Writing When The Words Won’t Come

As I sat there at my desk, foot tapping absentmindedly on the floor, cursor blinking on a blank Word document, I asked myself the same question for the third, fourth time.

What am I going to write today?

I had a blog article due that needed to be published on Monday—the very one you’re reading right now, in fact. The sun was shining. The clock was ticking. And I had absolutely no idea what I was going to write about.

So. Writing’s hard sometimes. Words are hard. Stringing words into coherent sentences—let alone compelling stories—is hard. Sometimes the words just flow on out of your head and onto the page. And sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes the hardest part of writing is the act of writing itself—putting words into sentences and sentences into stories. Today, I’m going to share with you a couple tips on how to keep writing when your words just won’t come to the surface—coming from someone who’s been there.

You’ve started writing, but you’ve come to an unexpected stop for reasons unknown.

Writing can be a tedious task. It’s tough to translate your thoughts to the page in a way that engages and excites. Sometimes, you start writing and everything is going excellently until you hit a stop and just don’t have the words or the energy to keep going. Here are some tips if you’re stuck in the middle of writing something.

Tip #1: Change up your writing environment.
Sometimes all you need to get the creative juices flowing again is a change in scenery. So don’t just sit there—get up! Physically change up your working space. This can look like moving from your room to a space outside, or can even be something as simple as switching from typing on a computer to writing things out by hand. The environment you work in affects your work; even small changes can help bring back your writing energy.

Tip #2: Mix things up!
If things are getting stale in your writing, try varying things up! Throw in a wacky scenario, and just write about it. There’s a saying among some novel writers that goes, “If all else fails, have ninjas burst through the wall and attack someone.” Now, your ninjas don’t have to be literal ninjas. They can be anything, from a fun subplot to a new character or even an unexpected plot twist. The key is that what you’re writing should be interesting to you. If you’re getting bored with the status quo of your work, then mix it up! Throw in a metaphorical ninja or two, and see where your writing takes you.

Tip #3: Take a break.
It might seem strange at first, but it’s true. Mental breaks after spending long periods of time ruminating on a piece of writing can help you get back on your writing game. Take a walk, get a drink of water, read a book, bake a loaf of banana bread—just taking a break from writing can help rejuvenate your thinking muscles so that when you return, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to write.

You have an idea, but you just can’t seem to put words onto paper.

You’re not alone! Sometimes, we have ideas—it’s just that we can’t seem to get the words onto the page to express them. Here are some tips for ways to move past that block.

Tip #1: Let go of your expectations.
One big thing that stops writers of all ages in their tracks is our own expectations of ourselves. We tend to hold ourselves to impossibly high standards. We can be held back by the idea that what we write the first time has to perfectly express what we’re thinking with absolutely no mistakes, or that we need to hit sentence gold and write an amazing opening line right off the bat.

Except, that’s not true. At all.

The number one tip here is to remember that what you write doesn’t have to be good. First drafts especially are always messy; that’s why they’re called rough drafts. The beauty of writing is that you can always go back and change things. Nothing is set in stone. Some sentences will be magnificent, and others will be considerably less so. After you’re finished writing your first draft, you can go back and make as many edits as many times as you want. But remember that you can’t edit a blank page. So let go of your expectations for yourself, and let your muse run loose on the page.

Tip #2: Try freewriting.
To freewrite, all you need is a pencil, paper, and a topic. Then, write whatever comes to mind around that topic onto the paper for ten minutes—or more, if you’re feeling daring—without stopping. Don’t have a topic? You can pick a random writing prompt, or just write whatever you want, about whatever you want. Let your ideas flow off the page—write without stopping, without worrying about how the sentences sound or if there’s a better way to word something. When you’re done, you’ll have a wealth of words to start working with.

Tip #3: Set challenges for yourself.
If you’re nervous about the words you’re putting out on the page, one thing you can do that’ll help you break the mold and have fun while doing so is to set challenges for yourself! Challenges are a great way to motivate yourself and celebrate the small achievement of just getting a couple words on the page. Try setting a timer and challenging yourself to a word sprint—a stretch of time where you write a certain number of words in the allotted time. Some common combinations are writing 100 words in 5 minutes (or, if you’re writing by hand, filling out a page in 10 minutes). Word sprints challenge you to get rid of all distractions and doubt, and instead focus on getting your thoughts onto the page as fast as possible. Plus, they’re customizable—you can change the time and the word count goal based on what you want to get out of the experience.

You just don’t have any ideas:

Sometimes, it’s hard to write not because we’re unsure of what words to use to convey our ideas, but because we don’t have any ideas at all. Don’t worry—it happens to all of us! Here are some tips to get ideas flowing.

Tip #1: Brainstorm, in whatever way that works for you!
Honestly, just throwing any and all scraps of an idea into a designated space can help your thoughts take form. For me personally, brainstorming looks a lot like writing out flow charts and mind maps, or typing outlines and bulleted lists on my phone or computer. Another thing you can do is ask a friend or family member to brainstorm with you! All you have to do is start up a conversation about what you’re writing and bounce ideas off of each other. Having a second opinion and someone to talk to about your ideas can help them really come to life.

Tip #2: Take a look at some items and works that inspire you.
Especially in the genre of writing you’re aiming for. If you’re writing a narrative, pull some of your favorite books off the shelf. If you’re writing an essay or an article, revisit some works that you read and liked. As you do this, think about what you liked about those pieces and what you’d want to incorporate into your own work. Looking at other people’s work and thinking about what we liked about them can help our idea cogs start turning for writing our own stories.

Tip #3: Take a break.
Another break? That’s right! Sometimes, when inspiration doesn’t strike us, we just need to stop waiting for it and do something else for a while. Go outside. Walk or run for a bit, ride a bike, or just play outside. Take note of the world around you. Let your thoughts wander. Eat a snack, paint a picture, listen to music, play with LEGOs—do something that makes you genuinely happy. It will make you feel better, and who knows? Inspiration might just strike while you’re out and about.

There’s no surefire way to manufacture inspiration, or to motivate yourself to start writing. But if there’s one thing humans are good at, it’s coming up with ideas. We are idea machines—give us a pencil and paper, and we’re practically unstoppable.

So yeah, writing’s tough sometimes. But hey, so are you! We’re all just people with cursors blinking over blank Word documents, pencils hovering over empty lines, trying to find the words to communicate the thoughts and feelings inside our heads. But if we keep trying, keep typing and scribbling and trying again, even the worst of writer’s block can’t keep us quiet for long.

So what are you waiting for? Go out there and write.

Thanks for reading! Got any tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below! We’d love to hear from you.

About the Author

Emily Yang is a rising senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics who’s been writing ever since she could hold a pencil and dream up a plot. At school, she serves as an Editor-in-Chief for student-run school newspaper The Stentorian and as Publication Editor for Blue Mirror, a triannual arts and literature magazine showcasing student work. An experienced writer and poet, her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the North Carolina Poetry Society Student Poetry Contest. In her free time, Emily can typically be found drawing, writing, or putting on impromptu one-person renditions of hit Broadway musicals.

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