How to Stop Avoiding Your Writing

Reasons you may be avoiding writing, and tips for finally addressing the problem

Young woman plopped down on bed
Young woman plopped down on bed
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

For a lot of writers, the act of sitting down and writing the first few words is the hardest part. It’s normal to feel like you have to push through it. If, however, you don’t ever end up sitting down to write, then there’s a problem.

It’s time to figure out why you’re not writing and start taking the steps to deal with it. Below are a few common reasons people avoiding writing, and some tips and tricks to help get you into that writing chair.

Potential Issue 1: You’re afraid your writing won’t be good enough

This is a common fear, and you’re in good company with just about every writer who has ever lived. But if this is keeping you from doing the thing you aspire to, then you need to do something about it. Below are a few solutions you might like to try out for yourself.

Try being silly

Allow yourself to start every writing session by writing something that is intentionally dumb or crappy. Use text lingo to write out how you’re feeling or what your day was like yesterday (“omg, imma need to take a nap im so tired”). Make lists of things like the best types of candy and why they’re rockin’, of things that are overrated, or of things that make you cringe.

In other words, start with something that’s both low pressure and playful. You might even consider telling yourself that this is all you have to do. You have to sit down and do one or two of these dumb exercises, and if you feel like getting up afterward, then you can. Most of the time, once you’ve done a couple of silly exercises and started having fun, you won’t want to get up.

Set small goals

If you’re working through some sort of writing phobia (hey, it happens), don’t start by trying to write the novel you’ve had in mind for years. Give yourself small accomplishable projects that get you progressively closer to your goals.

Start with some dumb exercises like those above until you start to feel comfortable. Write a short story about yourself but in the third person so it feels more like you’re “writing a book.” Write about someone you know, but write in the first person, again, to get that “oh, I’m writing something” feeling.

Work on characters you don’t plan to ever use, and then work on some you do plan to use. Write a short story that’s intentionally bad. Write one about your cat. Write a scene in which your character and your cat meet.

Free-write about a setting you want to use or some other aspect of the story you desperately want to write. Start with “Once upon a time” and then write out a summary of your story as though you were telling it to a child. Write other scenes you don’t intend to use with your character that you do intend to use.

If starting at the beginning of a project is too scary, then start at the end or in the middle. If you ever feel that you’re not going to make it to the page that day, make the conscious decision to let yourself work on something that feels less “important”

Separate your writer from your editor

In the words of Anne Lamott, allow yourself to write “s***ty first drafts.” And if you haven’t read her book, Bird by Bird, I recommend it. We all have to learn to separate our internal writer from our internal editor. If you’re too concerned with something being good while you’re writing it, i.e. being in editor mode, then you’ll squash your creativity and make it exceedingly hard to write anything at all. Write now. Edit later. And if you need more convincing, read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

Potential Issue 2: Writing feels like work

Uh-oh. That’s not good. This might be a signal that, if you are meant to write, you’re not doing the best type of writing for you. It can be tempting to chase the dollar, and yes, I understand that we’ve all got to eat. However, if you’re struggling because you’re writing in a format or genre or on a topic that doesn’t interest you, then you may need to change course.

Now, yes, writing is probably going to feel like work occasionally, particularly if you’re doing it as a full-time job, but I highly encourage you to shake things up if that’s consistently a problem. Find ways to infuse exploration and play into your writing process.

Consider also that you might be dealing with the next option.

Potential Issue 3: You’re on a phase of the writing process that you don’t like

Not all parts of the writing process bring the same amount of joy and interest to all writers. Some writers love planning their novel, laying out notecards, and moving around rows on spreadsheets. Some writers hate that stuff. Some people are all about the characters and could spend hours writing as them and about them. (That’s me!) Some people just want to write the darn book or screenplay or article or essay already. I personally hate the rewriting process, at least on larger projects.

If you despise certain parts of the writing process, then see if you can find ways to skip or spend less time on them. If you don’t like rewriting, spend more time planning before your first draft. If you don’t like planning, then do your prep work differently — there’s not just one way to do it. If you don’t like doing the research, try getting someone else to do it.

Sometimes, of course, you’re just going to have to suck it up, and when that’s the case, remind yourself that it’s temporary. Say to yourself, “I’m just gonna bang this part out this week and then I’ll get to the fun stuff next week.” Maybe reward yourself with cake and ice cream for dealing with the crappiness.

Potential Issue 4: You haven’t done your homework

Do have the necessary research information? Do you know your genre and format well enough? Do you have an outline? Some people revel in the idea of flying free, but others can’t deal with not knowing what they’re doing. If you’re someone who needs to have a plan, then create a plan. Do not torture yourself unnecessarily.

Potential Issue 5: You’re working on something that is an emotional trigger for you

I have a couple of projects floating around in my head that I’m just not ready to write. They’re too painful or too much for me to share with the world at this point.

If you’re working on something that you’re finding to be such an emotional trigger that you end up avoiding doing the writing, then you might not be ready for that project. Or if it’s just one part of a larger project, then perhaps you want to skip over it for now and come back to it later. You might need to talk with someone about it first, do some free-writing, or allow yourself time to heal.

Potential Issue 6: You need a writing schedule

I’ll be honest, writing schedules don’t work for me, or at least not long-term. I find that they’re good for getting me to the page for the first couple of weeks, but then it becomes an obligation and I hate obligations.

That being said, a lot of writers find that setting up a schedule allows them to get into a habit so that eventually, they don’t even think about whether or not they’re going to sit down and write. If you think this aligns with your personality and your writer’s sensibility, then do it. Tell yourself that you’re going to sit down at X time and write for X amount of minutes or hours every day for a month. See how it goes.

Potential Issue 7: You like the idea of writing more than the reality

Look, I’m not accusing you of anything here; I’m only saying that it’s a possibility. It can sound pretty glamorous to be a “published author” or very accomplished to be a “working writer,” but liking those fantasies doesn’t necessarily mean that you enjoy the day to day work of being a writer.

Just be honest with yourself.

If you’ve had writing experiences in the past that you thoroughly enjoyed, try to go back in your mind and pinpoint what it was about them that made you feel good. Maybe you were doing a different type of writing then or focusing on a different aspect of it. Or maybe you did the writing equivalent of falling in love with the idea of being in love.

Next steps: It’s time for introspection

If you’re having trouble sitting down to write, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone; we’ve all been there. But it cannot become a habit. If you want to be a writer, then you need to write, and that means figuring this out.

Take another look at the issues above and see if any of them resonate with you. If not, don’t give up. Sit with yourself for a while. You’re not avoiding writing without reason. Figure it out. You can do it.

Elan is also a writing mentor, helping aspiring writers hone their craft and develop their authentic writing selves. If you’d like to subscribe to the write with elan! email list, click here: https://www.subscribepage.com/b5j6t7

Writer and Writing Mentor. Screenwriter. Honest. Human. She/Her. @elancassandra on Instagram, @ElanCDuensing on Twitter. https://linktr.ee/elancassandra

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