How to Make Yourself Write When You Really Really Really Don’t Want To

You’ve been there before.

You’re exhausted. You’re burned out. You’re so sick of work, you almost can’t stand it.

You spend hours on end watching Web Therapy (an online web series starring the hilarious Lisa Kudrow) trying to desperately to avoid the work you need to do.

Oh, and you’d love it if you could take the advice “just take a break” or “go outside for a walk” to help you–you’d LOVE to do that–but it’s just that, you know… you need to get this writing done already.

You just need to.

Whatever it is–whether it’s a blog post, a freelance article, or a revision of that chapter that you’ve been postponing for way way too long–sometimes we just need to get the writing done even when we really really really don’t want to.

So, if you’re in this situation right now, don’t feel alarmed.

It happens all the time.

Sometimes the writing process is just like pulling teeth. Luckily, just like pulling teeth, all you got to do to get yourself to write, when you really really really don’t want to write, is to give yourself a big dose of “writer’s Novocaine:”

1. Relax

If you really really really don’t want to write right now, chances are a lot of the reason behind your reluctance is stress. You’re feeling a lot of pressure to get something done on the deadline, or you’re feeling pressure because you have to live up to someone else’s expectations. You’re probably thinking that if you fail with this one article, novel revision, or blog post you’re career is kaput.

It’s over.

You’ll lose your subscribers, or you’ll lose your freelance gig, or you’ll lose your novel’s plot-line so entirely that you’ll have to start the whole thing from the beginning again.

But I assure you that all of that… is not gonna happen.

So, just relax. No one ever died writing a bad blog post, a bad novel, or a bad freelance article.

You’re gonna be fine. Relax. Plug in your earbuds. Put on some Adele.

And listen to her soft, rich voice as all your tight jaw muscles start to loosen…

2. Numb The Pain

If writing is particularly difficult for you, then you’re going to have to numb the pain of having to write today.

I know, I know, I’m the one who told you to feel all your emotions and not repress them, but sometimes you don’t have the luxury to do this.

When the situation is urgent, sometimes we do need a short-term solution: “numbing” is that short-term solution (although it is NEVER a long-term one.)

I’m assuming that, in this case, whatever writing you need to get done, just needs to get done. So, in this special situation, I’ll give you permission to handle things differently than I would normally recommend.

As you write, try to let go of thoughts and detach from your body for a moment. Try to just let yourself be your fingers tapping the keys and the letters being formed. Allow the writing to be the only thing that exists.

What you are trying to do is with this process is simply disassociating yourself with any uncomfortable feelings or thoughts you are having in order to get the work done. It’s more like you are putting a pause button on all the rest of the stuff going on with you, and you’re just focusing on the writing itself.

When you do this, you might realize that the writing is constantly flowing. It really never stops. Nothing could ever stop it, really.

In effect, you are literally putting the rest of you to “sleep” in order to get the work done.

(But be careful: make sure to get out of “zombie” mode as soon as you’re done. The last thing we need is you walking around completely out of touch with your feelings–and your body–for a prolonged period of time.)

3. Eat All The Ice Cream You Want Afterwards

I remember when I got my wisdom teeth taken out a few years back and I was told, after the surgery, that I could eat nothing but liquids until the wounds healed.

But instead of complaining that I wouldn’t get to have hamburgers and fries for a week, I just had a lot of Vanilla ice cream.

And it was delicious.

If you have to go through the process of writing something you really really really don’t want to write, then at least give yourself a great reward after you’re done.

Maybe you might try writing something completely strange and totally outside of the genre of what you currently write.

Maybe, instead of what you normally write, you can write a short story, a poem, a skit, a play, a musical, a screenplay, a soliloquy, a haiku, a web series, a limerick, a song, or even a fun little nanoism. Write something that would be pure fun, as if you were eating all the ice cream you wanted after your wisdom-teeth surgery.

Then share the fun piece your wrote on a private blog or with your close friends and family!

To conclude: there are times when we just HAVE to write when we really don’t want to.

