We all go through times when we feel unable to write.
Sometimes we’re experiencing a major upheaval, a time of such crisis that no one would expect us to have the energy to write. Other times, we feel swallowed up by everyday life. We wonder, “Am I still a writer?”
Yes, you’re still a writer. You just need to figure out what kind of crisis you’re experiencing, and whether you should push through it, push your way out of it, or simply wait for it to pass before picking up your pen (or laptop) again.
This, too, shall pass
Several years ago, a shoulder surgery put my right arm in a sling for six weeks. I worried about my writing even before the surgery. Afterward, I tried to return to work too soon and ended up in excruciating pain trying to sit upright in a desk chair.
During my time in the sling, I tried writing by speaking into a dictation app. This didn’t work because the speaking and writing parts of my brain don’t operate the same way at all. I tried writing longhand with my non-dominant hand. Needless to say, this was no great success, either. Neither was my attempt to touch-type one-handed. I had to wait it out.
Of course, if I’d lost use of my arm permanently, I would’ve found a way. But the reality was, this was a blip. We all have such blips, and while it can suck to get back into the groove afterward, it’s not impossible. If you’re stuck in the middle of a finite roadblock to your writing, don’t be afraid to take the time you need. Your work will still be there when you return.
Your crisis may vary
How many times have you said — or heard a fellow writer say — “Life is just so crazy right now, I haven’t had time to write?”
There are finite challenges, and then there are years-long periods when our entire lives feel like one big crisis. For many of us, life will remain “so crazy right now” for the foreseeable future. And we have to stop using it as an excuse not to write.
If you’re waiting for life to settle down a bit before buckling down to finish that novel, ask yourself: is this situation temporary? What makes right now different from a year ago? Next year? Will an external factor really make it easier to carve out time for writing, or do you need to take action?
Use your limited writing time wisely
This summer hasn’t afforded me a lot of time to sit and write in solitude. What little time I do have, I need to use efficiently. Most of us have 10 minutes we could squeeze out of each day to meet a small word count goal, but let’s face it: we often struggle to snap out of our harried stupor.
If you have a smartphone, put it away while you’re writing. Mindless scrolling can become a coping mechanism for dealing with our overstimulating lives. So can keeping 30 browser tabs open, checking social media every time we pause while trying to think of the right word, or turning on the television or radio while we work. By never letting our minds settle on one thing in a meaningful way, we teach ourselves that this is normal. We think we can’t sit down and focus on our writing for any length of time because we have “too much going on.”
If you can snag 10 minutes to write today, devote yourself to it fully. Don’t check your email, your texts, or your Instagram feed. Write, even if it feels uncomfortable, even if if you feel restless or distracted or uninspired. You can’t finish a book if you aren’t willing to show up.
There is no perfect time to write
Some writers use our words to process a major crisis or trauma. Others find ourselves unable to write when tragedy strikes. If you’re in the middle of an undeniably tough time, honor your own needs and give yourself permission to step away from writing for a while — or to write only for yourself, with zero expectations.
But we also need to remember that there’s never a perfect time to write a book. For many of us with families and jobs, there’s always a low-grade crisis brewing. These situations can feel like they’re interfering with our writing. That feeling will become truth if we let it.
If you’ve been struggling to make space for your writing because life feels like too much, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon, try setting a low daily goal — like under-100-words-low. When your brain resists, remind yourself it’s only 50 words. Only one line. However much you’ve told yourself you must do. And even if you only write one line today, try to forget the chaos around you. Devote yourself to that one line entirely. Another might just be waiting behind it.