How to write when you don’t want to

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Do your emotions ever interfere with your ability to write? Here’s how you can learn how to write when you don’t want to…

Many years ago I took on the (unpaid) job of producing a one-time magazine for a volunteer effort. Two days before the magazine was due to go to the printers, I received a call from a major sponsor, pulling out.

Their fee was going to cover the printing bill.

My heart started to race. My breath came quickly and I began to sweat. 

Then a steely determination washed over me. I couldn’t let this magazine fail and I was damned if I was going to disappoint all the volunteers who had worked so hard.

I knew I had 48 hours to find another sponsor. “You can do this, Daphne,” I told myself. 

And I did. That’s an example of the role positive emotions can play.

But, just as easily, the opposite can happen. Back in the 1980s, when I worked in the daily newspaper business, I had a boss who was a bully. He liked to terrorize his subordinates by leaving us long, type-written messages, complaining about everything we were doing and (in his view) the inept work of all my direct reports as well. 

He was in the office Tuesdays to Saturdays so many Mondays when I went into work I could expect to receive a one- to three-page missive (scotch-taped together!) decrying the people in my department in the nastiest language possible. 

My heart always sank when I received these messages. And while some days I could shake them off, other days they would plunge me into despair. How could I possibly continue working in such a dysfunctional environment, I’d wondered. (Eventually, his attitude led me to become self-employed, and start this blog.)

Feeling discouraged is a common experience for many people, and it can be hard to figure out how to write when you don’t want to.  

If discouragement is dogging you, be aware of the typical reasons for it:

  • Lack of time for writing: Many people, particularly parents of young children, don’t have enough time for writing. This challenge also faces people who already have a fulltime job and are trying to write “on the side.”
  • Lack of positive feedback or outright criticism from others: It’s hard to maintain a positive attitude when no one is giving you positive feedback. Negative words tend to ring in our heads for a long time. 
  • Comparing yourself to others: Everyone else always looks more successful and better positioned than us.
  • You’ve had bad news unrelated to writing: Sometimes, things just go wrong. Perhaps you’ve had a bad car accident or an unexpected illness. Or maybe someone you love is very sick.
  • Feeling overwhelmed: Book projects, dissertations and long reports require massive wordcounts, usually more than 60,000 words. That kind of size is overwhelming.
  • Being unprepared: Writing requires more than writing and editing. It also requires research. How are you supposed to find the time for that? 
  • You’re waiting for inspiration — and it’s not showing up: Some writers believe that inspiration is a mandatory step in the writing process. Turns out, it’s not but if you think it’s essential, you’re going to find its absence discouraging. 

And here are five ways how to write when you don’t want to:

  1. Start doing something different, instantly. The next time feelings of discouragement start to wash over you, here’s what I’d like you to do. Leave your desk/computer IMMEDIATELY and go do something else. There’s no point in trying to write while your mind is spinning in a negative direction, so take quick action to improve your mood. Go for a walk or a run. Talk to a friend. Grab a cup of coffee from a nearby shop and sit on a bench under a tree. Break the cycle of negative thinking before you start trying to write again. 
  2. Immediately reduce your goals. I know, you feel crappy because you didn’t write or edit enough words yesterday. Regardless, reduce your goal for today. Make your objective so infinitesimally small there is no chance you’ll be unable to do it. Giving yourself a small  goal — and then achieving it — will help you feel more competent and successful. And this will make it easier to write or edit tomorrow. And the day after that. 
  3. Adopt a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset — meaning you believe it’s possible to learn to do anything better — means you see problems as obstacles to overcome, not roadblocks. Researcher Carol Dweck has shown that a growth mindset predicts success far more reliably than talent. As well, if you do more of something you’ll inevitably get better at it.
  4. Abandon perfectionism. Perfectionism is a major problem for many writers. I think it often comes from the school system where teachers graded our work with their big red pencils. In any case, if you think your words need to be perfect then, of course, you’ll be reluctant to write them. Don’t let perfectionism slow your writing. Keep reminding yourself that perfection is impossible and can never be achieved. It’s okay to take a break now and then and simply do acceptable work.
  5. Take better care of yourself. Instead of beating yourself up for not writing (or not writing better), practice some self-compassion. Make sure you’re comfortable. Are you warm enough? (Or cool enough?) Are you too tired? Are you hungry? Everything seems worse when we’re hangry. Once you’ve taken care of physical concerns, start to give yourself a little pep talk. Here are some specific instructions for writers who want to do that.  

As human beings, it’s inevitable that we’re all going to suffer through some disappointment from time to time. Remind yourself that emotions come and go and you will eventually recover from this slump. You can learn how to write when you don’t want to — and even enjoy doing it. 


My video podcast last week discussed how to take better interview notes. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.  


Have you ever been paralyzed by fear of writing? Don’t let this nasty psychological barrier make your life miserable or cost you missed income. Let me show you 18 proven and simple techniques you can start deploying today to banish your fear of writing. Learn more here


Have you figured out how to write when you don’t want to? What tricks do you use? 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 E.M. Powers, the winner of this month’s book prize, for an April 25/23 comment on my blog. (Please send me your email address, E.M.) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by May 31/23 will be put 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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