10 Ways to Jump-Start Your Writing When You Just Don’t Feel Like It

Deadlines don’t care about how tired you are, or how busy your weekend was. The next chapter of your novel isn’t going to magically appear. You know this. I know this. We might not like it, but sometimes, the work’s got to get done even when we’d rather be doing anything else. When that happens, use these tricks to buck up, sit down, and get writing. Warning: Some of them are a little bit weird. 

photo10. Replace thoughts of “I’m so drained, I can’t possibility write,” with “Good. My mind’s blissfully empty. I can write.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve psyched myself out of a perfectly good evenings’ work by telling myself, “My commute’s too draining. I’ve got no thoughts left. I can’t possibly write like this.” Sitting vacantly on the couch watching TV like a baboon with a Thorazine drip never got anyone closer to being published.

9. Blather and then take dictation. Most of us are capable of running our mouths independently of our brains. Talking requires close to zero effort and try as you might, you’ll probably still be speaking in mostly intelligible half-sentences, so write by speaking. Can you talk about your writing? Write what you’re saying as you say it. Once you’ve got some momentum, you’ll be off and running.

8. Eat something. Your brain is the single most energy-hungry part of the body, using up 20% of your total energy supplyby itself. That’s a huge amount of calories, vitamins and minerals required to feed the thing you write with. Also, when you eat, the simple act of anticipating a meal fires up your metabolism, clears and focuses your mind, and lifts your mood. Once you’ve done all that, you have what you need to start working.

7. Drink something. Not hungry? Cold and hot beverages also have a mind-clearing effect. (Whether they’ve got alcohol in them or not is up to you. )

6. Open a window. One of my biggest distractions is nice weather (like today). I grew up with the mantra of  “Go play outside,” repeated often by parents and other grownups, and even now, I feel slightly ungrateful if I waste a pretty day indoors. But until I get a laptop with a glare-resistant screen, I’m stuck indoors when I’m writing. And honestly? There’s nothing I can do about it. I chose a profession that’s time-consuming and indoorsy, and instead of complaining about it, I’ll open the window near where I’m sitting, get the nice breeze and the fresh air, and call it even.

5. Make a pie. Or do something that is relatively simple and rewarding. Last night, I made an apple cobbler pie. I made dough (from a dry mix, because who am I kidding) and rolled it flat, taking my time, pressing in, kneading out, laying it gently on the pie plate, and smoothing the filling in, layer after layer. The pie was pretty good, but the soothing repetition of the work and the tangible, toasty finished product? Priceless.

Credit: Rishi B, flickr.com
Credit: Rishi B, flickr.com

4. Read or watch an interview with a famous author. This one is oddly specific, but hear me out. We all have authors we admire, and we all would like to quit toiling in obscurity someday and enter that rarefied territory of “famous writer.” Is there any bigger kick in the pants than getting the Internet version of face-to-face with them as they talk about their work? Hey, lazy-shaming is still motivation. Just remember that you’re supposed to start writing when you’re done with the interview.

3. Tell someone about what you plan to write. Tell your spouse, one of your kids, your roommate, or your cat. Tell anyone within earshot of your writing desk. If you get one small piece of your brain thinking about your writing, pretty soon, the rest will follow. (Except, for me, the part that’s always thinking about pie.)

2. Put your feet up. Changing the way blood is circulating in your body helps you feel refreshed, and putting your feet up helps relax away that OH MY GOD I SHOULD BE WRITING RIGHT NOW anxiety.

1. Preempt your lethargy by stopping in midsentence. Finishing an unfinished sentence is irresistible. One of Ernest Hemingway’s most famous pieces of writing advice was to stop writing before you’ve finished, so you have a thread ready and waiting for you to pick up the next time you sit down to work, and I happen to agree with this strategy. I take it a little further and


What are your best tips to get to writing even when you don’t want to? Share them in the comments.