When I hit the 50,000-word mark co complete another National Novel Writing Month this year, I fully expected to put my unfinished draft to the side so that I could focus on other (and in all honestly, much more important) things. That’s usually how it goes every December. I take a short break, not because I’m sick of writing, but because the end of the year in online publishing is crazy busy and so are the holidays.
So the night after I hit that goal and went to sleep feeling stress free and satisfied, I was surprised to wake up in the middle of the night and realize it hadn’t been a noise or a worry or a 55-pound ball of fluff that had woken me up, but instead an idea. A really good idea!
This doesn’t happen to me very often. I’m one of those writers who is much more inspired to write after I have already started writing. So to wake up from quite a restful, wonderful sleep knowing exactly which direction my book needed to go in next was both unusual and pleasant.
Did I have time to keep working on my book? I really didn’t. I really shouldn’t have. I still shouldn’t be working on it, at least right now.
But this was an idea I could not ignore — one that I simply knew I could not leave to fend for itself in the chaotic depths of my memory. This was an idea I did not want to lose. And I knew that might mean I was going to have to make some extremely tough choices.
And that’s exactly what I did.
You have likely experienced one of these “aha” moments as a writer before — that moment when it seems like all the random pieces finally come together and you’re no longer writing aimlessly until you find those missing pieces.
I solved a big piece of my own puzzle accidentally — in my sleep, I guess? And that led to me feeling the most excited I had been for my own book in a very long time. I could not WAIT to get out of bed and start pulling everything together.
We live for these moments. Sometimes, it feels like the only reason we write is so we can experience the occasional moments like these. You’re excited! You know exactly what you are doing for once! For at least a little while, you don’t have to keep questioning whether or not you know how to write a book because YOU DEFINITELY MOSTLY KNOW HOW TO WRITE THIS ONE! YES!
If only you could feel like this all the time. Every time you sit down to write. Right?
What’s so frustrating about writing and being a writer sometimes is that these moments — these “I can’t wait until tomorrow morning so I can wake up and write” moments — aren’t the whole experience. For some people, it’s rare to be excited about an idea to the point where you can’t sleep because you would rather be writing.
That’s why I tend to focus so many of these posts on the in between moments — trying to figure out how to keep writing when you’re not inspired, when you don’t immediately want to jump out of bed and move your story forward.
I wish I could say there was some magical, foolproof way to always feel excited about the things you are writing. But that’s just not realistically how all this works.
The truth is that you are going to have great days, where writing one scene or paragraph or sentence inspires the next and before you know it you have written thousands of words in one sitting and it feels like you could keep going for thousands more without stopping.
But you are also going to have not great days, where you might sit in front of a blank page for what feels like hours, trying and failing to get even a single word written.
There will also be those “in between” days where you can manage to write just enough to feel like you are making progress toward something, but there isn’t any sparkle to it. You’re not particularly excited about anything you write and you might be dreading having to come back and do it again, at least in the moment.
But you have to keep writing through all those days (NOT every single day, but you get what I mean). You have to write through the tough days so that you can get to the great ones. And you can’t only ever have great ones, because then they’re no longer great, they’re just average.
If we wait until we are “feeling inspired” to write, then we really aren’t going to get that much writing done in the grand scheme of things. Inspiration isn’t a constant thing, and for the most part, it isn’t something you can go looking for and locate successfully. Sure, there are certain things people do in order to achieve that “inspired” feeling — dance around, play an instrument, etc. But you can’t do those things expecting the same results every time.
Sometimes — especially if you are on deadline or working toward some kind of goal — you have to write even when you’re not necessarily in the mood or feeling that sought after spark of inspiration. It’s not ideal — this is not usually what people want to hear when they ask how to get more writing done. Well, they asked. This is my answer.
Just because you don’t “feel like” writing doesn’t mean any writing you do during that time will be “bad.” I think many of us believe that when we’re feeling “meh” about writing, we won’t do good work. In reality, there are a lot of people — like me — who often don’t feel like writing at all. But once they do, and they really get going, it often becomes hard for them to stop.
So this is the advice I give to anyone who wants to know how to write when you “don’t want to” write. Just start writing. You might still feel pretty unexcited about doing it as you’re doing it, and you might feel relieved when you are finally done. That’s fine. That’s normal.
But you never know. Sometimes the simple act of writing is the greatest form of inspiration. Get inspired by doing. If you have never thought of trying this, give it a go. It could change your whole life forever.
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 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.