GYWO: How to Write When You Don’t Wanna

GYWO is Get Your Words Out, a wonderful writing accountability community. I joined this year and I’m really enjoying it. I wrote this post for the GYWO community, and the moderators have kindly allowed me to mirror it on Story Hospital.

I have a cold. When I have a cold, I feel extremely sorry for myself. I am the worst, whiniest patient; I just want to sit in bed, play phone games, and have everything done for me. This is not conducive to writing. But I said I would make a post for GYWO today, so here I am. And the topic couldn’t be more apropos!

So there you are, a writer with writing to do, but… you don’t want to.

If you don’t want to write, the obvious solution is not to write. The vast majority of people go through life this way and do perfectly fine. Those of us who think of ourselves as writers don’t tend to remember that not writing is an option, but it is! We get to choose how we spend our time, and we can choose to spend it doing other things. Give yourself a moment to consider this option.

You may find yourself thinking of all the reasons you do want to write: you enjoy it, you’re in the middle of something you want to finish, you’re under contract or have some other obligation, you get so much satisfaction out of filling out those tracking spreadsheets, you want readers to have the story you’re creating, and so on. Sometimes, just remembering those reasons is enough to help you get past a bout of the don’t-wannas.

You may feel a wave of relief. “I don’t have to write? HOORAY.” If that’s how you feel, and if your obligations permit, give yourself a little time off from writing—or a lot of time off, if that’s what you need. We got into this gig because we enjoy it, but over time, that enjoyment can fade. If your daily routine is making writing feel more like a grind than a delight, take a break.

If you’re still stuck in the conflict between wanting to write (for some reasons) and also not wanting to (for other reasons), think about what kind of reluctance you’re experiencing, because different ailments require different treatments. Here are some examples of don’t-wannas that writers experience.

“I don’t want to write because my body or brain isn’t up for it.” If you have an acute condition (something like a cold or a bruised finger that will go away in a short period of time), give yourself “sick leave” until it gets better, unless you have a deadline you just can’t miss. If you have a chronic condition, make sure your plan for your writing is based on your actual capabilities, not your ideal capabilities or someone else’s ideal capabilities.

Right now my GYWO spreadsheet thinks I can make my wordcount goal by the middle of the year, but the spreadsheet doesn’t take into account my chronic conditions, any of which might flare up and eat a month of productivity. When I was a freelance writer and editor, my standard practice was to quote 50% more time than I thought I needed for a project. If I finished it early, my client was overjoyed! If I hit a snag, I had time to work through it. Pad your own writing goals the same way.

Everyone with a chronic ailment has to learn—with many false steps—how to identify the difference between “today this is hard” and “today this is impossible”. Be gentle with yourself as you figure out when and whether you can write through the pain or brain fog or depression. And while you’re here, make sure your workspace is set up to make writing as easy as possible: good ergonomics, music or silence, fidget toys, time free from interruption.

“I don’t want to write because something’s going on in my personal or non-writing professional life.” I think the acute/chronic framing applies here too. If I have to do an unexpected day of childcare because my kid’s daycare is closed for a snow day, that might mean taking a day off from writing but wouldn’t generally interrupt my groove. If I were starting three months of working overtime or doing a major volunteering project, I’d have to make more serious adjustments to my writing schedule and goals.

“I don’t want to write because I don’t know what comes next in my story.” Sounds like it’s time to do some planning. No need to throw together a full outline if you don’t want to; just sketch out the next scene. Some writers find it helps to retype or rewrite the last paragraph they wrote before taking a break, as a warm-up and a reminder of what’s going on in the story.

“I don’t want to write because I don’t have faith in myself as a writer.” There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for this, but if you take a moment to think about times in the past when you’ve felt this way, you can probably identify things that have helped you. Talk with friends who love your writing, reread fan mail, reread your favorite piece of your own work, and remember that everyone hits a slump now and then, and it doesn’t reflect badly on you as a writer or as a person that you’re having a hard time right now. Do non-writing-related self-care while you’re there: eat something, drink something, get some sleep, do things that feel good and help you unwind a bit.

“I don’t want to write because I just know that as soon as I get into it, I’ll be interrupted.” Maybe it’s time to make a DO NOT DISTURB sign for your door, turn off your phone, and make sure the people around you know that your writing time is an important thing that needs to be respected. To make this stick, you need to value your own time so that you can convincingly tell others they need to value it too. Or you can practice writing for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, if that’s all that your demanding life affords you.

“I do want to write, but I don’t want to write the thing I’m supposed to be writing.” Go ahead and dabble in something else! Unless you’re on the tightest of tight deadlines, it’s more practical to try something else for a few minutes than to keep forcing yourself to hammer away on a project that you’re feeling averse to. Do come back to the original project—unless you realize that it’s just not a good project (for you) (right now) and needs to be shelved—but don’t feel that you need to make yourself miserable. Rediscovering the joy of writing by indulging in a quick little detour can reinvigorate you and make your primary project feel much easier and more fun. This technique also works when you have a stressful assignment or deadline and are feeling avoidant; let yourself indulge the procrastination urge for a little bit before you get back to your obligatory writing.

These situations can be complicated, so consider a two-column exercise: on one side, list all the reasons you don’t want to write, and on the other side, list all the reasons you do want to. That can help you weigh them out and decide whether to push through or to give yourself a pass. I encourage you to be kind with yourself and try to make that decision without bullying or shaming yourself. Everyone hits a patch of don’t-wanna now and then. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or a bad person. It just means you’re human.

What are some don’t-wannas you’ve felt when sitting down to write? How did you handle them?

This advice is brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon and donors through Cash.me and Ko-Fi. Got a writing question? Ask the Story Nurse!

3 thoughts on “GYWO: How to Write When You Don’t Wanna

    1. You’re not alone. It’s so hard to get through those chapters. But you can do it, slowly or all at once, gently or boldly, the way you get through any hard emotional thing. And you’ll be a better writer on the far side of it.

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