In those instances, writing is just that thing you have to do because it’s good for your health and well-being.

And if taking care of your health and well-being means you have to avoid eating hard foods for a week and wash out the holes in the back of your jaw with one of those mini-turkey basters, then so be it.

much “open wiiiiiide”


How do you get yourself to write when you really really really don’t want to? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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32 comments on “How to Make Yourself Write When You Really Really Really Don’t Want To

  1. erikamarks says:

    A great post, Ollin–and Yes! We’ve all been there and will be there over and over in the future. There’s no question that even when I’m in the midst of writing a novel–with characters and a plot that I LOVE–there are still nights/sittings when it feels, just like you say, like pulling teeth to get the words down. I think the trap in writing is seeing it as 100% inspiration and passion and not accepting that some days, it’s still a job. I equate it to cooking dinner. I LOVE to cook, I LIVE to cook, but I won’t lie, some days making dinner seems like the biggest chore–it doesn’t mean I don’t still love to cook, or even that the dinner won’t be good, but letting go of that mindset that it always has to be an out-of-body-joyful-experience takes the pressure off–and sometimes I find that’s all it takes to get the, yes, job done.:)

    • Ollin says:

      What a great point Erika! I love the way you put it, just admitting that sometimes writing your novel isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, that sometimes it’s just cubicle-style grunge work is one way to just get the work done.

      Sometimes our passions are not always fun, they’re just work.

  2. Wow, this post hit me at a great time. Having an I-suck-at-writing moments and it’s making me not want to do the writing/reading I need to do.

    Thanks, Ollin.

  3. Christina says:

    Hi Ollin!

    What you said about shutting the rest of you off to write is so true. I think a lot of that is shutting off the book-critic in you as you write, when nothing is good enough and you think it’s never going to get better.

    In this case, get it done and don’t hit delete until you’re in a better frame of mind because I really think that even if we all got Nobel prizes in literature, there would still be passages and sentences we’d cringe at.

  4. I wrote about this on my blog, also, Ollin. Is it summer? Corey Doctorow has some great suggestions. I’m close to finished with my WIP and received some difficult-to-accept criticism which just stalled me in my tracks. Now I’m writing blogs, book reviews, visiting everyone’s new Google+ accounts–anything but write.

    • Ollin says:

      Haha. You know what? Maybe. Everyone going to the beach, going on vacation, and being in the sun, while you decide to go in a dark corner and stare at a laptop screen all day.

      Your inner child is definitely screaming: “LET’S PLAY ALL DAY!” And you’re like:

      “No, inner child.” >Sigh< "We can play for a bit, but not all day."

  5. Oh my goodness…I think one of the best antidotes to this syndrome is to realize I’m NOT the only ONE! This post is so right on. I won’t even tell you how long I’ve been “working” on the rewrite of my first draft of my first novel. I put working in quotation marks because there hasn’t been much work going on as of late. In fact – it’s ridiculous, but everything continually gets in the way. Thank you for putting my dilemma in such a palatable format. I may start working on it one bite at a time and with every bite – a promise of ice cream! 🙂

  6. clarbojahn says:

    Oh this is good. The post and comments. I find that when I don’t want the lap top on to write, I can write long hand. Actually I can usually write and want to write but I don’t always want the to do the computer thing. And if its both, I give in because I’m lucky that’s it’s my hobby. I don’t care if I don’t make money off of writing. I am lucky enough to be retired from my real job and writing is my second career. A career I love and I seldom hit the I really don’t want to write phase.
    Can’t most of us, even the hard core writers take a break? or have a mental health day? or half day?

    • Ollin says:

      Haha, some of us can’t. But if you’re the lucky few who can. Sure, take a break and wait until you’re eager to write!

  7. Ron Curtis says:

    I was listening to a cd the other night by one of our mentor’s and he made a great point. He was referring to writing down any thoughts of inspiration that you have during your day. One of the examples he gave was pulling off to the side of the road and writing down the thought as quickly as possible. He did this at the time of inspiration so that he wouldn’t forget.

