How to write when you don’t feel like writing
Have you ever put off starting your latest blog post or social update because you don't feel like writing? Don't feel bad. We all do it. But there are some simple and effective strategies to get you going.
Hands up if you put off writing a blog post because you don’t feel like writing. I do it all the time. And I love writing.
So why do we tell ourselves we don’t feel like writing? One reason is that writing has a bad reputation as something that should come naturally. And for some people it does. But even those with a natural talent admit the first words on the page rarely resemble the final piece. It’s the pressure for perfection that makes us procrastinate.
The reality is that the more you write, the easier it gets. And once you have words on the page, it’s easier to go back and edit them into something better.
Next time you start telling yourself you don’t feel like writing, follow these tips to get the words flowing.
1. Create the right environment
What are the things that divert your attention when it’s time to start writing? Block them out. Turn off social media. Choose a time when there are no distractions. Get your cup of coffee before you sit down. Take the dog for a walk before you get started. You know what your procrastination points are. Embrace them as normal and then kick them to the curb.
2. Set a deadline
Remember what it was like to do an assignment? Most of us would put it off until the last minute. Only the looming deadline would kick us into some action. Well writing a blog post is your new assignment. Set a realistic deadline for getting each part of your blog post done. And stick to those deadlines, even if you don’t feel like writing. No one is grading your work. But if you skip a deadline you are still cheating yourself.
3. Work in short, structured bursts
The bigger something seems, the more likely we are to put it off. You know what I mean. Think about checking email. You whip through the easy emails. But anything that requires a bit more work rarely gets attended to straight away.
When you don't feel like writing, instead of tackling the task as one big daunting project, break into pieces.
You can break it down by time, words, or even sections. Try each option to see which works best for you. I use all three, depending on where I am in the writing process. During the first draft, I set myself small goals, like write for 20 minutes or write 200 words. When I’m in the final edit, I commit to reviewing one section at a time.
The interesting thing is, once you’ve committed to a small goal, you often find yourself pushing past it. That's because you’ve jumped the starting hurdle and things start to flow.
4. Ask yourself who, what, where, when and why
Writer's block is real. Even when you have a great idea, sometimes you can’t seem to find the right way to get started. Instead of tackling this head on, you might just tell yourself you don't feel like writing. And do something else instead.
If I find myself staring at a blank page for too long, I know it's time to change strategy.
One option that is almost fail-proof is the who, what, where, when and why exercise. All you have to do is think about the piece you're writing and answer the question for each word.
Let’s say you want to write a blog post about SEO for new bloggers:
Who: people who are starting a blog
What: They want to generate search engine traffic with SEO
Where: To their blog
When: From the time they publish their post
Why: To increase the number of readers
Now you turn it into a sentence or short paragraph.
"When you're starting your first blog, getting readers can be challenging. If you want to generate visits via search engines it’s important to incorporate good SEO into your writing. This is more effective if it is in place from the moment you publish the post."
Now you’ve got some words on the page that you can polish during the next edit.
5. Start with dot points
Dot points are a great way to outline your blog post when you don't feel like writing. Start by braining storming a list of ideas. Once you have that list, you can decide which points you want to expand on and which you are happy to let go.
You can then treat each of your dot points as a headline and start expanding.
6. Follow a template
Most blog posts follow a simple structure – introduction, body, conclusion/call to action. When you don't feel like writing, follow a template to get moving.
Try filling in a few words after each section of this general template to get your writing flowing:
1. What is the problem or pain point?
2. How does it affect my reader?
3. How will I solve it?
1. List the key suggestions (try for 8-10, but quality is more important here than quantity)
2. For each suggestion explain what it is and why it is useful
3. Wrap up each suggestion with a sentence showing your reader how to take action
1. Write a sentence reinforcing why the solution you’ve outlined works
2. Provide a call to action for your reader
3. Suggest initial steps they can take to implement that call to action
There is no such thing as an exact template. You need to adjust this for your own style and idea. But it’s a good starting point you can follow to get words on the page. And once you have words on the page, you can start editing them and making them better.
7. Talk to your audience
When in doubt, say it out loud. Imagine you're talking to your ideal audience member about your blog post topic. Make a recording of what you are saying.
Once you’ve finished, transcribe your voice recording. In five minutes of talking, you can create about 1000 words.
Now you have lots of initial ideas, written down and ready to review and edit.
Don't want to transcribe yourself? Try a service like REV and get your notes transcribed by a real person for a bout $1 per minute.
8. Ask questions
This one requires a little bit of planning, but it does help you to get words on the page.
Start by imagining your reader sitting opposite you. Now imagine they're asking you questions about the topic you want to write about. Jot down as many questions as you can think of on the page. Then answer them.
Once you’ve got some questions, the answers should flow. Don't get distracted by the need for perfection. You can come back later and check whether you think the answer is complete and helpful. For now, get the first words out of your head and onto the page.
9. Create an incentive
We’ve been conditioned since childhood to do things we don’t want to do in exchange for a reward. You know what I mean. “If you clean up your bedroom, you can watch TV.” Or “If you wash the dishes I’ll give you an allowance.”
It’s natural that as adults we still enjoy praise and rewards.
There’s no need to fight it. Use this conditioning for your own benefit when you don’t feel like writing. The incentive doesn’t have to be big. It has to be something you want. Like watching the latest episode of your favorite show on Netflix. Or relaxing for ten minutes with a coffee and a chocolate treat. The incentive is something you’d give yourself anyway. But by linking it to your writing task, you are agreeing to delay your gratification until you’ve got the work done.
Give it a try and watch the words flow when a blank page is standing between you and your treat.
10. If you don’t feel like writing, just do it
We’re not curing cancer here. We are writing. Stop giving yourself a hard time. Stop telling yourself you can’t do it. Just write. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. You’re the only person who has to read your first draft. And that’s why it’s called a first draft. Because you get to come back later and make it better.
So no excuses. Open a word processing doc, open your notebook or write on post-it notes. The method isn’t important as long as you start writing. Don’t edit or review. Get the words out of your head and onto the page.
But does any of this actually work when you don't feel like writing?
Well it all sounds good in theory doesn’t it? But does it work? Will it help you when you don't feel like writing?
I got up this morning and set myself a deadline of completing the first draft of this article by lunchtime. Then I turned off my email, shut down Facebook and switched the ringer off on my phone. I jotted down 8 points that I thought would help people who didn’t feel like writing. Then I added the questions the reader would ask under each point and filled in my answers.
I started at 9.20am and at 10.20am I had 1500 words written. So I made a second cup of coffee (I only have one coffee a day, so this was my reward).
I was planning to work in four, 25 minute bursts with five minute breaks between. But once I started, everything kept flowing so I kept going.
I know I change a lot when I get to the second draft. But I’ll tell you more about that in another blog post! The important thing is, I didn’t feel like writing today. I was planning on putting it off by creating Pinterest images instead. But I did it. And it feels great.
Next time you don’t feel like writing, pick one of these strategies and give it a go. Even if you get 100 words on the page, that’s 100 words you didn’t have before.
And PS - after I publish a post, I change things all the time. The greating thing about writing for the online world is you have that freedom.
One of the ways I try to cover the costs of maintaining Digital Decluttered and offer free courses to my audience is via a small number of affiliate partnerships (with tools I genuinely use and love) where I get a small percentage commission on sales made via referral. You don't pay any more for purchasing via my affiliate links - in fact in some cases you even receive a discount. If you click one of my affiliate links, your support is greatly appreciated.