What to do when you don’t feel like writing

April 29, 2020

With the current state of the world, it’s hard to get enough energy to write anything. I’ve been feeling about as motivated as a year old potato chip wedged under the couch.

As a writer, sometimes you can feel guilty for not writing. If I’m too long without writing, I get this weird metaphorical itch that results in feeling restless. And every time, I wonder what it is, until I realise I haven’t been writing.

With things the way they are, a lot of us don’t feel like writing at all. It’s too hard to get the perspective you need to put a writing project in focus, when it seems there is much more valuable work to be done and bigger problems at hand.

But there are some things you can do that are writing-adjacent during this time.

The oft-quoted Julia Cameron talks about ‘refilling the well’; at the moment, most of our wells are bone dry with a couple of scorpions scuttling around the bottom. So here’s a list of low key writing activities to do when you don’t feel like writing.

Read

Oh fancy that! Reading! It’s this strange activity that comes from books! Wondrous books! Funnily enough, you need to read in order to be a writer.

It’s the time to read your no-shame, absolute guilty favourites and remind yourself why you wanted to do this writing gig in the first place.

I’ve been reading everything from Susan Sontag’s On Photography to absolute bodice rippers, and all the books in-between. This reading is helping spark my imagination again, as well as provide a balm to my stressed out brain.

It also means that I’m getting through a lot of the books on my TBR pile. Turns out all those books I’ve bought through the years and hadn’t got around to reading are pretty good.

Update your website, marketing and social media channels

I find process driven technical work is really great when you don’t feel like being creative. Some digital activities that aren’t too demanding include:

  • Check your bio and publications list is up to date
  • Update your plugins
  • Update your social media headers and bios
  • If you’re on WordPress, update your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) using a plugin like Yoast
  • If it’s appropriate, add a google listing for your business
  • Update old blog posts with fresh imagery
  • Let people know how they can support you at this time, whether that’s through book sales, freelance gigs, speaking appearances.
  • Give your website a makeover with a new theme (okay this can be more technical and demanding, but also very satisfying)
  • Schedule out old, evergreen social media content
  • Set up an email newsletter – see my handy guide
  • Make a marketing plan for the month
  • Research guest post opportunities
  • Read other writers’ blog posts and leave thoughtful comments on their pages and social media channels
  • Engage with writers and readers on social media
  • Review books you’ve enjoyed on Goodreads, Amazon and other book platforms, especially if they’re hidden gems

Study the craft of writing

One way to get re-energised is to learn a new skill. Why not read a book on craft? Along with other writers, I’ve listed some of my favourites here, a lot of which are enjoyable, fun reads.

With the age of Zoom upon us, there are plenty of opportunities for online courses, workshops and readings.

  • Masterclass offer online writing courses with big names like Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown and Neil Gaiman
  • Clarion have been offering online workshops with noted SFF authors, although they’re so popular many are full
  • Writing the Other offers courses on writing diverse characters
  • The Australian Writers’ Centre offer online writing courses on a huge range of topics
  • Readings bookstore are putting on free online events and book launches

Make sure you also check your local writers centre. Writers Vic are offering many online workshops.

Do small writing exercises

And by small, I mean flash sized pieces that are very low-stakes. Writers Vic are running a 30-word flash fiction competition through Twitter during April. It’s a lot of fun, isn’t designed to be too hard, and a great chance to meet other writers and read their work.

Likewise, writing exercises can help free you up from the constraints of a larger project. They’re not meant to be perfect, they’re meant to be practice.

Clean your writing space

After I finished writing my novel, I was at a complete loose end. So I decided to clean out my office – turns out my filing system where I dump everything in a cardboard box isn’t that efficient. I ended up with six bags of shredding! šŸ˜±

Things you can do around your writing space:

  • Digitise research, old notes and business cards – I do this using Office Lens
  • Shred old drafts, unnecessary bills and documents – so theraputic!
  • Recycle magazines and e-waste
  • Wipe down your desk
  • Tidy papers and stationery
  • Clear out desk drawers
  • Archive old notebooks
  • Put together a bag of donations for the op-shop – things that are in working order but you don’t need any more

Look for reprint markets

Chances are, you might have some old stories floating around your hard drive. If they’ve been published before, take a look at your previous contract and see if they’re eligible to be submitted to a reprint market.

There are plenty of great ways to practice the craft of writing and get re-energised when you don’t feel like writing. Whether it’s reading your favourite books, tidying up your workspace or simply chatting to another writer on Facebook, take some time for yourself and above all, be kind.

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