Craft,  Creativity,  Motivation

How To Write When You Don’t Feel Like It

By Christine Hennebury

Do you fall into the trap of thinking that you have to be motivated in order to write?

Writing is often *easier* when we are motivated but it is indeed possible to write without feeling like it.

I’ve found that a lack of motivation to write often has little to do with writing itself and, instead, just reflects how challenging it is for us to switch tasks.

Switching tasks is hard.

When you are already doing something, even if it is just sitting on the couch, the energy cost to start doing something else can feel prohibitive.

If the new task is something that you feel apprehensive about, or reluctant to do,  it makes it even harder to expend the energy to get started.

This is one of the reasons why you might sort of want to write, or feel that you need to write, or want to meet a writing obligation but you end up frittering away your time instead of getting those words out.

 Background images of a stack of books, a cup of coffee, an old clock and a typewriter. There is a circle in the foreground with text that reads '10 Minute Novelists" "How to Write When You Don't Feel Like It." :By Christine Hennebury

You can write without motivation

You don’t have to *feel like* doing the things that are ahead of you. That is not a necessary part of the process.

We do dozens of things everyday without any feeling of motivation. Part of the reason we can do things like cooking are doing laundry or brushing our teeth or answering email, it’s not only that it’s relatively easy, but there isn’t a lot of investment in the result.

So we understand that we don’t need to feel like doing it in order to get something done.

For mundane tasks, that doesn’t seem to bother us much.

For creative tasks, though, we often feel that working without inspiration or motivation is somehow cheating. Or, that our writing will somehow be bad because we didn’t feel inspired when the words came out.

The thing is, though, we are not trying to write a masterpiece every time we sit to write.

Maybe we are just practicing (like a martial artist doing kicking drills).

Or maybe we are working on a first draft, just trying to get our ideas out into a more tangible form.

Even if we are revising, we don’t have to make it perfect, we just have to make little improvements.

We don’t need to have a lightning bolt of inspiration, we just need to decide to write.

I recognize that this is an oversimplification but there is still truth in it.

You can decide to write no matter how you feel about it.

That being said, since it is hard to switch tasks, you might need to trick yourself into it. Here are a few tips to help you:

  1. Set a start time (and place?)

Pick a time to start writing today. Announce it to yourself, set an alarm, announce it on social media, do whatever you need to do to make it a commitment.

“I will write for at least 10 minutes at 2PM.”

(If you pick a place then the statement would be more like “I will write for at least 10 minutes at 2PM while sitting in the car waiting to pick up M from school.”

Setting the parameters like that takes the decision-making out of the process. Once those decisions are out of the way, there are fewer obstacles between you and the page.

2. Remember that it doesn’t have to be good

You have to write something, anything, before you can revise it into something good.

So, even if you can’t find the perfect words, write any old words on the page. If you need to,add some notes about how you want to improve them.

Any given sentence is not the sum total of who you are as a writer, so it’s okay to create some truly awful strings of words to hold your thoughts in place until you are ready to refine them.

3. It doesn’t have to be anything specific

A lot of time when we are preparing to write we get stuck in some either-or thinking. So, if we can’t bring ourselves to work on the project at hand we don’t work on any project at all.

But the truth is that ANY writing prepares us to do other writing.

So, if you can’t work on your current manuscript, do a journal entry, or work on a short story. Write a description or a complaint or a list.

Even if you start by writing nonsense, you are warming yourself up for the writing that is to come. And that is far better preparation for writing that sitting there wishing you could get some words out.

So, here’s the plan:

Spend a few minutes reminding yourself that, for now, you can write whatever you want and that it doesn’t have to be any good.

Set an alarm for sometime in the near future when you were going to get started. Get all your materials in place and when the alarm goes off, try not to think too much, just get to writing.

Even if you have a project that is on a deadline and you are unable to work on it at the moment, doing exercises like this can help – either working on your project in small chunks or working on something else until your project doesn’t feel as challenging.

Write like you’ve run out of plates

If you hadn’t done the dishes today but it was suppertime, you might quickly wash a few plates  to get you through the meal. You can always do the rest of the dishes after the meal – even if you do them a few a time.

When you have something to write, you can decide to write a few words to get you past the immediate challenge and then you can organize the rest of your work 10 minutes at a time.

Good luck! Write on!o

About the author:

Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her  hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her  at  or visit her on Facebook .