He is more of an an experience to be encountered than a series of descriptive sentences.” He is — we all are — and therein lies the problem. Writing is powerful, but it can only go so far.

      When grappling with emotional material, I always find that time and distance give me the clarity I need to forge ahead.

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      I believe you are correct about time and distance. Working with the suggestions your article offers is another way to find clarity.. This piece is not necessarily what I would have chosen to write about. It has chosen me.

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      Another thought – this might be a very appropriate time to journal. When stuck with emotional subjects and emotional blocks, it might work to use stream of consciousness and journal/write and see what emotions break loose much like an avalanche.

    • Sheila B

      I think that the process of being with someone as they are facing death, especially someone we love, is life changing, intense opportunity. Writing about it as you go through it can only expand your experience and thus your consciousness. I’m confident that in our pausing we are processing. You may not finish this until he has died, but you are well on your way.

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      Thank you Sheila. I am a recently retired pastor (3rd vocation) and death is no stranger to me. I have watched folks pass away many times before but find it no easier now than I did 15 years ago. Issues of faith aside, watching my friend die is a soul-searching experience for me. Friendship, when all is well, seems so unbounded by time. Now it is finite. I grieve partially because of this new understanding. On the hopeful side of things, writing is therapeutic for me and perhaps, as the story unfolds, my writing will be a way of healing not only for me but also for others. Thank you for your thoughts above especially -“I’m confident that in our pausing we are processing.” And perhaps that processing will affect not only my writing but my personhood.

  4. Jim Woods

    I really enjoyed this post Justine. When I struggle with my writing, many times it is because I’m giving into fear. Fear is always there, but must be recognized. One way I do that is though daily journaling. When I’m more self-aware, my mental energy levels are often higher and I can deal with fear more directly.

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      Fear certainly plays a role in blocking creativity and production. Your suggested solution of journaling affirms Justin’s article. Two more blocks for me are writing just for writing’s sake and staying patient. I sometimes think too much of my audience rather than my words and thoughts.

    • Justine Duhr

      Thanks for sharing, Jon. Focusing on product rather than process, on having something written rather than writing it and writing it well, is a very common obstacle. To stay with the writing, you might try jotting down distracting thoughts as they enter your mind. This purge allows the thoughts expression, making room for what matters in the moment: the writing itself.

      Can you tell me a bit more about “writing just for writing’s sake”?

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      What I mean bu this, “writing just for writing’s sake,” is that I think the only way to learn and grow as a writer is to write and seek advice and feedback from like-minded folks. I write because I want to communicate. I write because I am in awe of those who write well and I am challenged by them. I write not to be published, although that wouldn’t be bad, but to work at arranging thoughts and words and ideas, That’s a bit more of what I meant by writing just for writing’s sake, Thanks for asking.

    • Justine Duhr

      Ah, so you mean it’s a struggle for you to embrace writing for writing’s sake. I understand completely. That’s a challenge for many. Product is seductive, but remember, there can be no product without process. Keep hacking away!

    • Justine Duhr

      I agree completely, Jim: fear is always with us, but that doesn’t mean it has to get in our way. By acknowledging the fear, we begin to understand it. Journaling is the most powerful way I know to do that.

  5. Sheila B

    I’ve decided, for now anyway, that I am not a good writer and that I am not a creative person. Writing is something I do to emote, to self reflect, to escape, and to connect to others. But after reading tons of great literature, I know good writing and mine isn’t. It’s passable. I have spelling and grammar fairly under control. I can come up with ideas, I can craft communications better than many, and I can spin a tale, but real writing, truly good storytelling is not in my wheelhouse. I can captain the ship, but I can’t seem to navigate it to interesting and exciting regions

    I write anyway, because it’s a habit, and it is a way I connect with myself and others, but not by publishing what I write. My connection is with other aspiring and actual writers via my local writing group that meets physically twice a month, and via writing blogs online where I post. Writing is also a way I connect with knowledge and wisdom. I love words and ideas and often when I write I am compelled to research, to understand better what a phrase means, the etymology of a word or phrase.

