Learn the Ropes: When the Words Won't Come

Everyone else seems gung-ho to write, but you're totally stuck. What do you do?

Full disclosure: I signed up to write this blog post with no idea what I was going to talk about. As the days passed, "write YA Buccaneers blog post" stayed on my to-do list, but I wasn't any closer to coming up with a topic. Finally, yesterday, I sat down to write because I had to—not because I was bursting with inspiration. And I sat. And I sat. And then I thought...why not write about that?

What do you do when the words won't come?

We're entering the second full week of our Fall Writing Bootcamp. Judging by the activity on the Facebook group, a lot of our participants are raring to go. We've seen a lot of writing progress already. A lot of hours logged. A lot of new words written. A lot of chapters revised. Everyone is great at cheering each other on, too. 

But are you currently staring at your computer the way I was yesterday (i.e., like it was a fresh spiderweb, but I couldn't see the spider anywhere nearby, which meant it was probably lying in wait to attack me the moment I got close enough...), when I had to write this blog post but still didn't know what I wanted to say? Chances are, you're not alone. 

Words don't always come on command. Sometimes the perfect writing conditions aren't enough. Sometimes a looming deadline isn't enough. Not even signing up for a motivational or organizational challenge like the YAB Bootcamp will always be the magic switch that unleashes a torrent of progress. So what can you do when you want to write, but it feels like there's nothing there? 

Here are a few things that have worked for me in the past:

  • Forget about the thing you think you *should* be writing. Write the first thing that comes to mind, instead. Fiction, journaling, poetry, song lyrics, grocery list...
  • Forget about writing entirely. Find another creative or enriching or well-refilling pursuit for the day. Buy an adult coloring book. Take a yoga or dance class. Listen to your favorite album. Binge-watch Netflix. Cook a complicated and delicious meal. READ. 
  • Take a walk, and try not to look at your phone the whole time. 
  • Do the chores that are taunting you as you agonize in your computer chair. The writing will still be there after you've washed the dishes, vacuumed, changed the sheets, and made lunch for the week. 
  • Talk to a trusted friend or loved one—writer or not—about what, exactly, is blocking you. Is it a specific scene you can't get right? A character who isn't behaving? A motivation problem (yours, or a character's)? More than once, I've had a breakthrough just from opening up to a sympathetic ear. Plus, it's not uncommon for someone to happen to say the right thing to spark those creative juices.
  • Stress less. Unless you're up against an urgent deadline, taking the slow route to a finished draft isn't the end of the world. And remember that every writer's process is different! You're not less than because you're stuck. You're just...stuck. And no one stays stuck forever. 

That last one is big, so I'll repeat it: no one stays stuck forever. 

When the words won't come, it can feel like the end of the world—or at the very least, the end of your (real or hoped-for) writing career. But sometimes, the moment just isn't right. And that's completely okay. It's just part of the writing process.

What are your tips for pushing past that stuck feeling? Share in the comments!