    There have been many times when I personally have had a thought of inspiration which would be the perfect blog post. However, sadly, I have missed writing them down in order to act upon them.

    When I find myself drawing a blank on what to write, it is often because I have missed one of those inspirational moments. Truth be told, as you become more and more effective at blogging/writing, those inspirational thoughts begin to flow more abundantly!

    Great post! Keep them flowing…

    • Ollin says:

      Ron, if I had to pull over for every new idea i get while I drove I would never get anywhere.

      I usually just write down the ideas that really stick to me. If they’re not persistent, then usually it means that it isn’t the best idea for me.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  8. Perfect timing Ollin!
    Just when I have been literally forcing myself back to the keyboard!
    I think that so much of what you say is true for anything that we need to do but don’t want to. Writing has a special place because so many of us need to do it, don’t want to, and want to all at the same time.
    Thank you!

  9. Tammy says:

    Good job Ollin. You’re clearly motivating others out of the “not writing” issue. There is so much to accomplish beyond our own writing by keeping at it – a way to motivate others but more importantly as Natalie Goldberg says, ” a way to accomplish our own sanity”.

  10. I love this — I am definitely in a can’t write mode right now, but I’ve never tried the numbing/ice cream route. I think I may have a break through coming soon. Great suggestions! 🙂

  11. winn taylor says:

    Athletics have always played a fundamental role in my life. Sometimes writing feels like those mornings I wake up and look at my sneakers and think to myself, “I’ll skip it today”. Thankfully the athlete steps in and says, “put on the sneakers and get your butt outside!” Though I may not produce a bounty of work on the days that feel forced, I feel good knowing that I wasn’t defeated by my thoughts -that I can keep my commitment to myself. A glass of wine at the end of that day is oh so sweet!

    • Ollin says:

      Great points Winn! I know what you mean about running. Sometimes I’m just not as motivated to run as to write. LOL. Good thing I’m not a professional athlete. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  12. Julie M says:

    Oh my! That photo is so me! I mean right down to the spectacles. Uncanny! That’s exactly how my writing space looks! Indeed, I am exhausted. I am burned out. I’m sick of work…and yeah, I was hoping you would say it was ok to take a break. Funny how easy it is to update my status on Facebook and comment on those of my friends. Yet when I sit to write, the blinking cursor mocks. I can almost swear I’ve heard it snicker at me. I guess numbing and ice cream don’t sound so bad after all. Take it awa, Adele!

    Thanks Ollin!

  13. W.G. Cambron says:

    This article is pretty helpful. I like the ‘numb your pain’ angle. When I was in efeds (wrestling online, basis for my web series today) I had to write atleast one episode a week. I remember one time taking a shot of whiskey (wow a teenager drinking, anyone see that coming? lol) and wrote, very quickly, a nice scene that was considered one of my best.
    But the best advice was the ice cream part :). It’s why I don’t like to do notes/plotlines for my stories. I go down a path and run ina different way. I get me some ice cream!!

  14. Brilliant post Ollin. Just what I needed this morning as I diligently avoid the three articles due, my non fiction wip AND my fiction wip by surfing the net looking for ways to avoid…..avoidance. My inner child is busy telling me I should really go over the road, grab a DVD, some M&M’s and kick back by the fire.

  15. Lake says:

    Great post – thank you. Sometimes a silent muse needs water and exercise, so I hydrate, spend an hour in the gym, and return. Usually he’s all fired up and eager after that. So maybe this is something other writers can try, too?

  16. Krissy Brady says:

    Great post! I definitely agree with the “relax” point. I work at home, so I sometimes find it very difficult afterwards to find the energy to write. I find that if I take an hour in between work and writing to just sit and enjoy the quiet, it unwinds my mind, and my energy comes back naturally. Watching a movie or a television show, or reading a book has also helped me to get my drive back, especially if it relates to something that I’m writing about. Creating incentives has helped me too, though I find that writing is usually my reward after work. I’m not sure my incentives for finishing my writing tasks, since I always, so very badly, want to be writing. 🙂

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