    I trust that my writing, due to sheer practice and good feedback, has improved over the years, but not in such a way that I feel I ever have something of real value to offer a reading public. I write my opinions because I always think my opinions and assessments have value, backed by my penetrating and discerning mind, including its ego.

    What I find fascinating is that so many who read as much or more than I do, and who have facile memories of what they read, and perceptive minds, cannot perceive their own lackluster writing. Unlike me, some aspiring writers seem so enamored of their ideas that they want to share, nay enlighten others with, that their leaden execution into compelling story telling, prose or poetry, no matter how drab or confusing or pompous, evades them. Then I question me.

    I question where my own blindside is especially when other aspiring writers can trump my evaluations with their passion, the workshops they’ve done, the writers they’ve studied or worked with, the fact that they’ve published. Who am I to douse the fires of their creativity or its style with my lack of appreciation, when I fail to produce? I fail me

    What I really want to do with my own writing is to explore and convey new perceptions, open my own and others’ minds to wider viewpoints about themselves, about humanity, about the human condition. In spite of such lofty goals, I will pick something as mundane as dress code in the workplace to write about. I disappoint me.

    And because I judge, question, fail and disappoint me, the final paragraph in today’s Write Practice inspires me.

    So, I quote Guest Blogger, “If you choose to be a writer, you choose to have writing kick the crap out of you every day for the rest of your life. We are small, writing is big. It is ever present and never ending. For better or worse, writing practice does not make perfect. It makes more practice.” I carry on.

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      Thank you for your candor. I am glad there are resources, The Write Practice among them, that are available to share writing with like-minded folks. The suggestion, criticism, and encouragement that are offered are a great source of instruction and information.

      Justin’s article gave me a great deal to ponder. I hope by continuing to read, to write, to experience the drama of living, I will continue to find the joy in writing, a reward in and of itself.

      Thank you for your thoughts above

    • Sheila B

      Jon, and thank you for your acknowledgment. Also grateful for your experience and shared goals that remind me to focus on the gifts afforded me as I write that make writing easier and better, the connections we do make and the support received, and the joy I also find in writing.

    • Justine Duhr

      Thanks so much for reading, Sheila, and for taking the time to comment so thoughtfully. I’m glad that you found inspiration in the post. I hope you’ll carry that inspiration with you into today’s writing and tomorrow’s and beyond, and also this: in these eight paragraphs alone, I see evidence of a good writer *and* a creative person. Please do carry on.

    • Sheila B

      Thank you, Justine, for taking the time to comment and encourage.

  6. Karen Watkins

    I love this quote that sets up the article:
    Sometimes writing inspiration comes like an avalanche, the words tumbling from our minds to our fingers and spilling onto the page. Other times writing feels like hacking away at a glacier with an ice pick.

    I struggle to call myself a writer, good or bad, but I do claim my love for writing. I am learning to just breathe when I am brain dead and give myself some slack. I often work on something else creative – sewing or weaving – and it seems to set my mind free again. The Write Practice is by far the best writing support I have stumbled into. The posts are so incredible – I sometimes feel some are written just to me because it speaks so loudly about my struggles or need-to-improve area. What I love is feeling connected to others who have similar issues, desires, and learning in order to become better at writing. Thank Justine for a great article. Hope you post again.

    • Justine Duhr

      At the risk of sounding trite, a love for writing is all you need. It’s what will get you through the tough times, like when your writing process fails you (ahem, ahem) or when you’re too tired to create.

      Activities like sewing and weaving that involve repetition are so important to the creative process because they prime the mind for free association. Exactly as you say, it can set your mind free. It’s no coincidence that I have some of my best story ideas in the shower!

  7. jim calocci

    what do you do when your
    writing process gives you trouble
    I really loved your piece
    bought an answer
    right on the double
    write about something
    you can write about instead
    hey , who knows what’s going on in your head
    thanks so much , Justin Duhr
    for making a point ever so clear
    if I can’t write what I was going to write
    I can write some thing else

    • Justine Duhr

      Thanks for this, Jim. What a pleasure!

