The Days When You Don’t Feel Like Writing

Those are the days you have to write.

Even if it’s nothing, even if it’s crap, you’ve got to carve the words onto the page. Even if it’s only a hundred words, even if you only get to move the mountain by a half-an-inch, you’re still nudging the needle, still keeping that story-heart beating, still proving to yourself and to the world that this is who you are and what you do.

They say you can’t get blood from a stone but squeeze a stone hard enough, you’ll get blood.

Blood wets the gears. Blood makes the grass grow.

Effort. Work. Movement. Motion.

The days you don’t want to run, you have to run.

The days you don’t want to get out of bed are the days you must get out of bed.

The days you don’t think you can fly are the ones you gotta jump off the cliff.

Writer means writing. Even if it’s just a moment in the narrative, even if it’s just one thought orchestrated and set gently on the page. An avalanche is snowflakes. An ocean is all droplets. Our life is measured in seconds, our work measured in words, and so you have to put the words down.

The act creates momentum. Writing begets writing begets writing.

The lack of act has its own momentum, too — don’t write today, and tomorrow you wonder if this is really who you are, if this is what you’re meant to do, and so the next day you think it’s just not happening, the Muse isn’t there, the inspiration hasn’t lit a fire under your ass yet, the rats don’t feel like they’re gnawing at you and oh, hey, other writers — well, they’re all talented and driven and they’d never think of sitting down and not writing and maybe that’s who you are, not a writer but rather, Not A Writer, and so the gap in your effort cracks and pops and widens like a broken jaw, a yawning mouth, and soon all you see is the broken teeth of your efforts, broken dreams there in the dark of the mind and the back of the throat, and what you Want to do is lost beneath the illusion of what you Didn’t — or what you Can’t — do.

We fight that inertia, we fight the fear and the doubt by writing.

The words you write right now are words you can fix later.

The words you don’t write today are a curse, a hex, a black hole painted white.

You think that forcing it is counterproductive, that it means nothing, that you’ll just spit mud and blood onto the paper — and you might be right, but you might be wrong. Might be gold in them thar hills, might be a cure for what ails you in those droplets of blood. You don’t know. You can’t know. You’re you — your own worst judge, your own enemy, your greatest hater.

If you’re dying in the snow, no matter how much it hurts, you’ve gotta get up and walk.

If you’re drowning in the deep, no matter how hard it is, you’ve gotta hold the air in your lungs until your chest feels like it’s on fire and you’ve gotta swim hard for the surface.

Writing is the act of doing. Surviving. Living. Being.

From nothing into something. The word of the gods spoken aloud and made real, signal in noise, order in chaos, Let There Be Words and then there were Words.

On the days it’s hard to write are the days it’s most important to write.

That’s how you know who you really are.

That’s how you know this is what you’re meant to do.

Wake up.

Get up.

Write.

111 comments

  • It’s what I do too…mostly screenwriting BUT if I’m not in the mood for screenwriting, I write poetry…if I’m not in the mood for poetry, I write in my journal. If anyone has time to critique a short story(mystery) and is not in the NYCmidnight short story contest…I need a read!

  • Funny, I was just thinking how I really didn’t feel much like writing anything tonight. “I’ve earned a night off,” I thought. Kick in the ass taken, time to write.

  • GAH! Where were you last week?!
    I practically gave up on the whole idea of writing because of a hard time moving through a chapter. I resorted to drawing images from the text – it requires little brain power while staying close to the characters.
    Now I have my manuscript assessment back for book 1, I feel inspired and energised again.
    This blog is going up on the ‘Wall of Infinate Wisdom’ – I’ll need it again no doubt.
    Peace!

  • I’ve got a friend who’s having trouble; with confidence, with getting started with finishing anything. I told her, set little goals. Write 100 words today. 200 words tomorrow. Any words. Then put them together. 300 words. 400 words. Work it up to something you’re proud of. Then do it every day. Finish the story.

  • Hello, what year is this? I live in 1838. I grab my pen nib and inkwell and attack the beast of the empty page and, though my oil lamp sputters and my candle flags, yon beast shall nae stop me scribbles. And yea, e’en when the grey cells wobbles and the words be drier than a day old whiskey bottle, I must carry on the task. Time I went me way. Much luck with your beastie machine that do the writin’ fer ye. Wendig. Sounds Welsh ta me.

    Translated – when I’m not writing about 1838, I’m researching 1838. That’s me – Tom 1838. Thanks for the poke. Best to all.

  • I don’t feel like writing a comment – the ‘like’ button up there works just fine – but here I am, writing. Excellent post. Do you often have days that you don’t feel like writing, Mr. Wendig? Somehow I think not.

  • This is exactly what I needed. I wasn’t going to read this article, but then I did and it was exactly what I was feeling. Thanks Chuck, from a 17 year old Writer with a capital W.

