Three Signs You’re Not Writing Enough

It’s pretty easy to know when you’ve started to burn out from writing too much, but what happens when life gets in the way of you writing enough?

I know when I’m not writing enough, you might be thinking, because I don’t hit my word count goal/deadline/submission period. And while this is all true, you can write thousands of words per day and still not be writing what feeds you, what really helps you make sense of things. When that happens, it’s as though you’re not really writing at all.

Since “writer” is my full-time job description, I fall into this trap quite often, because I’m lazy (see: the title of this blog). When I do, several specific things start to happen , and if I don’t head off those things, I become a generally unpleasant person to be around. Sound familiar?



1. General grumpiness.

Not being able to write what you really need and want to write can produce a harried, bottled-up feeling thats difficult to distinguish from general unpleasantness. Initially, the signs of my own grumpiness can be hard for me to spot, but by the eighth or ninth time my husband asks, “What’s gotten into  you?”I know something’s up.

What’s really behind that kind of behavior is me, trying  and failing to put distance between myself and some obligations so I can write what’s really on my mind and get back on track.

2. You’ve reached an entirely new level of lazy.



We’ve all got our laziness “set point.” You’re usually a certain amount of lazy, but lately, you’re reaching heroic, epic levels of tuned-out, I-see-the-garbage-is-overflowing-and-I-don’t-care laziness.

Lurking behind this one is boredom. If you’re not writing enough of what you find interesting or essential, you get bored, and when you’re bored, you get lazy. Simple.



3. You’ve got all the time in the world but all you want to do is surf the Internet.


Uh oh. By the time you hit this stage, you’ve reached a cyclical pattern of not-writingness in which you now clearly have all that you need to get back on track (see: time and a computer) and instead, you’re beaching yourself on the rocky shores of Facebook and Reddit. Or, maybe you’re fooling yourself into thinking you’re doing “research”: hanging out on writers’ forum threads, bouncing from one Wikipedia page to another (and another and another). You’ve become an object at rest that’s going to stay at rest, a victim of the Law of Inertia.

Writing is important to your sense of general contentment, and maintaining a good mood, so how do you get rid of general writing malaise?

Here are some suggestions.

1. Fumble something you can afford to fumble. Unless your home has become a fire hazard, the housework can wait one more day. You don’t need to get a jump on all your blogs for next week and you don’t need to rent a movie tonight. Allowing yourself some space from the rest of your life can be all you need to get back in the game.

2. Write as soon as you feel yourself getting lazy. Instead of shuffling papers or taking another cigarette break, stop mid-shuffle, and try pulling up a blank document, or a pen and pencil, just to see what happens.

3. Baby steps. When you’ve reached writing inertia, you can jolt yourself back into motion with just a tiny bit of effort. (Newton would disagree, but hear me out.) While you’re surfing the Internet like a manic squirrel, take five minutes and tell yourself that you’ll just write one sentence.  See? That wasn’t so hard. Now write another. And another.

Do you get grumpy when you don’t write often enough? (Surely I can’t be the only one.) Share your experience in the comments.

  • MimsyStar

    YES. I definitely get grumpy–first with myself, then with others. I have to commit to writing every day, even if only for a short while. I don’t force myself to write a set number of words/pages per day or a certain number of hours. I just commit to the act itself and generally something happens that I can feel good about.

  • maryj59

    Oh, yes! Thanks for this; I definitely get grumpy when I don’t write. (Nephele Tempest tweeted your post, btw, which is how I’m here.) But do you find there are times you need to take a break from writing? I’m pretty new at this, and I find there’s a fine line between forcing a story (bad), and being disciplined about discovering it (good).

    • Shan

      Thanks for reading! And I think that it’s less about forcing a story out–it’s honestly evaluating whether you’re making time to write the stuff that really, truly matters to you. The stuff that lives inside you. The work that feeds your writing soul. If your story does that, and you’re doing the work of writing (which sometimes means letting it breathe for a while, or tearing the whole thing down and rebuilding it again), then you’re doing exactly as you should be doing, even if you’re not hitting your word count for the day.

      Natalie Goldberg has a fantastic book called Writing Down the Bones, in which she talks about writing as a process like gardening, in which you gather up the scraps of your life, “compost” them and then water them and work them regularly to see what grows! So even when you’re not writing in the strictest sense, when you’re working on what matters… well, that’s what matters.

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  • bthemesandtricks

    I’m suffering from the same thing. This article came in at the right time — now that I’m launching my writing career. Thank you for this wonderful piece.

    • Shan

      Thanks! I’m glad it has helped you! Good luck with embarking on your new career.

  • Natalia Erehnah

    I think not writing is fine. To every thing (phase of writing) there is a season. I just wrote a blog about not writing, and found this wonderful post along the way.

  • P.I. Barrington

    I think I’ve begun to drag myself off the Internet…well okay…NOW I’ve dragged myself off the Internet…okay…okay…NOW…

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