What to do when the words won’t come

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
        —Lawrence Block

What do you do when you want to write but can’t decide where – or how – to begin? Or, maybe you are well into writing your book but now the words have stopped coming. Here are some things you can try to get your words to flow freely again.

“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron

If you are creative, chances are you’ve at least heard of Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.” It was written for all kinds of creative people, not just traditional artists. At the core of The Artist’s Way is the concept of Morning Pages. Cameron writes about the many positive benefits of sitting down first thing in the morning with a notebook and quickly, without thinking, hand write three pages of “whatever.” It doesn’t have to be meaningful; it doesn’t even have to be English. You could write, “I don’t know what to write,” over and over until you fill the three pages. That’s fine as long as you write three pages first thing when you wake up every single morning.

It’s been a few years since I’ve read the book, and I don’t remember all of the reasons behind the exercise, but I think it’s supposed to act like a “mind dump.” You dump everything out of your mind first thing and then you can settle down to your serious creative activities fresh and open to new ideas. I will admit, I have never been successful with maintaining morning pages as a practice. I have heard artists speak about how wonderful the practice is and how much it helps their creativity, but I have my doubts. Doubts, mind you, not conclusions.

Start your day by reading

If I was upset about something, had an argument with my husband first thing, or woke up to a crap-load of snow blowing up against my front door, then yes, three pages of venting may be very helpful. But most days I take a different path to the same goal of creativity. The first thing I do in the morning is read. It could be reading some of what I wrote the day before, reading the latest book I’ve picked up at the library, or read some things other people have written. Reading other people’s writing is my favorite way to begin my day. After priming my pump with other writer’s words, I begin my own writing for the day.

Often, my first writing of the day is a way to clear my mind and turn the spigot of words on so they begin to flow. Just as often, I am ready to get started for the day. My goal is to write 3,000 words every day. Yes, I write every day, even weekends, Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays. I normally take one day a month, sometimes two, off and just dink around. I may spend time at the library or having lunch with a friend. If I’m not feeling well, I might take a day off to just read. And sometimes I cut my writing time short – and fail to reach my goal of 3,000 words for that day – to spend a few hours in my art studio. I don’t mind the fewer words at all. Being in the studio is a great way for me to get re-engergized and excited about the writing.

Then there are the occasional weeks when I have to stop writing so I can do the necessary editing before publishing a book. That’s where I’ve been the past few weeks and I have to say, I’m getting agitated and angry about not being able to work on my newest novel-in-progress. I’m trying to get one of my books ready to be printed as a paperback on CreateSpace and the learning curve is huge. I hate the process and I may never go through it again.

Early morning writing on Quora.com

I use several sites to read other writers’ work and to do that early writing. One of my favorites is Quora.com, which I’ve mentioned several times. Answering questions can be a short or, more likely, long process that takes time. Sometimes I’ll spend an hour on a Quora post. It’s a warm up exercise and prepares me for my daily writing. What I especially love about Quora is that you can find questions on anything and much of it is fascinating. I can quickly write a few responses or, if something is particularly thought-provoking, spend several days fashioning a response.

My new fascination – Medium.com

I recently found Medium.com, which is similar to Quora except the writing doesn’t stem from a question. It’s a site with a collection of writers writing on just about any topic you can think of. I’ve read more than a dozen of these articles and while all of them are good, some of them are brilliant. The exciting thing about Medium.com is that they pay writers! What a great concept when most people think there’s no reason to pay writers at all! Medium has figured out a unique way of determining who gets paid and how much in an equitable manner.

Anyone can write an article, short story, poem, memoir, non-fiction, humorous, scholarly, etc. piece and put it on Medium in either an “open to public” or a locked “open to members only” format. Members of Medium ($5/month or $50/year) can read everything on the site. Non-members can read open articles and three locked articles a month. You get paid when you set your article for “members only.”

Medium decides who gets paid and how much each month by the number of “claps” each article receives. On the left side of every article there is an icon of two hands clapping. Each person can award up to 50 claps a month to articles they enjoy and want to promote. They can give one article two claps, another no claps, or another all 50 claps – however many they feel it is worth. I’ve seen articles with no claps, a dozen claps and thousands of them. I have no idea how much money the writers received, but it’s an exciting thought.

If you’re going through a dry spell and can’t seem to get the words to flow, give one of my hacks a try. Beware: You just might end up with more words than you know what to do with.

Until next time,



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