  8. Candelaria H Brown

    When I leave a piece of writing without finishing, putting it aside, it is usually because my inspiration has hit bottom. The creativity and imagination are next in order to succumbed and too hit bottom! What I need to do is to write until I can’t do it no more for a longer periods of time. Today I searched for an article I could not finished a week ago or so. I felt urgency to finished it as I sensed the inspiration returning to my heart. The inspiration usually opens up the creativity and imagination. I believed that I must developed a better discipline and avoid interruption’s…of any kind. At times this is very difficult but I must!!

    • Justine Duhr

      That “must” is crucial. It’s what keeps us coming back to the work day after day, despite the hardships … or perhaps because of them.

      Our levels of inspiration, creativity, and imagination do rise and fall. Julia Cameron suggests envisioning a well that is sometimes full and sometimes empty. It’s okay when the well is empty because you know it’ll soon be full again. It must!

      Thanks for sharing, Candelaria.

  9. Bruce Carroll

    The piece I took another look at is a pivotal moment in my WIP, the inciting action for the whole adventure. Up until the point at which I stopped writing, it works pretty well. The protagonist is there and she finds a new ally. The only hold up is, when I created this protagonist, I decided she should be blind. (She came to me in a dream that way. I was and am excited about the prospect.) This poses a real problem for me in this particular scene.

    My protagonist is forced to leave, and quickly. (She probably has other options, but she refuses to consider them.) I wanted this new ally to give her his cell phone, so she would have a way of contacting him. But most modern cell phones have touch screens. They don’t even have actual buttons she could feel. She may not even be able to answer it if it rings! So the cell phone was probably a bad idea.

    I mean, the ally could get her a phone with buttons. They still sell those. But it would take time they don’t have, at least the way I have written the scene. And I really like the urgency of her having to leave.

    As I consider this scene more (by writing this practice piece), I realize I don’t know the ally very well. Of course I’ve ironed out every detail for the protagonist. I know how she would react in any situation. I’ve done that to a slightly lesser degree with the antagonist, too. But this ally, this new character…I just don’t know him. I mean, he has some mannerisms that help make him seem more than just words on a page, but I don’t know anything else about him. Does he have a daughter that my heroine reminds him of? Perhaps a daughter who is no longer around? As I typed that previous sentence, I was thinking this daughter was dead. Maybe instead, this ally has been through a messy divorce, and only gets to see his daughter every other weekend. Maybe not even that often.

    In any case, it is clear now that I still have some homework to do about this ally. I’ve put him in a situation in which the obvious thing won’t work, and now I have no idea how he might get around that obstacle. When I know that, I should be able to complete the scene.

    More importantly, I’ve learned that this sort of free-writing releases my creativity and helps me discover what my own obstacles are and how to get around them.

    So, there you are, folks. That was a real-life stream-of-consciousness (more or less) self-discovery there. Maybe this piece will serve as a footnote to the article. If not, at least I know what my next step is!

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      Thanks for sharing your process. It was great to read about what you were thinking and where that might lead. What a fertile mind.

    • Bruce Carroll

      Aw, shucks.

    • Justine Duhr

      It sounds like this exercise was fruitful for you, Bruce, in more ways than one. I’m thrilled to hear it. Thanks for reading, practicing, and commenting!

    • Bruce Carroll

      It was very fruitful! I’ve had another thought since writing this: if I get in this situation again (in which I’m not sure how a character should respond), I’ll try having the character WITH WHOM I AM MORE FAMILIAR get me out of it. (I haven’t finished this scene in my story yet, but I now realize that I’m stuck not because the scene is going nowhere, but because it could go in a dozen or more directions.)

    • Justine Duhr

      Great idea, Bruce. Our characters have so much to teach us.