  • I read the first part of this and thought: pfffft. No way. Some days I DESERVE to not write, like on those crappy mean-red days that nothing is going right and the last thing I want to do is sit down and make the effort to get into my character’s head. BUT then I read the middle section of this post and realized that yes, once I open that chasm of NOT WRITING, it tends to get wider and wider until a week has passed and I can’t even remember where my chapter was going. The best thing is to drag myself over the cracks and keep going up the mountain.

  • I used to write endlessly until I quit my job to help my two daughters plan their marriages. I even had a story published in an e-magazine. That was over a year ago. Now, for some reason, I have yet to become inspired to pick up a pen and start writing again. I keep a journal with me to write down ideas when I have them, and I do have plenty, but just feeling like I have anything worth turning into a real story or even trying to find a plot for my ideas, I find so daunting anymore, I freeze up whenever I pick up my notebook to start writing, even when I know before I start the story I have in mind should ultimately be very good. If only I could get it from my brain through my fingers to the paper.
    The question is how do I get myself over this “simple?” but paralyzingly paradox?

  • Dude, you are the absolute shiznit.

    Can I have your permission to use this in my writing class? I want to have my students form a circle a engage in a little writing therapy, and I think having each of them read a section of this would really fire them up. We’re in that point where they could really use some of this.

  • This year – excuse the cliche – I have had an epiphany.

    All the years since having an inkling that I want to do this, that I might allow myself to think it possible, they’ve all been training for this year. At the time they hurt, those moments when you feel the world has enough sorrow without you throwing your word tripe into the mix. But there were tiny moments, speckles of euphoria; a sentence, some dialogue, or (very rarely) a whole paragraph that make you proud, and those moments speak to your soul, and you know it’s all worth it.

    I have finally started to put into practice everything I knew I should’ve been doing. All the half finished stories, the abandoned and derelict novels, have all taught me something. And now I can finally appreciate them, because this year I feel ready, in a way I never have before. I will finish a novel this year, it may take the whole year but I’ll finish it, and that will be the threshold, from there, there is no way but forward, and the idea excites me like a kid at Christmas.

    I’d also like to acknowledge the help that this site (and therefore Chuck) has given me, with some of the greatest (and dare I say, profound) advice since Bradburys: Zen in the Art of Writing.

    Thanks Chuck!

  • Been in an awful slump for several weeks. Woke up today thinking I might as well set fire to the crappy story.
    Now I will write, more crap no doubt , but I will get some words done…. promise. Oh and Thanks. Can you please come round and kick me on a regular basis????

  • Yup. Learned this one the hard way. Leave it too long and not writing becomes a habit. I’ve noticed when I start not wanting to write too, when it’s something I’m not sure about and can’t see clearly. The ‘connecting the dots’ scenes which can way too easily go off at a tangent. I know where I want to go, it’s just the getting there part : / But even if I get in an hour and a couple of paragraphs, so long as I keep going I’ll get through it. Bribery helps 😉

  • It is by will alone I set my fingers in motion. It is by the tapping of keys that thoughts acquire freedom, the pages acquire words, the words become a story. It is by will alone I set my fingers in motion.

  • Something I’ve always wondered: What do you do when writing means staring at a wall, dreaming and jotting down an occasional note? I’m at a point where I’ve done a first draft, deemed it irredeemable shit, and am plotting and filling in background so I can get it right the second time around.

    So do I type out a few short stories while I’m thinking this through? Is it a good idea to work on two projects at once that way?

    • I found I needed something to keep me in the habit of writing every day, so working on another project worked well for me. Rather the distraction that involved writing regularly than no writing at all.

    • I’m a great believer in flitting around between projects, (except when I’m on deadline, she says hastily just in case her editor happens to read this…). I find it can get me past a slump or a roadblock, just by taking my mind somewhere else for a bit. It doesn’t work for everyone – some people need total immersion in one story at a time – but it does for me.

    • I’ve found that having a second (or third!) project on the back burner can be a lifesaver. If I get stuck on my primary project I can sit and think about it for a while, mentally programming myself to think more about it in the background, then I go and work on my secondary project. I find that doing this really does let my mind work things out, so when I go back to my primary something suggests itself and I’m ready to go again, refreshed and motivated.

  • How in the holy heck did you KNOW, Chuck? That these words were the exact words that I and – judging from the comments – a ton of other people needed to hear right this very minute?

    Progress on my work-in-(pah!)progress in the last week or so can be compared to the way a rabbit craps (i.e. tiny little word-pellets that lie there in an unsightly pile in the wilderness of the novel as a whole.) I’ve kept going because I figured even rabbit-crap is better than nothing at all – but I just needed someone wise to confirm that attitude is okay. Otherwise I’m just trying to stay positive staring at a meadow full of rabbit crap.

    Thanks Chuck! *sends virtual choc-chip cookies through cyberspace*

    • Wendy, LOVE the image there! That’s exactly how I feel sometimes. I think I’m going to do a collage of that, with the caption “WRITE, dammit! Even if it’s rabbit crap!” ‘Cause I figure eventually some of that rabbit crap might turn into a golden plot-bunny!

