What to do When You Don’t Feel Like Writing

A few weeks ago I posted a blog post about the good things about freelancing whilst doing a PhD. On that post, Jennie from A Muddled Student commented asking about how I got used to writing when I didn’t feel like it, so I thought it’d be a good idea to write up a blog post with the techniques and methods I’ve used to make sure I get my writing tasks completed on time.

When you feel like writing, don’t stop

This one seems obvious but I didn’t used to do it, so maybe it’s worth mentioning. When you’re in the mood to write, keep writing; get ahead with tasks, write blog posts, pieces of text about what you do, summaries of journal articles etc. Just keep writing. I find that in one day where I’m in a good place to write, I can get really ahead of freelance work (I work on a 3-month calendar so know what content I need to write for weeks ahead). Not only that, if you write summaries of journal articles, experiences you’ve had or pieces of text about what you do, you can always use that text later down the line. Having existing blocks of text also removes that fear of the blank page that you might get when you’re not in the mood to write.

Make realistic to do lists

I navigate my entire life with the help of lists. Whether it’s things to do, what to read, shows to watch, podcasts to listen to, or tasks at work. Write lists for each day, tasks to be achieved over the week, and future deadlines. Make these to do lists realistic, and get into a routine of completing each task on them before you leave the office each day.

Freewrite

I was first introduced to freewriting when I attended a scientific writing course with Allan Gaw during the first year of my PhD. Freewriting is a practice that helps to get over writer’s block, increase the flow of ideas, and help you to connect themes/topics together in your writing.

With freewriting, you set a timer and put your pen to paper (I really recommend doing this with a real pen and a notebook/piece of paper – the process isn’t as beneficial when you’re typing or scribbling on an iPad etc). Until your timer goes off, you don’t stop writing. A word of warning – it’s much, much harder than you think it will be.

If you want to have a go at freewriting, I’d recommend you start with a 1-minute timed write, and then work up, minute by minute, until you reach 10 minutes. Don’t think about spelling and grammar, and if you can’t think of anything to write, simply write ‘I cannot think of anything to write’. Just keep going. Eventually your thoughts will come back and your words will begin to flow again.

On the writing course I went on, we had a few different freewriting tasks that acted as a good introduction:

  1. 1-minute timed write – write a story and include the words ‘princess’, ‘frog’ and ‘California’
  2. 2-minute timed write – write about your research area, what you do, why you like it, what made you focus on this specific area

After these tasks you can then begin to make your freewriting more focussed. For example, if you need to write a conference abstract, focus on that with a 5-minute timed write, and then work to edit and craft the text you’ve come up with.

At the beginning of my PhD/freelancing balance, I only worked with lists. It worked to a certain extent, but if I wasn’t in the mood to write I’d find myself writing right up until the deadline, and not enjoying the process as a result. After I was introduced to freewriting I used that for a while, and now I find it much easier to write when I need to, rather than when I really want to.

What tips and tricks have you picked up to help you write even when you’re not in the mood to? Leave comments below and share your ideas!

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