  10. Gert van den Berg

    When i return to my incomplete writing I often wonder what in the world I was thinking with the piece. Like so many things we are ever-changing, be it your views on politics, society or merely your writing style. It is often difficult to remember or recognize the themes or path that your former self wanted for the story. When I eventually get back to working on my pieces it starts to feel as if two different writers are working on it.
    The piece I wish to return to now, no longer interests me. I don’t care for the characters, their homes or even their dreams. But for some reason I want to finish it. I think of renovating a house, and wish to do the same with the story, but instead of just replacing the old with the new, I want to completely level it and rebuild it brick by brick from the foundation up.
    If i may quote Peter Capaldi from doctor who “If you take a broom and replace the brush and the handle, is it still the same broom”
    That is how I feel when I think about returning to this novel, or any other for that matter. It is this feeling that often prevents me from going back and completing unfinished work.

    • Stella

      This is exactly how I feel about my incomplete work. I see unfinished potential but no longer identify with the story. I have been writing for six years and in that time have seen two novels start, take off then go nowhere. I have often thought that I ought to finish them, but as you said, I don’t care for the characters or themes any more.

      I don’t think it’s a waste though. All the time I spent plotting and writing shows me what does and doesn’t work. Plot-wise, I find my third WIP goes more smoothly because I’ve already had the experience of outlining the first two. And process-wise, I’ve learned to set deadlines for my work instead of waiting for ‘that perfect inspiration’ to strike. Basically, I know what DOESN’T work.

      Keep going! Glad to know that there’s someone else who feels the way I do.

    • Justine Duhr

      This makes perfect sense, Gert, and is an experience many writers share. As Stella suggests, this ebb and flow of interest and identification with our writing is a natural part of the process, of learning who we are as writers, not just once but over and over again. It’s the nature of the beast, for better or worse.

      I wonder, what would happen if you taught yourself to embrace this fickle aspect of writing? How might that affect your process? your product? (Easier said than done, I know!)

    • George McNeese

      That makes sense. Sometimes, I want to just take an unfinished apart and start over. Sometimes, it works. And sometimes, I’m left with more questions. It always depends on the story.

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      Gert, you said in a more eloquent and precise way what I was trying to say in my comments above to Justin and George. Where you were is not where you are and that has consequences as well as opportunities that will either lead you back to finishing an older piece of beginning a new endeavor. By the way, those aren’t two mutually exclusive tasks are they?.

  11. Stella

    I have multiple unfinished pieces of fan fiction. What started me on them was exploring my favourite character’s psychology in a way the show didn’t. A fantastic scene would occur to me – e.g. why would she pay for her employees’ salaries out of her own pocket, but deny it when they ask if she’s doing it? And I’d write a flurry of scenes exploring the before and after. But it wasn’t a story. And every time I tried to expand the scene backwards and forwards to make it a story, everything just lost colour.

    Coming back to my multiple unfinished stories after a while, I realised that they could work as a novel. Because after all, what tied them together was my interest in this character. I had conceived them as short stories because a) I figured there was no way I could write a novel and b) I thought of them as individual stories following the show’s episodes. I realise now that a novel gives me far more breathing space to explore a character than a series of short stories. What used to terrify me about novels – how am I ever going to fill up all that space? – now seems a strength.

    • Justine Duhr

      Yes! You turned a weakness into a strength and moved from blank to book. That’s quite an accomplishment, Stella. Onwards!

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      This set of remarks was extremely helpful and encouraging. This is workshop at its best. You all are remarkable.

    • Stella

      Agreed. Thank you George, Justine and Jonathan too.

    • George McNeese

      The fact that you wanted to explore a character further is inspiring enough. I thought about doing fan fiction a long time ago; insert a new character into the universe. But I thought I didn’t know enough about the show to do so. I have a friend on Twitter who does “Borderlands” fan fiction. I am fascinated by how she gives characters depth.

      As far as having multiple unfinished works, I am in the same boat. I have pieces scattered throughout my journals and laptops and phones. It’s hard to keep up with them. But once in a while, I’ll get an idea on how to finish a story, or something to make the story better. It can range from a change in scenery to constructing a new plot or just changing a character’s name. I have been surprised by what comes in my head.

