How to Write on Days You Don’t Feel Like Writing


By Caryn Tan

Writing is one of those things that seems so easy but try making it a habit. It feels like repetitively chasing someone who is just not interested. Or at least, that’s how it feels to me! Reflecting on my journey, here are some of the things I’ve learned about making it easier.

1: Journal to Clear Your Head

Over the past nine months, I've written three pages of stream-of-consciousness journaling and at least 250 words almost every day. I wake up, do ten minutes of breathwork and go straight into journaling. This writing is not meant to be read again. The whole purpose is to transfer thoughts onto paper to clear the head. It’s a bit like maintenance, cleaning off rust and bits that have gotten stuck and helps with my actual writing that I do later in the day. If you want to build your writing practice, I highly encourage you to journal, too.

2: Question Your Procrastination

Some days writing the publishable words feels easy. Inspiration flows from my brain down into my fingers, clatters onto my keys and appears on my screen.

But some days I just do not feel like writing.

Lately, I have had more days like this. I suspect it is because at this stage of my writing practice I have gotten a lot of the ‘lower hanging fruit’ on paper—thoughts I may have had for a while that were ripe and ready. With each day of writing, I get higher on the tips of my toes, stretch my extended arm even further and inch towards those harder-to-reach fruits: the higher up, loftier and harder topics. These are the topics that feel closer to my calling—whether it relates to my work in community building or the future of work as it pertains to life and our purpose. Or deeper inner work stuff.

Or more truly, the novel I want to write someday. The one that does not yet have a plot. The one that is dormant and waiting for its turn.

It is good to reflect on the reason for procrastination, because it often indicates there is something deeper to explore. I procrastinate when the task I have in front of me is something I don’t enjoy, something I don't know how to do or—more often the case lately—something that means a lot to me. And for that reason, it feels immensely high stakes and daunting even to begin.

On days you don’t feel like writing, take a pause to reflect on why. Is it because you don’t actually want to write or because you so badly want to? And have those reasons changed since the last time you didn’t feel like writing?

3: Ignore the Devil on Your Shoulder

When I sat down to write after going for my morning walk recently, I felt a strong push back. A deep resistance inside me that said 'no, I don't want to write today!' Suddenly my chair did not feel comfortable. My sweater felt too warm. I started wondering if my housemate could use a hug.

I almost relented. I was so close to clicking the Discord app on my laptop, propelling myself into dopamine land for the rest of the day. But there was another voice in me that said, ‘You've been so diligent about building the habit to write. 250 words is not that difficult’. So I fought the devil on my shoulder, did a loop of the flat and sat back down. I thought the way to make this easy was to write about not wanting to write. You could try this, too.

4: Acknowledge Your Ambition

Becoming known for my writing is a strong yet hidden part of who I am. And the possibility of rejection feels too overwhelming, especially when I have put in genuine effort. I have never shared this in public but I want to become a published fiction writer some day.

I only recently discovered how visceral this truth is for me. Or maybe I only recently allowed myself to acknowledge this truth—because I suspect that, deep down, I always knew. I’ve spent my entire life reading fiction. I’ve lived in five different countries, observing the lives of others and thinking about the human experience, our emotional lives and the journey of life.

One of the things I enjoy most about reading a book is the acknowledgements section detailing family, friends, loved ones, agents and role models that made the work of art possible. And I always imagine what I'd write in mine. Thinking about this makes the writing engine in me whirl. Do you have a source of motivation you can go back to when you don’t feel like writing? You could tap into that.  

5: Identify Your Why

Admitting to myself how much I want to pursue a creative profession that is immensely nebulous and not well-paid is damn scary.

Writers don’t choose this practice for the money. This art I so yearn to master is an authentic practice that requires the courage to feel into the nuances of the human condition: earnestness of ambition, beauty of aspiration, excitement of love, pains of suffering and the other myriad of emotions. It is scary to truly feel and to try and describe those feelings with a global audience. But just imagine how connected one can feel when others resonate with the art we create and share. I think this is why it appeals so strongly to me. I yearn to connect deeply with my people all over the world. Figure out why writing appeals to you and how you can keep that motivation accessible for days when you’d rather not write.

6: Find Your People

It takes training to become a master of this art that I so badly want to be good at. I have never been in a community that has enabled this until I stumbled upon Foster. This community changed my life so wholly and truly. Foster enabled me to connect with a deep community of writers, both online and in-person, who I can genuinely call good friends, and it gave me a safe space to solidify my practice of writing and editing almost daily. The people you have around you really matter, so if you want to develop a writing practice, find a community like Foster. Maintaining motivation and discipline to show up consistently is not easy. The accountability of a strong community can make all the difference.

7: Keep Your Focus on What Matters

I have discovered I need to do the writing equivalent of the laps Olympic swimmers do when they train. And while I have made a commitment to not using social media in the mornings before I write and edit, I have to remind myself to take this time seriously. This means honouring the space I have cleared to actually start writing that novel rather than shadow boxing on topics like writing about not wanting to write. Only you can know if you are working on the things that matter to you. Courageously ask yourself if you are and what you are going to do about it.

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