How to write when you don’t feel like writing

Guest post written by Linda Cartwright.

If you google this phrase, you will find a plethora of “inspiration” articles that look more like lists of procrastination destinations: watch these themed films, go lurking on these gorgeous image boards, go listening to these productivity playlists. Supposedly, it will get your creative juices flowing. Unfortunately, it does not work for most of us. The only thing such advice is good for is to form some ideas when you are ready to start writing but have not yet decided on a topic.

What do you do when you have to write (and probably know what about) but cannot get yourself to start? First, here is a quick checklist.

  • Have you slept well? If you haven’t, your brain is not fit for any work, let alone ready to be creative. You can soldier on but the result will be less than impressive. Having a quick nap and resuming your work refreshed will allow you to be more productive and to lose less time.
  • Are you hungry? You brain needs food. It is the most energy-consuming organ in our body. If you don’t have time for a hearty meal, a snack on quick-digesting carbs will do the job.
  • Do you feel well? It is an obvious, yet often overlooked condition for being productive. If you feel a bit under the weather, you cannot concentrate on the task at hand.

Now, let’s assume that all of the above points are settled. Now what? Well, sometimes you are just not in the mood to write, even if it is your passion. The good news is that you can still write. Try one of the following techniques.

Brief outline

As a famous quote from Chuck Close goes: “Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.” If you feel somewhat blocked, you can start by quickly outlining the things that you are going to write about. All you have to do is start working; things will grow from the activity itself. No author has a premonition of the entire script. You may not have the full story but you must have some ideas.

The importance of pre-planning and outlining can best be illustrated by Joan Rowling’s technique. A glimpse of it, can be seen in the one-page plot outline for Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix that was released to the public some years ago. It showed the entire book as a grid with rows representing chapters and columns representing main plot lines and themes present in the book. This way, Rowling was able to see the entire structure before her as the cutout work and at the same time could make the book balanced and addictive for the readers.

On a larger scale, she knew, from the very beginning, that she would have a series of seven books for children where characters would grow up with the readers, she already had the ending in mind and some very specific details decided beforehand. This also allowed her to pepper details throughout the series, which, at first, seemed of no importance, but later gave the readers plenty of thrilling “aha!” moments.

Of course, some characters and plot lines changed along the way, yet she managed to shoehorn them into the original ending anyway.

Planning and outlining works for everything: from epic book series to 5-page essays to 500 words blog posts. If you do not feel like writing, at least you can come up with a plan that will facilitate your work enormously.


Creativity is all about finding unexpected connections and seeing the world anew. This happens in a state of mind when we do not think we are working. One of the ways to get into this state is freewriting.

In the ninetieth century, mediums claimed that freewriting is their way to get in contact with unseen entities, ghosts, and otherworldly beings. In the twentieth century, writers and poets (William Butler Yeats, Jack Kerouac, Dorothea Brande, and Peter Elbow to name a few) used this technique as a way of connecting to the unconscious.

The practice was brought to the mainstream by the Natalie Goldberg, in her Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. Her first rule was to keep the hand always moving and to allow oneself to lose control. Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity called this practice “the morning pages” and advised writers to start your writing with three pages of pure stream-of-consciousness writing.

This practice is beneficial not only for professional writers but for anyone who experiences writer’s block. Even students who struggle to write an essay or a research paper can try it instead of employing a paper writing service to do the work, losing peace of mind, enthusiasm for the project, and sleep.

To start freewriting you just have to put pen to paper (or your hands on a keyboard). Write whatever comes to your head. Even if there is nothing, write “I have nothing on my mind. I have nothing on my mind…” You can keep writing it, that’s okay. Alternatively, use an object you see in front of you as a prompt, or a word you pick at random from a book. Do not rush but do not stop either. Do not  cross anything out, and don’t pay particular attention to punctuation or grammar at this point.

This should put you in a flowing state of mind and allow you to unblock your creative ability, even if you think that you are not in the mood for writing today. As Pablo Picasso said: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Mind mapping

A mind map is a diagram used to organize information visually. It shows relationships between the parts to the whole. Mind mapping is used as a mnemonic technique, an educational aid for brainstorming, note taking, problem-solving, and decision making. It has a centuries-long history but was popularized by the British popular psychology author and television personality Tony Buzan in the 1960s.

Apart from that, mind mapping is a very effective tool to get the information from your head onto paper. This way, you can organize your thoughts and ideas in proper order if your writer’s block stems from being overwhelmed rather than from a lack of ideas.

This technique is also useful if you have to summarize large volumes of information from many sources and don’t know where to start. This happens quite often when you have to write an essay or do class reports.

Start by placing the key idea at the center of the diagram, either as a word or as a picture. Add sub-themes and connect them to the main idea with  “branches” of different colors. The use of multiple colors will provide visual stimulation and allow encoding and grouping. Then, add topics of lesser importance by adding “twigs” to the relevant branch. You do not have to write yet – use symbols, pictograms, emoticons, codes, dimensions. If necessary, add keywords (one per twig).

There are websites and apps that allow you to create mind maps, however using paper is the best option. Why? Because on paper you can combine mind mapping and freewriting to plan and outline your work, thus uniting all three techniques!

If you still do not feel inspired, try to remember why you are writing. There is a special power in “why”. It can help you reignite the initial excitement you felt when you started your project. The last, but not the least – do not feel bad about yourself if you still do not feel like writing. Bad days happen, it is only human to experience ups and downs.

About author:
Linda Cartwright is an educator and Seattle-based freelance writer, passionate about technology and life-long learning.