  12. Justine Duhr

    That’s important, LaCresha. Writing is demanding, and requires all the energy we can muster.

  13. George McNeese

    I have this story that I have left unfinished for quite some time. I wanted it to be a rehashing, I guess, of a story I wrote and had published years ago. It was under s different title, and was written like a journal. Looking back at it, I don’t think it was done right. So, I decided to redo it, but make it more modern, I guess.

    I don’t know. Part of me should leave it alone; work on a new story. I guess I should. Besides, the piece I left unfinished is not the same as the one I wrote. It feels like a new story, but similar elements. It’s a different way of telling this story I wrote years ago.

    Premise: it’s about a guy who goes with his mother to visit her friend. He meets the friend’s daughter, somewhat. Eventually, they go on this trip to a club where all sorts of hilarity ensue. I don’t think it’s a comedy. It’s meant to be serious.

    Well, that is what I am working on next. This is something I have been meaning to tinker with. I just feel like I missed something. I don’t like the style I wrote it in. And the ending was terrible. I’m not really surprised because I’m horrible with writing endings. Hopefully, when I wrote this story and submit it to readers, they can help me come up with a better ending.

    • Justine Duhr

      Re: “Part of me should leave it alone; work on a new story. I guess I should,” why *should* you? Shouldn’t you write what you’re pulled to write, what feels necessary and important to you? Something to think about!

    • George McNeese

      True. Somewhere I heard that you “should” leave a piece alone once it’s been published. But I feel so strongly about this one. I Feel the need to improve upon something that I thought would never get published. I feel like this is a wrong I need to make right.

    • Justine Duhr

      That’s a valid feeling, George. If you need to work on it, you need to work on it. Forget the rules; there are none. Do what you feel is right for you and your writing.

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      Justine and George, I hope that neither of you suggested I was disagreeing with George. I was just adding another perspective not a dictum. I sincerely apologize if I gave any other impression

    • Justine Duhr

      Not at all, Jon. Your commentary is very much appreciated.

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      George, I am a recently retired pastor and someone asked me if in all those years, I ever preached from a sermon I had already given. The answer was no. For me, when a sermon has been preached it is complete and done. Now that doesn’t mean I won’t encounter the exact themes, concepts,and passages I have already encountered, it is just that what those things were is not necessarily what they are now. I am different, my understanding is different, I am preaching to a different group, circumstances of context are different. If I need to enhance reconfigure a past sermon, the new result will show up in a new endeavor, not in correcting something that is already done. Maybe it will be different when writing “non-sermons”. Time will tell.

  14. Daria Tarrant

    I usually take out one of my adult coloring books which is full of all kinds of sweary words pick a page and color it. I don’t use my computer to write as I like to feel the pen or pencil in my hand and paper beneath my arm. I’m old school when it comes to my writing. If I don’t feel like coloring that day, I’ll pick a writing prompt from the many writing prompt books I have on my Kobo and get my creative juices flowing by going with whatever comes from the prompt I picked.

    • Justine Duhr

      I love this idea, Daria. What a fantastic way to get the creative juices flowing. I’m going to try coloring the next chance I get.

    • Justine Duhr

      Yes! By all means, do what works for you. Every writer and every writing project is unique.

  15. Scott McClelland

    One thing that I find helpful, is that you don’t have to write things in order. It’s similar to the way movies are shot. You can write out of sequence. If you want to write the ending write it. If you’d like to write some dialogue between two characters but you haven’t gotten to that part of the story yet, go write that. Sometimes trudging through ABCD just gets in our way.

    • Justine Duhr

      I agree completely, Scott. Writing linearly can feel safe because it’s what we’re used to — first the beginning, then the middle, and finally the end — but it can also be stifling. Our imaginations work with association, and our writing process should mimic that.

  16. 709writer

    Julia stared as the gunshot’s echo faded away. Shadow stood motionless for a few moments. Then he was falling – into the grassy earth, without a sound.

    A scream tore from her lungs. “No!”

