Tuesday 10 November 2015

How To Write When You Aren’t In The Mood (or Why I Don’t Believe in Writer’s Block)

You know that feeling when you just can’t be bothered? You stare at your laptop and you sigh.  You’re a third of the way into NaNoWriMo, several thousand words behind, and your novel is starting to feel like work. Your mind drifts off in search of new ideas or looking for some excuse not to write anything today. Don’t give in. Not now. Even Productive Procrastination will do you no favours during NaNoWriMo. Your goal is to generate a messy first draft and no form of procrastination is going to get the words on the page.

Be wary of calling this feeling ‘Writer’s Block’. Writer’s Block is not some magical affliction that strikes down promising young novelists. It's an excuse. It’s just easier to say ‘I have Writer's Block’ than it is to admit, even to yourself, that you don’t care enough about your writing to stay dedicated. And all fiction writers should be able to agree that the easy option is rarely the right one. You wouldn’t let your characters give up, would you? They persevere through the hard times – if they didn’t, you wouldn’t have much of a story to tell. So, if you won’t let them get away with it, why should you? You want to finish your story, don’t you? If so, the answer is simple, stop believing in the curse of Writer’s Block and accept that your disinterest in the story is probably something you can solve.

So what can you do?

There are a few tricks we can use to get ourselves out of these slumps.

Sometimes it’s an instant fix and one session can get you back into your story, but sometimes you have to repeat the steps, or try new ones, every day for a week – And that’s okay. It happens. It’s easy to doubt yourself at times like these – you doubt your ability, your passion, your ideas… Everyone keeps telling you that "writers write" but you just don’t want to. Not today. So you decide you can’t be a writer after all. Perhaps you were mistaken and this novel writing thing isn’t for you… But this logic is flawed. Nobody is saying "writers write enthusiastically every single day." And if they are saying that, well, I’m afraid they are either wrong, lying or both.

I like to think of it as "writers write - even when they don’t want to."

You will eventually find the methods that work best for you, but here are the ones I use to get writing again when I don’t want to.  

Just half an hour

This is the tactic I use most often. Tell yourself that you will spend half an hour writing. Don’t set an alarm - just start forcing words onto the page. For the first few minutes, you’ll be clock watching… maybe even for the first ten or fifteen minutes. But then you’ll look again and your half an hour will have ended long ago. You’ll be out of coffee, you’ll need to sit up straight and stretch - and you’ll have hundreds of words down. You’ll have slipped back into the story without having noticed.


Nothing makes the writing process flow more rapidly than dialogue does. If you’re struggling to force words onto the page, start at a section with lots of dialogue. It’s a first draft – skip the description and the detailed action if you aren’t feeling it. When you write dialogue the story speeds up. Your brain speeds up. Line after line of dialogue flows onto the page and, if you’re anything like me, this will rekindle your interest in the characters who are speaking and, hopefully, get you writing properly. It might begin with writing more detailed dialogue tags, lead on to exploring characters’ thoughts and then, before you know it, you’ll be writing those descriptions and action scenes again.

Skip to the good bits

This method is for when you’re stuck on a boring scene. If the scene isn’t exciting you, there’s a good chance that it either isn’t important, or that you haven’t worked out how to write it properly yet, so don’t just sit there staring at a blank page. Skip it. Make a note and move on the next part of the story that interests you. You can always go back and fill in that scene later - and if you do realise that it needs to come out or be drastically changed you won’t have wasted time and energy on it and, more importantly, you won’t feel attached to it.

During a first draft, I don’t believe we need to consciously know why every scene is important – that comes later. In the beginning, if your brain tells you to write a scene, it will probably be of some benefit to do so, even if that scene isn’t included in the next draft. However, if your brain changes its mind, let it. You’ve probably learnt all you needed from the scene just by thinking about it. In a first draft we are still getting to know our characters – so, whether we think we’ve planned the story or not, they can surprise us. A sudden lack of interest in a scene usually means it is no longer appropriate to the characters or that you don’t yet know enough about them to write it in a way that is. So, don’t. Just move on and come back to it later.  There is no need to write a novel linearly.

Write fiction within fiction

Whatever genre you are writing in, there is probably fiction within your fictional world, so if you need a change of pace, write it. Have your character open a book or turn on the television, and write that story. This may seem like a waste of time, but if you feel like you need a break from your story, this kind of world-building is a good compromise. I really enjoy developing the mythologies of my fictional worlds or inventing popular series for my characters to obsess over – it teaches me  a lot about the societies I am creating and the characters I’m writing, so even if it doesn’t make it into later drafts, I still see it as a useful part of writing a first draft.

Read the story so far

Sometimes our lack of interest in writing is based on a lack of faith in what we have written.

In a first draft, it’s easy to feel that our work is full of mistakes - It will undoubtedly be full of typos and bad, adverb-riddled descriptions - but we can accept that. It’s a first draft after all. Those kinds of mistakes aren’t really mistakes. They’re just part of the process. The mistakes that gnaw at our minds, however, are the ones to do with the story. 

As I mentioned before, first drafts are about getting to know our characters, our settings and our stories. Things change as we write, and holding these changes in our minds can stop us from moving forwards. The way I deal with this is to skim read the story through from the beginning. Usually, I wouldn’t recommend this during NaNoWriMo, but it shouldn’t take that long and, if it gets you writing, the small amount of lost time is worth it. Most writers are fast readers anyway and there is no need to read the story as if you were reading for pleasure. 

The purpose of this read-through is to notice what needs changing. Don’t actually change it. (As I said here, no editing during NaNo.) But notice it. Write it down. Make notes so that you don’t need to keep it all in your head. And then, when you finish reading the story so far, continue from that point as if the changes have been made. 

Once you’ve finished your first draft, you can go through the list of changes and correct anything you need to, but for now, just assume it’s all up to date and keep going. This should free up enough brain space to get those creative juices flowing.

Still stuck?

Hopefully one of these methods will work for you, but if not, don’t despair. And don’t diagnose yourself with Writer’s Block.

It might just be that there is no quick fix for your situation - There could be something fundamental about your story that your subconscious isn’t happy with and that you need to resolve before you can continue.

How to write when you don't want to
Try analysing your procrastination and, if that still doesn’t help, move on. Put the current story to one side – you might come back to it later or you might not. Either way, it’s been good writing practice and no doubt those ideas (and sometimes whole characters or passages) will be incorporated into future stories. So don’t worry about it. 

A lot of being a writer is being able to trust your instincts - So follow your mind to those new ideas and write them instead. Just write something.

Because writers write, right?


  1. These are awesome tips!

    That "fiction within fiction" thing is gold -- I do a mini version of that sometimes where I just have fun coming up with goofy titles of things my characters are reading or watching, but I never thought about what a fun change of pace it would be to expand on it a bit :) Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you found the tips useful!

      Coming up with titles for your characters books is great fun. I also find that describing the books or dvds in a room a great way of adding to the atmosphere/setting whilst also giving insights into the characters who left them there (and also the character who is noticing them).

      Enjoy exploring your fiction within fiction. I hope it throws up some interesting or useful developments for you!

  2. But... but if writers' block doesn't exist... then there goes my excuse for being really unproductive for the last 8 years!

    Seriously though, great tips and a really interesting read. Skipping scenes definitely helped me.

    1. Writer's Block may not exist, but there are probably other reasons for not getting much writing done at times. For instance, health issues can wreak havoc on attempts to write regularly - and there are times when we have to prioritise other aspects of our lives.

      Glad you found the tips interesting. Skipping scenes a trick more writers should use - it can really get your brain working again!