  • Writers write.

    You can have the habit of writing, or the habit of not-writing. Only one habit puts words on pages. If you want words – your words – on pages, you know what you must do to get them there.

    I choose to write.

  • I feel moved to put forth an opposite point of view, here. I know “write every day even when you don’t feel like it” works for many people. It doesn’t work for all. I hate days that I don’t/can’t write and I’m always thinking about it. But there are days when it can’t happen. Sometimes it’s from a physical sickness (I suffer migraines, and the only thing worse than trying to write with a migraine is feeling guilty when I choose NOT to write with a migraine because I’ve heard so many people say you HAVE to write every day and screw those stupid physical limitations!). Some days it just isn’t going to happen from, well, life. And some days a person just needs to take a break and regroup.

    • wysewomon, I so hear you. Sometimes I do take a break from writing because I need a brain-break. I just did a two-day Pinterest marathon, finding pictures of people to use for character inspiration, and for landscapes and fantasy pictures to pique my brain. I do this occasionally (maybe once a month or so) while I let my mind work on problems in the background. And sometimes, I just sleep through the day… but then I’m ready to go back to work. I really do think there are two valid sides to the write/don’t write issue, though I do generally come down on the “write” side . 😉 But even if all you do is jot down a couple of notes about what you’re writing, I consider that to be WRITING. If two sentences or two words are all you can cope with, but those two words will remind you later, then they’re worth their weight in gold.

      • True. And I actually consider the time I lie on the couch staring into space *thinking* about writing to be as much writing as putting down the words on the page.

        • Very true! I just spent some time reviewing my scenes with an eye to what their purpose is as opposed to what the action is, and realized I had some things to fix. (Plot holes. Worse than sinkholes, don’tcha know!) Now I have to sit down and seriously think about what to do about them. And that is very much a part of the writing process.

    • Thanks.

      I was trying to articulate something similar here, but you put it really well. “The only thing worse than trying to write with a migraine is feeling guilty when I choose NOT to write with a migraine”

      Sometimes it is not healthy, practical, or even physically possible to write every day. For the days when your main obstacle is that you don’t WANT to write, this post is gold. If you’ve ever had a day where you literally CAN’T write, for whatever reason, then…well, this post is kind of a guilt trip.

      Personally, I don’t find it useful to keep driving my head into the same brick wall if I have a problem with a scene. I will take a day off and think about it. I’m still working on the project, and I might jot down notes, but sometimes you do actually need a strategic break to understand how to move forward.

      • Exactly, Laura! I missed the mark on my reply, but you hit it square in the gold. There is a big difference between *not wanting* to write and *being incapable*, and if a migraine doesn’t qualify for the latter then I don’t know what does. There are physical and mental reasons why sometimes we just cannot do it, and we should not feel or be made to feel guilty for it. If we’re not healthy (in whatever capacity you choose to view it) then we should not compromise our health. Making ourselves sick is not the way to go. Been there, done that – and if you need an explanation, I’ll be glad to email my story on that count!

        Some days I can just power through. YMMV. If you can do it, and you want to, then do it. If you can’t, that is not an excuse, it’s a reason, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Take the time you need and go back to it later. Some days my arthritis won’t let me type. Do I feel guilty? No. Frustrated? Heck yes. But a disability is a disability.

        If I’m having a problem, such as fighting with a scene, I usually just go to work on another scene. Or I may switch to another WIP, I can always come back later, and often I find my mind has worked something out while I wasn’t breathing over its shoulder. But taking a strategic break to *think* about it, IMHO, is as much writing the story as actually putting the words on paper. You have to have one to get to the other, not?

      • This, too. I spent almost 3 years banging my head against a novel–must have churned out well over 100K words–that ended up having the wrong plot. Maybe all those words were necessary to bring me to the point where I could see what the plot needed to be and maybe they weren’t. Once I hit the right plot, the 1st draft took me 4 weeks.

  • THANK-YOU for this, Chuck. I’m a playwright and a father and work an intense arts admin job on top of my theatre work and family life. I encounter many days where I just don’t find the time to write despite knowing that it is very important that I do just that. You’ve succinctly said what my brain knows and what my heart feels whenever I find myself in this place. I’m going to print out this post and place it in my writing space so that I never forget.

  • Thank you for saying this. I work with the goal of two pages a day, it’s low enough to hit consistently and it takes the pressure off me in a way that means I can, and do write more but I know as long as I hit that minimum, I am consistently producing.

  • Yeah. After reading the comments above (and responding to a few), I’m going to print this out and post it on my work area (somehow – there are no walls, so…). I’m also going to print out copies and hand them out at my Writers Group. We’re meeting for the second time this Saturday!

    Did I mention this blog is awesome? It is! Thanks so much for the inspiration, Chuck!

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