    She scrambled toward him. The soldier stepped from behind the nearest tree and aimed the gun at her.

    She screamed, squeezed her eyes shut, and in one motion she swung her arm in a hard sweep to the left.

    The man hurtled through the air in the direction she’d shoved and he crashed headfirst into a tree. She felt his awareness fade; he was unconscious.

    Breathing hard, she rushed to Shadow’s side and turned her friend over on his back. Blood spurted from a hole in his abdomen. She interlocked her fingers and shoved down on the opening, even as tears welled in her eyes. Red leaked through her fingers. Blood pumped against the palms of her hands.

    Shadow’s eyes shifted from side to side. His breathing was erratic, each breath like the wind passing through holes in a glass window.

    “Run.” The word was low and rough.

    Julia pushed harder on his wound, but the blood would not stop. Tears blurred
    her vision. She hiccuped on a sob. An ache swelled in her chest, spreading to her throat and constricting her lungs.

    “Shh.” Trembling took hold of her body. She leaned forward, putting all her
    weight over her hands. “You’ll be all right. Everything’s going to be
    all right.”

    His thoughts, his mental activity, were slipping away.

    Sobs shook her shoulders. She wanted to call for help. But if she removed her hands from Shadow’s wound to dial 9-1-1, he would bleed to death.

    So she squeezed her eyes shut, and with all her strength, she drove her palms into the bullet hole to stop the bleeding.

    Any feedback/comments welcome. Sometimes what holds me back is just running out of ideas. Sometimes I get to the end of a scene and don’t know where to go. What helps me is to physically write. I typically use my computer, but if I get stuck, writing with a pen/pencil in my notebook really frees up my mind to be creative. Thanks for the article, Justine!

    • Justine Duhr

      Thanks so much for sharing this vivid scene, Julia. It takes guts to post your work. I commend you!

      Thank you, too, for mentioning writing by hand. That’s one of my favorite methods for getting unstuck. Actually, I handwrite all of my first drafts because I find that it encourages playfulness in the creative process. When I’m typing, I can never quite shake the feeling that I’m working. Writing is work, sure, but it can be fun, too.

    • 709writer

      Thank you Justine! The Write Practice is the only place I post my practice; I receive a lot of positive/respectful feedback, so I feel much more comfortable posting now than I did when I first started.

      I love writing with a pen/pencil. And I agree with you; typing makes me feel more restricted (plus I’m a perfectionist : ) ), so I feel the need to go back and correct errors. Physically writing is one of my favorite ways to be creative.

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      Dear 709writer – great story and I agree, The Write Practice and Write by Night are great places to share one’s work. Glad I ran into your writing.

    • 709writer

      Thank you. : ) I’ll definitely check out Write by Night.

  17. Pat Garcia

    I enjoyed your post because so much of what you’ve said, I could relate to, and I have gotten through it by doing exactly what I thought I could not do and that was write. When I don’t feel like it, I just start writing anything. It’s crap that comes out but without realizing it the inspiration surfaces while I am writing this crap and the crap leaves and I find myself writing something meaningful. That has happened to me so many times and it has become one of my ways of dealing with writer’s block.
    Thank you for an extremely helpful and encouraging article.
    Shalom aleichem,

    • Justine Duhr

      You’re very welcome, Pat. I always tell my clients, there’s no way through it but to do it. In other words, in order to write, you’ve got to … well, write. It doesn’t have to be brilliant. It doesn’t even have to be any good. It just has to be, and the rest will follow.

  18. Glynis Jolly

    It was just yesterday that I finally broke through an episode of not being able to get any “worthwhile” writing done. I had gone as far as changing setting locations, character names and occupations, and using a different approach to the whole project. Not only did it not help, but it threw my inspiration into a pit in the bottom of my gut. Yesterday, I got out the version I had started. It, already, has over 20,000 words in it, almost to the cusp going to the middle. Scanning the scenes looking for obvious typos, I found my inspiration. It’s still a challenge of major purportions but I’m feeling good about it.

