When the Muse is Hiding: What to do if you sit down to write and nothing comes

Most of the time when I sit down to write, it comes easy, but not always. What does one do when writing doesn’t come easy?

The first thing to come to peace with is that it happens to everyone, literally everyone. There is no writer, from Tolstoy to Hemmingway, from Conrad to Virginia Woolf who hasn’t experienced the momentary inability to produce.

Here are three suggestions for dealing with that eventuality. First, keep notes about your ideas. In the past a pocket-sized notebook was suggested. Today, it is more likely you will have a tablet or phone with you for taking notes. Whenever I take a vacation, I revert to carrying a moleskine notebook, or similar product.

On a daily basis, I have an electronic app called ‘notes’ I use to jot down ideas I have while I’m not at my writing desk. I also carry a copy of the latest piece I’ve been working on, so if I have an idea, I can look at my story and see how it fits.

When traveling, I like to stop my writing entirely and concentrate on ideas for future stories.

When my well runs dry, I look back at notes, either my electronic notes or my handwritten notes and start writing about something I’ve jotted down. Usually I forget after a few minutes that I felt stuck.

The second technique I use is to do something else besides write for a while. It really doesn’t matter what I’m doing as long as I am not writing on purpose. I experience a building tension about wanting to get back to writing the longer I’m away from it. After a while, I feel like I must write something.

Finally, I have a related set of techniques that get me started. I might read back through a project, then begin editing. After a time, I find myself writing. I may start a new project in the middle or the end, changing where I start gives me a fresh perspective. Finally, I may write down everything I can think of about my subject, put that on (electronic) 3X5 cards and begin to sort them. After a while, a story emerges, sometimes it is enough of a story that I am off and running with a new project.

So, for me, being stuck is a way of circling my work while using techniques to keep me productive.