How to write when it feels impossible

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Thoroughly blocked with your writing? Here’s how to write when it feels impossible…

Earlier this year, the New York Times ran an article about exercise under the headline, “I want to work out more BUT…”

So, today I’m going to borrow their concept, as well as their nifty sub-headers, and translate the whole thing into a post about writing.

Writer Danielle Friedman’s first suggestion — to stop thinking of your reasons for not doing your exercise (or your writing) as “excuses” — struck me as spot on. Here’s how she put it:

“Just using that word can suggest you failed and should feel bad about your willpower. Research has shown that self-criticism and shame can actually stop you from meeting your goals, said Katy Milkman, a behavioral scientist at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of ‘How to Change.’

“Instead, reframe the reasons you aren’t exercising as genuine obstacles and devise a plan to overcome them, Dr. Milkman said. ‘Most of us don’t just need a goal,’ she said, but specific steps and strategies to follow.”

Here, then, are the strategies I suggest for dealing with the reasons you might have for not writing.

I have no time

This is the number one reason many people can’t write. They’re just too darn busy.

Don’t worry — I still have a suggestion for you. Write for a really short amount of time. No more than one to five minutes.

I know you think that won’t be useful, but it will. It will help you establish a habit. And once the habit is in place, a tiny miracle will occur: You’ll suddenly discover that you have more time than you ever expected.

And even if you don’t, you’ll still accumulate a (small) number of words each day. And small is way, way better than zero.

I feel self-conscious

Most people feel self-conscious about their writing. But remind yourself, in saying you want to write, you’re not committing to sharing that work with anyone else. Writing is just about the writing.

Publishing is a whole other ball of wax. Resolve to procrastinate on publishing for now, but don’t procrastinate on writing.

I don’t want to spend money

Writing costs no money, or very little money (how much is a sheaf of paper?) until you get to the I-want-to-be-published stage where you might need to hire an editor.

Again, procrastinate on thinking about the future. Just don’t procrastinate on writing today.

It’s too cold or hot

Strangely enough, this is a big problem for me. My office is in a loft at the top of our house. In spring, fall and summer it’s often too hot, with the temperature regularly topping 86° F (30° C), and in the winter it can be too cold. I have warm socks and sweaters for winter and a (thoroughly inadequate) portable air conditioner for the other seasons. We’re hoping to install an air pump cooling system in a couple of months.

It’s very hard to write if the temperature is all wrong. If you can’t fix your temperature problems, then go somewhere else to write — try a nearby coffee shop or a library.

I don’t have the space

Here’s another problem that’s relatively easy to fix. If your house or apartment is too small for a writing station, take your work somewhere else.

Go to a coffee shop. Or a library. Or, if you’re in an office, go to a corner of the cafeteria. Or an empty meeting room. In warm weather, consider taking your laptop to a nearby park.

I’m in pain

Yup. Writing can sometimes be painful. I have a chronically sore back (probably not from writing, but still). I get a sore wrist from using my mouse too much. Today, I have a sore neck from the way I slept last night.

My cure has been to get myself a treadmill desk. I love it and it allows me to walk while I’m writing, which I regard as a huge win-win. I get more than 20,000 steps every day (which I’m back to again, following my sprain — yay!). Walking eases my aching back, it keeps me in shape and it helps me be more productive with my writing, too. (Walking boosts creativity.)

If any part of your body hurts while you’re writing, take it seriously and address the problem. Perhaps your chair, keyboard or monitor is at the wrong height. Here’s a good primer on ergonomics for your writing station. Remember though, you don’t have to spend $1,000 on a chair. The height of your keyboard, mouse and monitor are more important. And you can often use stacks of books or boxes to help fix that kind of problem.

I’m exhausted

Here’s a really big problem, and one that’s not helped by many writing coaches who will encourage you to set your morning alarm back by 15 to 60 minutes so you can write earlier in the day.

Defying your natural sleep pattern is not smart. If you were born a night owl, getting up early to write is only going to make you feel cranky.

I agree with the idea of writing shortly after waking up — but only if you get to choose the wake-up time that best suits your body. The fact is, nearly a third of Americans get only six or fewer hours of sleep a night. (And some of those people actually need 10 hours of sleep.)

We all have different sleep needs, usually somewhere between seven and 10 hours. Make sure you’re getting the amount you need before you even consider adding writing into the mix.

I just don’t like it

Here’s where I can say with confidence that the number one reason people don’t like writing is because they weren’t taught how to do it in school. Instead, most of us learned to fear the red pen, which chastised us for:

  • Spelling mistakes
  • Grammar errors
  • Inadequate evidence

But no one told us how to write. I think you dislike it and procrastinate on it because you want to get it right.

That’s way too much pressure to put on yourself.

Instead, just write for a small amount of time each day with one goal: to have FUN.

I’m afraid of hurting myself

OK, this point has nothing to do with writing, so I’m going to ignore it.

How to write when it feels impossible

The bottom line is that writing is not impossible. We’ve just allowed too much shame and too many false notions get in our way.

You don’t need to write for 60 minutes a day to be a writer.

You don’t need to be published to be a writer.

You don’t need to get up at 5 a.m. to be a writer.

You just need to write. For a small amount of time, every day.


My video podcast last week addressed using jargon in your writing. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


Do you have any strategies for how to write when it feels impossible? We can all learn from each other, so please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Alaa, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a comment on my Feb 13 blog. (Please send me your email address, Alaa.) If you comment on today’s post (or any others) by March 31/24, I’ll put you in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please scroll down to the section directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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