Chatting · Writing Advice

Ways to Stay Creative When You Literally Cannot Write

When I started to write this blog post, I searched “time management quotes” into google only to realize I hated pretty much every single one of them. Aside from the annoying misattributions, this sort of motivational platitudes that guidance counselors post on the bulletin board outside their office seem to have one thing in common: that they put fault on the person reading them for not being good enough. They say, “if you just worked a little smarter, or were more self disciplined, or were better at prioritization, you’d be able to achieve your goals.”

I will not get into all the many ways this saccharine shallow positivity can quickly turn toxic. Most of us writers are also students, have busy jobs, family obligations, major life changes (and take your pick of crisises, thanks to 2020) that demand absurd amounts of time away from our chosen crafts. Often, there’s several of these in play at once. Life gets busy. Sometimes, you find yourself in over your head, having done the math, realizing that you barely have time to get a full night’s sleep, much less open a document and even think about putting words down.

The intention of this post isn’t coming from a guilt trip of “I can do all these things and still write, here’s how you can too!”, but a shared exhaustion I’ve noticed in the writing communities I frequent. At the end of the day, we might be too tired to write, yes, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t love these stories and want to return to them. I easily get frustrated and sad when I can’t be creative because Real Life gets in the way, and sometimes beat myself up for not being able to do it all. So in light of last week’s post on my September goals, my purpose in writing this post is rather to suggest some very simple coping methods I use to help keep me in a creative mindset so I don’t go crazy in the interim, and can get back into the flow of writing faster when the time presents itself. They won’t be perfect for everyone, but I hope you’re able to find something useful out of this ramble.

  1. Consume other media
    Give yourself permission to tackle your “Media To Be Consumed” (MTBC) pile. I say MTBC rather than To Be Read (TBR) because I think all forms of storytelling are important, including books. If you have a longer commute or have the capability to do so while you work, audio books, new music, and podcasts are your friend. If you have a little time in the evenings, it’s ok to put on a TV show or movie that you wanted to see. I know I have the tendency to think “I have free time I should be productive and work on my WIPs” but when you don’t have the energy to create, it’s very important to enjoy resting, and replenishing the inspiration with other stories, which might even kick off some ideas for your own.
  2. Do other creative things
    Writing can take a lot of time to get into the flow of it. When working with something complicated, you might need to reference outlines, reread passages, do research, and it’s often not practical for 10 minute snippets of free time, especially when your brain is fried. For me, doodling is much more low-stakes, and it’s something I can do in stages because I can pick up where I left off, so last year I started learning how to draw. By designing my characters, I could engage in the story in a way that wasn’t so demanding. This may not be the same activity for everyone, but if you can find something very simple that works for you, I highly recommend picking up another relaxing hobby you can do in the meantime while your writing is on hold. Textile arts, like knitting, embroidery, or making bracelets, are also good go-tos, since they’re practical and keep your hands busy.
  3. Count thinking about the story as “writing time”
    Daydreaming can be super useful! Just because you’re not putting words on the page doesn’t mean you’re not making progress either. My best friend recommended to me taking voice recordings of yourself talking aloud about the story, or dictating snippets. This way you can go back to those thoughts and apply them when you have the time, but until then, they’re stored safely on your phone, and now I use this method regularly. The key here is to not pressure the ideas to come – but when you do drift off into fiction land, sometimes it’s worth noting.
  4. Set your standards SUPER low
    My personal standard is “If I did anything creative today for over 5 minutes, that counts as a win.” What it was, the quality produced, and the time spent as long as it was longer than 5 minutes, don’t matter, just so long as I do something. The goal here isn’t even to make incremental progress, but to keep your brain in a creative headspace so that when you can go back to writing, there isn’t such a long readjustment period as you try to get back into a point where you know how to approach your story.
  5. Yes, I’m a hypocrite, but you need to REST
    It’s hard to slow down when it feels like you’re constantly falling behind, and I say this as a reminder to myself as much as I say it for you reading this. When your brain is fried, all your work suffers and the time it takes to do simple tasks stretches out and puts you farther into the hole, which means you push yourself to work harder, and this is a vicious cycle I’ve found myself in all too many times. Do as I say and not as I do.

So, what’s the conclusion here? Obviously, self care is incredibly important and also equally hard to remember to do on your own sometimes, so if you’re reading this, I have a challenge for you: Drink some water, send a message to a friend to remind them to do the same, and reblog one post of original content from a writer/artist you like. The biggest thing that’s kept me going when life gets insane is the incredible community I’ve found, so take a moment to support yours! I wish you all the best of luck in getting through whatever tough season you’re going through, and my inbox is always open if you want to chat.

If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!


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12 thoughts on “Ways to Stay Creative When You Literally Cannot Write

  1. Such a lovely post! Iā€™m actually taking a writing break right now after some severe burnout this year. I wish more writing advice was focused on mental health ā¤ļø

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aww thank you! I’m glad it could be encouraging, though I’m sorry you’ve been experiencing burnout. That’s never fun, and I hope you’re able to get out of the slump soon, but until then take care! šŸ™‚


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