    • Justine Duhr

      Way to go, Glynis! Your inspiration was hiding in those 20,000 words, just waiting to be discovered. I’m so glad you found it.

  19. Jason

    I figure out there is no such thing as perfect writing. As long you do the following 2 actions, you will be fine. Here you go. Read and write. Opps, its 3 words but you know what i mean =P

  20. Diamond Fox

    I just keep writing and trying. I like writing prompts and I like to use them to write scenarios. I like keeping journals and have kept them my whole life. Writer’s block is real. It is a shiny, red devil man with a red afro and no shoes. He is very critical and nothing I ever do is right. His name is Sebastian and he tells me daily that I suck major eggs. I try not to listen and write through the jabbering. But I would like him to get lost. Maybe someday he will. I write mostly to piss off Sebastian. When one piece of writing hits a snag, it is good for me to try something else. Sebastian thinks I am vain and shouldn’t quit my day job but I still show up.
    The way to write is to show up and go for it. Write through distractions and make your critic take a seat. Sebastian sits on my sofa and pouts. I ignore him but feel his presence. I am going to keep going until I get it right.

    • Jonathan Hutchison

      I like your description of writer’s block above – shiny, red devil man…I also think you are right, show up and write. Set your mind free to roam.

    • Justine Duhr

      Your fully realized vision of your inner critic probably serves you well. Just as it can be helpful to envision a specific person we’re writing to or for, it can be helpful to envision the opposite: a specific person, real or imagined, we’re *not* writing for. Just be careful not to let Sebastian crowd out more positive images in your mind. He’d no doubt love that, the devil!

  21. Jill Logan

    For me writing has been an outlet. It was never meant for any eyes but my own. I didn’t think anyone would care to read what I was writing so I put the idea of becoming a published writer in a box on a shelf of the deepest recesses of my mind. I married had kids and allowed life to take over. Eight years ago something happened that would change how I felt about myself forever. A traumatic set of circumstances brought about an awakening of sorts. I began to realize that maybe just maybe my words are worth sharing. I now have a chance to realize a dream.I am learning, growing and opening myself up to new experiences and ideas. Letting go or self criticism day and night beating myself up for things I have no control over has lead me to explore new feelings as well. So here I am

    • Justine Duhr

      Welcome, Jill, to The Write Practice and to the practice of writing! It sounds like you’ve tapped into something powerful in yourself and on the page. That’s the beginning of a long and rewarding journey. Enjoy every minute of it.

  22. Jonathan Hutchison

    My wife just brought me a page from a book written by Brian Andreas. The book is organized such that each page contains one sentence and a related sketch/drawing. She said that he was aiming to tell a whole story in one sentence. That got me thinking about the topic above (Here’s What Writers Really Do).

    It occurred to me that Brian wasn’t telling a complete story in one sentence at all. What he was doing was releasing his readers’ imagination so that they could “write” a complete story from his one sentence. The sketch/drawing was for those who were visual rather than verbal learners. And maybe that is what writers really do – release the imagination of readers, drawing them in and inviting them to co-produce a story with the author as the story is read and digested. Yes, we are all the things that we have shared in the posts in this forum, but I think first and foremost we are magicians that create an illusion with our readers who work hard to comprehend that illusion.

    • Justine Duhr

      What a lovely thought, Jon. Thank you so much for sharing.

  23. bgznkitties

    This is a very useful bit of information:
    “As soon as I chose to understand this struggle as a communication from myself rather than a deficiency in myself, I was able to open up the process rather than close it down. And you can do the same.”

    And to know how you suffered to get what you got, is also SO helpful to me:
    “Easier said than done, though. I’m not gonna lie, this post has been pretty ice pick-y for me. That last paragraph, I worked on it for half an hour, deleting, rewriting, cutting, pasting. That last sentence, same deal. This one, too, and the next.”


    • Justine Duhr

      You are so very welcome! Thank you for reading.


  1. I Think My Writing Sucks | The silence between words - […] post today was on problems with the writing process, and the practice today was to read a piece of…

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