For the Writer Who Just . . . Can’t

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Let’s be real for a minute.

Can we do that?

I’m going to try, anyway. I’ll let you know if it works out for me.

We’re all writers, right? We know how hard it can be to actually write. We know how it feels to sit down and stare at a blank screen for two and a half hours when we really only have a three-hour window to get a thousand words down on paper. Some days are just . . . hard. Ideas dry up, characters don’t cooperate, and we forget how to spell that one word that spellchecker seems to have forgotten exists. And, whether we’ve been writing for ten days or ten years, it happens to all of us.

And, when it happens, we all try to fix it.

That’s a thing, right? If we can just get rid of that one irritating issue, our brains will clear up, ideas will start popping up again, and the words will flow. We’ll be back in the groove, pounding out words so fast that our poor fingers can’t keep up with how fast our brain is going.

It’s going to be great.

The problem comes when we waste all our time trying to get the lighting right, or find the right song, or find that one detail in our research because it will totally change everything. Before we know it, our three-hour (or twenty minute) window is up, and we have to drive to work, or fix dinner, or go pick up the kids from school because if you’re late one more time the teachers are going to think you abandoned your only offspring on the side of the road.

Not ideal.

So how do we get past that first line? How do we work past that mental block and start the words flowing when they really, really don’t want to come?

I have some ideas.

1) Ditch the distractions.

Turn off Youtube. Stop searching for that perfect song. Get off Twitter. (This one is hard for me.) Don’t check Facebook, and don’t text that one person to complain that you can’t think. Switch off your phone, turn off the wifi if you can, and stop worrying about whatever ‘research’ you were doing.

I promise, if you really need it, you’ll come back for it when it’s important. But right now, it’s just a distraction.

2) Stretch.

Get up. All the way up, out of your chair, or off your couch. Stretch. Reach up as high as you can and take a huge, deep, noisy breath while you do. Maybe yawn. Then touch the floor. Or your toes. Or as near as you can to either. Do some simple yoga stretches, if you know any. Jog in place for a minute, or do some jumping jacks. Get your blood moving again, and reenergize your brain. It will help more than you think.

3) Drink water.

I know, this one sounds stupid. But it’s so easy to pass over and forget. Dehydration contributes to fatigue, irritability, and can give you one giant of a headache.

Have you ever tried to write with a headache? Because I have. Not. Fun.

Seriously, if your brain is fogged up and you can’t seem to think straight, try a glass of water. Or even two. You never know.

4) Write an awful first sentence.

The worst, most choppy, awful first sentence that you’ve ever been ashamed of. Cringe when you write it. Swear never to show it to anyone. But write it, and don’t delete it immediately. Just keep going. Jump into your story, forget that awful first sentence, and just get your fingers moving.

5) Have grace for yourself.

This is the one I really want you to remember. The one I want you to practice, the one I want you to write down and pin up beside your computer and chant in your sleep and remind yourself of every time you want to cry or throw your computer out the window and become a sheep farmer.

You are not your writing.

You are not a bad day.

Your worth is not defined by how many words you did—or didn’t—write today.

We all have bad days. We all have days where we can’t write, or we write badly, or our ideas are stale and old and boring.

This is normal, and it is okay.

The important thing is that you are kind to yourself on your bad day, that you walk through it without destroying manuscripts, relationships, or yourself, and that you get up and try again tomorrow. One bad day does not mean you are a bad writer. And if you can wake up after a bad day and still choose to write, you’ve won.

Good luck, dearest writer. May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

4 thoughts on “For the Writer Who Just . . . Can’t

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