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Feeling Stumped? Here are Five Useful Actions for when You’re Unmotivated to Write

It’s a terrible, and sadly, very common position many writers find themselves in. When the words aren’t flowing from the pen like they used to, there are steps you can take to become motivated and productive once again. Let’s get started.

1. Be Kind to Yourself

For some of us, this is much easier said than done. Kindness is a virtue that we pass onto others. Being creatively stumped is frustrating and difficult, leading to the pitfall of self-blame. When your creative bulb is dim, it’s important to remember that taking jabs at yourself will never solve anything. Rather, listening to yourself and what you need is fundamental towards reigniting your creative spark.

A strong sense of self, and a healthy love of self, forms the foundation of all relationships we build. Investing in yourself is an investment in every aspect of your life. Besides a desire to get writing, what do you need right now? It’s okay to take it easy and indulge when you are feeling bad. Eat a treat you love. Plop yourself in front of the television and binge-watch to your heart’s content. Remind yourself that you are loved, by you. When you are tired, you need to rest. Just remember that it’s unhealthy to use a lack of creativity as a crutch.

There is a delicate razor’s edge between making excuses and practicing self-love. I find that sometimes, what’s best is showing yourself tough love. For example, “I love myself, so I’m going to exercise for an hour”. Or, “Since I love myself, I’m going to draw a hot bath tonight, and then I will wake up early and go for a walk tomorrow morning”. Try to be firm and disciplined with your kindness, and create balance. Surges in creativity and motivation come when you take care of yourself.

A photo from a small hike I treated myself to in St. Ives, England

2. Set up time to think

You may choose to strictly schedule these moments. However, I find that creativity can’t be forced. It can however, be encouraged. I try to harness the value of small moments and predict when I think my mind will be most active during my day. Ask yourself, are there certain, or memorable times when your brain is buzzing? Can’t think of any? Don’t panic.

Personally, my brain goes wild during and after my workout. Without much to focus on besides keeping my feet moving, and breathing, jogging on the treadmill is a time that I dedicate to reflection and thought. Think about whatever you want. I tend to think about how my day is going, how I’m feeling and why, what I want for dinner, anything. Giving your brain opportunities to think is foundational to generating motivation and ideas.

Another great place to think is in the shower. Washing up is something we all do (or should be doing more…) There’s a reason they sell waterproof notepads!

Do you commute? Every once in a while, I find it beneficial to turn off the radio or podcast and tune into my thoughts when I’m driving. What about your break at work? Instead of being glued to your phone for the entirety of it, setting aside a few minutes to sit in silence is a great way to decompress and refocus.

Try to find moments during your day when you can think. Even the smallest of moments matter.

Me on another walk, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

3. Clean up

First, ask yourself this: Where do you like writing the most? I’m lucky to have a writing desk. Some people have entire offices. I loved writing in a study cube in the library when I was in college. Coffeeshop? Outside? Do you write in bed? Maybe you can’t choose one place. I know I can’t.

You’re not off the hook if your writing nook isn’t where you live. Think about your bedroom and or living space. Is it clean and tidy? A total mess? In many cases, the cleanliness of a living space is reflection of mental-state. I am notoriously messy. For many years, I found myself unable to see the floors in my bedroom due to all the clutter, and lack of effort to clean up. The lack of organization in both my living and work spaces directly impacted my productivity. And I knew that I had to clean up my act.

Set aside time to clean something, and start with whatever you can manage. Cleaning up is a combination of steps one and two. Take washing dishes for example; instead of turning on music or the television, and with my hands doing busy work, I take the time to reflect and think. Doing and folding your laundry is an opportunity to show yourself some love and to allow your brain to work. Make your bed your personal sanctuary for sleep. Afterall, restful sleep is essential for good health. It’s in your very best interest to create living and work spaces you know you can thrive within.

While I love trinkets, chachkies, and filling my work and living spaces with art, I strive to maintain cleanliness. This is an effort that I have to devote a lot of determination and dedication to, and I find that my creativity blossoms when my living space is in order. I tell myself this: the cleanlier my living and work spaces, the more room there is for creativity.

My workspace as I worked on this blog post

4. Get out of the house

“I worked hard cleaning up my writing space, now you want me to go outside?” I know, I know. For someone who deeply values their time alone, and doesn’t like to be around strangers, I was skeptical about what sort of enjoyment I would find outside of my cozy house. Whenever I wasn’t home, I focused solely upon getting back as quickly as possible. I didn’t find much joy in the journey. I was this way for years, and thinking back, it was a sad way to live.

The simple act of getting a slice of pie and a hot cup of coffee with a friend to catch up blew my mind. So suddenly, I found myself filled with inspiration and joy. And I found myself motivated to be an active participant in my own life. Being out and about can be overwhelming sometimes. While I don’t force myself to talk to strangers, I find that the mere act of being around people has sparked a strange sense of community and belonging. I find lots of motivation and inspiration while I am out, and return home with an excitement to write. There is so much the world can give to a creatively-starved soul.

Get out of the house. Pursue something. Whether you take a five minute walk around your block, or drive to a new coffee shop or art exhibit. There are direct health benefits related to spending time outside. The act of stepping outside of old habits and appreciating the world around you can motivate an array of creativity and happiness.

Me at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois

5. Write

This is a silly suggestion, right? Don’t roll your eyes just yet, let me explain. Quite simply, at the end of the day, the key to writing more is writing. Just write. Write anything. Write a grocery list. Write down whatever details you can remember from your most recent dream. Jot down a to-do list. Type out a list of words you like. Here's a list of 500 writing prompts that might inspire you. Whatever you write now doesn’t have to be good. The point is to get yourself used to creating content again. If your pen and fingers are moving, that is progress.

There was a year-long period where I didn’t write a word. My creativity had completely died, and I found myself stuck in poor habits. People were telling me that I should start writing again, but I just didn’t see the need. After a particularly difficult situation, I found myself with a lot of feelings that I wanted to work through and record. Suddenly, a desire to write came back to me. I found a simple black journal I liked. And I wrote. I placed no pressure on myself. My only goal is to write what I want to remember. I write in my journal every day. Luckily, I took to it well, and so far, my motivation hasn’t waned. That journal brought my creativity back to life, and I recommend participating in that activity to all my creative friends.

Two of my journals

It is okay to take a break. And it is okay to have periods of your life when you are weak. Writing and creativity comes much easier when a variety of aspects of your life are in order. Fueling creativity and a desire to write can be properly maintained when you feel centered and balanced. Listening to and fighting for yourself is essential when working towards productiveness. Now, pick up the pen, and try again.

Let me know if these tips work for you, and share other helpful suggestions below.

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