Five Tips For When You’re Struggling to Write

At one of our recent Angles meetings, some writers said they’d been struggling to write regularly. Reasons varied from lack of time and motivation to life just generally taking over. For what it’s worth, here’s what I do to get words down when it doesn’t feel that easy or free:

1. Show up every day

I have a time every day (even just 15 minutes is fine if that’s all I can manage) during which I will be writing. It’s time to show up and write. I don’t speak of it as ‘making’ or ‘stealing’ time. We can’t make time. It just is. We don’t need to steal what we already have – i.e. our own time. Maybe it’s that I claim my own time.

2. Practise your scales

The writing during this time doesn’t have to be on a big project. Actually, this time is usually not devoted to any particular piece of writing. It’s just to write whatever comes to mind. In a way, it’s like when a musician picks up their instrument and plays some warm-up scales and etudes. They don’t plan on performing those scales to great acclaim at a concert. But they still play them to keep their technical fluency in their fingers, ears and mind. That’s what this writing is – scales and etudes. I might think of something to do with a bigger project, but I might not. I might just list what I see in front of me and then, if I run out of things, I turn around and list what I see behind me. Usually something becomes interesting enough that I want to say more.

3. Draw inspiration from those you admire

If I’m really stuck, I pick up a favourite book – usually poetry is easiest for this – and copy a passage I admire. It counts. It’s a way of trying on someone else’s syntax and sentences. It really doesn’t matter that it’s not my original, pristine, crystal clear piece of prose on the page. It matters that I slowed down enough to really think about how another writer has put together a sentence or a stanza. There are so many choices that I notice when I copy someone else’s words. This kind of writing is a very intimate kind of reading.

4. Start with words or phrases you like

Sometimes I just collect words I like. I just list them. Or phrases. And then I free associate – not in full, coherent sentences, but other words or images or sounds.

5. If you’re bored, move on

If I am working on a bigger piece, I skip the boring parts. If I don’t want to write them, then probably no one else will want to read them.

It really doesn’t matter WHAT I write each day during this time, only that I write. All these puzzle pieces find each other eventually. But first I have to show up and let them appear on the page.