In this post, we explore why it’s okay not to write, and include simple steps to help you start writing again.
Writers have always chronicled wars, illnesses, and personal catastrophes. For the past two years, we’ve been dealing with a worldwide pandemic. Frightening times can lead to extreme writer’s block. This article wants to reassure you that sometimes it’s okay NOT to write, and maybe show you ways to pick up writing again.
Why It’s Okay Not To Write
Why Writers Stop Writing
Writers write, don’t they? Right now, I know a lot of writers who don’t. They’re not alone; artists of all genres experience a complete block all artistic expression from time to time. It’s not procrastination they battle, it’s not a lack of motivation. They’re overwhelmed by what’s going on around and inside them. They do find the time to write; they do sit in front of a white page, but they simply cannot turn own their creative faucet. What’s worse, they beat themselves up for not being able to write.
Take Good Care Of Yourself
When this happens, alleviate the stress immediately. Easier said than done, I know. Maybe start by allowing yourself NOT to write. Here’s the reason why: Once you’re in a downward spiral, it’s most important to get out of that rut. The simple act of stopping to do something, might already do the trick.
What’s the use in telling yourself that you’re a writer? That it’s your job to write about anything, that you must be professional and be able to write under any circumstance at any given time? Relax, you’re human after all. You’re an artist. Your sensitivity is what enables your creativity. This sensitivity can be deeply disturbed and even numbed by many things, for example these:
Situations When You Cannot Write (And It’s Okay!)
- Feeling totally overwhelmed by an experience which you cannot grasp yet.
- Anything that you experience as a threat (just look at the current pandemic!)
- Life-changing situations (for example, the birth of a child, change/loss of jobs, marriage/divorce, death of a loved one).
- Severe illness.
- Exhaustion (physical or mental).
- A combination of many small things (like you’re trying to write a novel, your in-laws are visiting for an upcoming holiday and you have to juggle preparations with a crying new-born and a day job).
Any one of these sound familiar? In all these situations, it’s perfectly alright NOT to write. How could you? How can you think about creating something shiny and new when you feel completely dead on the inside? These are the times when we need to address our most basic needs. Stop writing. Seriously. It’s okay.
Force Is The Enemy Of Creativity
Be gentle with yourself. Stop forcing your creativity. It just doesn’t work that way. You can nudge creativity, yes, you can even ‘kick procrastination-butt’ (like our colleagues from Deadlines for writers), but you cannot force yourself to be creative. Force is the enemy of creativity.
Stop writing for a while, see what happens. Practise self-care, because you know what works best for you, right? In the meantime, try to understand where this reaction comes from.
Try To Understand Why You’re Feeling That Way
Psychologist Walter Bradford Cannon might have a clue for us. He says that when human beings are under extreme stress, they choose one of three possible reactions:
All of these are deeply embedded in our nervous system. It’s natural for us to choose one of the three. All of them have been in the human toolbox to cope with life-threatening situations since the beginning of mankind. But what does that mean for writers?
1. Writers choosing ‘fight’: ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ (Edward Bulwer-Lytton)
Writers who decide to fight use their talents to cope with a problem. They might write protocols to keep track, or journals to release their emotions, or clothe the problem in a literary form to shape possible solutions (good or bad). In the end, that’s where utopian or dystopian writing comes from. If you like, check out the historical background of Thomas More’s Utopia.
2. Writers choosing ‘flight’: ‘Procrastination is the thief of time.’ (Charles Dickens)
Writers who choose to flee, don’t write; they procrastinate. Usually, they are fully aware of what they’re doing. They don’t start to write until their pangs of conscience put them under more stress than the original problem. This does get them writing again, but their stress levels are sky-high. Not to be recommended! If you want to learn more about procrastination and how to get over it, check out this article.
3. Writers choosing ‘freeze’: ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup.’ (Proverb)
Writers who freeze in the face of a problem generally feel so overwhelmed that they can’t do anything (they’re what this article is about). Their well seems to have run dry, the words simply won’t come. This is the situation when it’s okay NOT to write. Pushing yourself to write would simply mean adding to the stress. So don’t do it. Self-care is more important at this stage. Do what is best for you. However, please read on. We might have a remedy for you.
Writing As A Tool To Survive
Writing can also be immensely therapeutic. Writing therapy can take many forms and the most basic forms can be practised by anyone. You don’t need a trained therapist to do this. Why does this work? Writing is a way to both rid us of stress and to distance us from it. As soon as you write a shopping list, you can’t brood, right? Writing is an act of distancing which is extremely important. But the words still won’t come? How about these simple steps to get your mojo working again?
Simple Steps To Start Writing Again
- Read. Read voraciously. Read authors who give words to your current state of mind. Read authors that give comfort. Many start with the Bible, but you can also choose a favourite children’s book, a collection of quotes, or a tear-jerker novel – anything in plain, easy language.
- Copy other authors. Just copy their writing onto a sheet of paper. At this point, you don’t have to be original. All you want is to get your body to remember the mechanics of writing. Choose something that once appealed to you, then simply copy it. Can you feel yourself connecting to this author?
- Paraphrase other authors. Maybe you can use a favourite poem. Rewrite the text with your own words. All you need to do is to translate this into your own lingo. You won’t chase after literary merit here. You just want to connect to literature again.
Now you’re ready to check out the writers who chose the ‘Fight’-reaction again. Look at their toolbox more closely.
Use Your Writer’s Toolbox
- Journaling: This can take many forms. The classic ‘Dear Diary’ account at the end of your day has never gone out of style. You can also write in the morning. Usually, we tend to be more detached from an account of past events. See what works best for you! You can also write gratitude journals or design fancy bullet journals with no words at all. Journals are great to chronicle your life – many ideas for fiction once came from them. Journals are also good to gain some distance from actual events and to reframe them.
- Write with a prompt: Prompts are door-openers. Usually, a prompt is meant to stir something deep inside us and initiate a reaction. All you need to do is to write it down! Sign up for the Writers Write newsletter to get prompts galore, or sign up for any of the short story or poetry challenges on Deadlines for Writers. If you need more advice on using prompts, then check out this article.
- Try literary forms: By this time, you are writing. Great! Choose what appeals to you: plays, short stories, poetry. Short forms are easier to tackle than longer ones. What you want to do is to portray your situation, but also to take it to the next level. Literary writing is not just a mirror of reality, but a transcendence of it.
- Plays can be great for giving a voice to your own feelings and then having characters respond in many ways. This way, you can act out possible solutions to your problem. Have your inner angel speak to your inner devil.
- Short Stories have the advantage of taking up less time to write (and to plot!) than a novel. If you set up a few characters in a clever way, you can have them try out possible versions of your truth. However, try to reframe your reality, and transfer real experiences to a higher level. Maybe you can find a solution to your conflict.
- Poetry is the hardest to write in this situation. Very often, poems omit reality altogether and go straight for a higher truth; they are often distillations of experience. If you manage to write poetry, you are definitively no longer frozen, you are in full ‘Fight’-mode. Congratulations!
The Last Word
By this time, you have read so much about the benefits of writing that I hope you can no longer keep your fingers still. Sharpen those pencils, refill those pens, dust those keyboards! Happy writing!
If you have enjoyed this post, you will love:
- 20 Myths to Use as Writing Prompts
- A Quick-Start Guide for Beating Writers’ Block
- What is Procrastination and How Do Writers Beat it?
Top Tip: If you want to create a writing habit, try our free writing course: Hooked On Writing: 31 Days To A Writing Habit
By Susanne Bennett. Susanne is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.
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