I hit this point usually on Wednesday or Thursday night. I open up whatever I’m supposed to be working on, I get everything ready to go — and then I just sit there.
Because by this point in the week, I just Don’t Want To anymore. Writing all day, and then bouncing between clients (and this blog) in the evenings is sometimes just a struggle. A manageable struggle, but still a real challenge. In those moments when I’d rather just close everything down and start watching Netflix, it takes a lot of mental energy just to convince myself to start writing.
As you probably already know, even though starting is sometimes the most difficult writing hurdle, you launch yourself over it pretty fast once you get going. Sometimes I can write a few thousand words in an hour or so if I’m focused enough. And when I finally finish that thing I really did not want to do, I just feel better about my life as a whole. Don’t tell me you’ve never been there.
“Mental energy” isn’t the best way to describe what it takes to force yourself to create when you really don’t want to. Because sometimes, doing so isn’t the right choice at all. There will always be circumstances in which forcing creativity is the wrong thing to do.
But sometimes, you either don’t have a choice (you’re on deadline) or you’ve procrastinated on a personal project and you just want to make some progress already. This is where discipline, focus, and resilience really serve a writer well — but those things take awhile to construct.
So here are a few things you can do to Make Writing Happen when you absolutely cannot convince yourself it’s your biggest priority.
Well, first, figure out if it actually IS your biggest priority
Because sometimes, the reason you’re in such a mental tug-of-war is because you legitimately have more important things to do — yet you want desperately to write something instead. Writing out of priority makes it hard to focus, because your brain tries to keep your attention on one or the other simultaneously. Last night, I had about 3 things I needed to be doing — but one of them was due within hours, instead of days. Once I focused on my biggest priority, I knocked it out in no time. (Well … I would have gotten it done faster, but let’s be honest, BuzzFeed sucked me in.)
If what you want to work on actually isn’t what you need to be working on, jot down any notes-to-self about your writing you don’t want to forget, then go do that more important thing. Because you aren’t going to be able to give your writing your full attention when you have one or multiple priority tasks hanging over your head. Get those done first (even though you don’t want to). You’ll find the less overwhelmed you feel, the less daunting your writing will seem as you approach it.
Ask yourself, “What will happen if I don’t do this now?”
The answer is clearer if you’re on someone else’s deadline — if I don’t finish an article for a client, their schedule gets thrown off, they get upset, and there’s a good possibility I won’t get paid. So whether I feel like it or not, I have no choice but to get my work done.
But what if it’s your own blog, your own book, your own everything — and you just don’t wanna do it? You have less to lose … right? This is why having goals is important. Because when I don’t feel like working on my novel, and I look at my goals for the year — and I see that finishing that book is on the list — I’m much more likely to write a little anyway, even though getting started might take some kicking and screaming.
Literally just lock yourself in a closet and write All The Words
I’ve done this. Distracted by everyone and everything — even a picture hanging on my wall — I’ve picked up my iPad and stuffed myself into a closet to work. It may not be comfortable, but your only way out is to finish what you crammed yourself in there to start. Here’s what you don’t need to write: your phone, your TV, more food (“Just ONE MORE Oreo…”). You need your hands, your document, and probably an internet connection (but block distracting sites … like BuzzFeed).
Yes, even I struggle with distractions. It turns out you can feel very motivated to write and still not do it, because there are just “more fun things to do.” I get it. Trust me. But you will literally never succeed as a writer if you can’t get over this, or at least manage it better. I have bad nights. Sometimes it takes me twice as long to write something as it should, because I keep giving in to distractions. But when it comes down to it, I know what I need to get done, and it gets done. THAT is how writing happens. By doing. Even when you’d rather laugh at [another] BF listicle (sigh).
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.