“I don’t have time to write.”

“Everything else seems to come first, and I never get to the writing.”

“Even when I have a few minutes to write, I stare at the blank page.”

“I’m just not that excited about anything I’m working on.”

“I’ll be better about meeting my writing schedule next week.”

Do any of these words sound familiar to you? They do to me. I’ve used them all as justifications for not writing, most of them recently.

I am currently teaching a course I’m calling, Iron Author, and the purpose of the course is to kick-start the writing efforts of those of us in the class, myself included. Each week we have a series of prompts and exercises and time to share. The general idea of the class is this: 1) The best way to get back to writing is to actually write SOMETHING; and, 2) Sometimes it is a great thing to be forced to write things outside of our comfort zone because it initiates a whole new thought pattern which can be a huge benefit to getting “unstuck.”

But wait…

It is pretty standard advice: “Just write something. Anything! But get your pen (or keyboarding fingers) MOVING!” And, I give it because I believe in it. More often than not, just gaining some forward momentum will really help you get out of a resistance-fueled writing funk.

But there is another kind of advice I could give you, if the phrases above hit a little too close to home, and this bit of advice is a bit more counter-intuitive.

Here it is: “Don’t write anything, at all. Do something else. Forget writing.”

“ACK!!!” as the cartoon version of Cathy Guiswite would say. “Are you seriously telling me to walk away from the blank page?”

Yes. I am. But, within reason.

Sometimes, the best way to re-ignite your passion for writing is to do something else. Something new. Something stimulating. Something that makes your conscious brain forget you have been stuck on page 250 of that novel for seven years.

Here are a few ideas:

  • For me, a great way to take a break from writing is to dive into learning something brand new. I spent yesterday learning about chickens.
    For me, a great way to take a break from writing is to dive into learning something brand new. I spent yesterday learning about chickens.

    Learn about something new. For me, this manifests itself as the “hobby of the moment.” It is where I dive into learning all about something brand new, just because I want to learn about it. I spent yesterday reading about chickens, for example, with the idea of perhaps raising a few for eggs and entertainment. At other times I’ve learned about solar and wind energy options, gardening, woodworking, sailing, and a whole host of other topics that interest me. Some of them became actual hobbies, others were limited to head-knowledge only. It doesn’t matter. What matters is this: When I jump into a new topic, I have to concentrate on this NEW thing because it is foreign and unfamiliar, and that gives my brain a rest from the all-too-familiar world of my stuck story or novel (or blog or podcast). This also leads into the next suggestion…

  • Read something you would not normally read or write. If you love historical fiction, pick up a romance. If you are a sci-fi buff, pick up a classic novel. If you read only fiction, pick up a book of non-fiction that focuses on something you’ve never thought of as an interest. Read a magazine about architecture, or baking, or knitting, or boat building. Find something you have absolutely NO knowledge of, and just dive in. Read deeply. Don’t skim. Don’t hurry. Get lost in some other word space.
  • Go somewhere new, see something new, or go somewhere familiar and see it slowly with new eyes. I recently talked to a fellow writer about her essay on riding a bike again after 40 years. We discussed how different even the familiar sights of the neighborhood look when you are riding a bike, rather than driving through in a car. That’s one example of what I’m saying here: Make your mind “see” the familiar in a new way. Or, just go somewhere brand new, and take your time exploring. A museum. A gallery. A town or city you’ve driven by, an exit you’ve passed on the interstate but never taken, a side-street you’ve never traveled down.
  • Engage in a non-writing creative activity. I have several guitars, even though I’m not very good at playing them. I have paints and an easel and brushes, though I’m not a very good artist. I have planter boxes and flower beds, though my thumb has never been as green as I’d like it to be. I’m a pretty good cook. I take decent photographs. I enjoy tinkering with fixing things, or at least taking them apart if they are beyond repair. Doing something you aren’t very good at, but that you enjoy, allows you to indulge a certain creative instinct, without the pressure of being good. My writing is too important, to me, to just shrug it off, but if I paint a lousy landscape, it isn’t so devastating.

What about you? Do you have any activity that helps you “unplug” from your writing? Is there anything you do that gives your conscious brain a break from your main creative projects and allows your sub-conscious mind the freedom to work things out “behind the scenes?” If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section…

When You Can’t Find Time to Write, Do Something Else