May 13th, 2015

11 Things To Do When You Just CAN’T Write

Sometimes you have a flat tire, real or symbolic, and a planned writing session doesn’t happen. Sometimes you are“stuck” and have to think awhile on a solution for the corner you’ve written yourself into. Life gets busy and other responsibilities take precedence. Or a host of other daily intrusions muscle into your schedule.

This is not what I’m talking about today.

When you are slammed with a major life-changing event, death or loss, it can take months (or even years) for your heart to have healed enough to have your writing spirit back onboard. Without a heart that is open to feelings, it’s hard to write, let alone write anything compelling.

I know this place well.

After my father died suddenly, I thought that writing a new book about a girl’s love for her father would be cathartic. It was, to a point. But I was unwilling to lay my feelings out on the page, so the book wasn’t all it could be and the process didn’t help as much as I’d hoped.

I’m still recovering from a death early this year.  For six months I was the primary caregiver for the after-care of two surgeries and a battle against two kinds of cancer (others, not myself). I am finally able to sit at the computer and write again. Until recently, I didn’t have the heart to write.

But here is a list of what I was able to do.

1. Use a post-it pad to jot down snippets of dialogue or a word, like desolation.

You know how forgetful you can be when you’re severely stressed. I now keep a pad of paper in my car. Seeing just one word on a page has helped me address that feeling – and remember the love.

Outside Hogsmeade2.  Spend time in nature.

While life is slows in your grief, notice everything – the colors of the sky at dawn, the sounds of traffic, the smells in a bouquet of flowers. A bunny scurrying across the trail, or a mother duck shepherding her ducklings down a creek can make me smile at the worst of times.


3. Listen to music.

Music can put you in touch with feelings at light speed. That’s why a producer spends big bucks for the right composer for a film. Initially, I listened to a lot of what I call “Angry Young Man” music (AKA alternative rock). My choice in music softened as my heart healed.

4. Consider characters that have no relationship to what you’re going through.Gringott's Bank dragon, Universal Studios, Florida

Give your brain a break. It doesn’t do any good to beat yourself up about things you could have done better. A new life means a new outlook. Who doesn’t get energized thinking about new characters.

5. Think about characters that are going through the same thing as you.

When you’re ready, let your fictional characters walk your path. Perhaps through their eyes and hearts, you will see and feel things you’ve overlooked.

6. Critique other’s work.

This kept me in the writing game. I could engage in a writing activity by editing my critique partners’ pages, with a mind detached from my own problems. It also reminded me that I had stories to tell and made me sit at the computer to try to tell them. Even though I did a lot of “trying to proceed,” the act of critiquing kept my writer’s muscles from atrophying.

7. Build a movie in your head of a brand new project.

Morro Beach at sunsetThis is another “get out of your world” technique. Of course, as a science fiction writer, I have to admit I use this one often, even when I’m not stressed. I worked on my “movie” and now that I’m writing again, the words are flowing.

8. Record new story ideas, new characters, new settings that intrigue you.

I’ve found memory and stress to be mutually exclusive, so if I come up with what I think is a great idea, I write it down and save it for later. Even if it seems pretty stupid. Heck, I’m a writer. I can use pieces of everything.

9. Research something totally new, unrelated to any current project.

You may find something to help you out of your writer slump and life funk.

10. Write short paragraphs about how you feel.

Save these pages! You will be able to use them in your books. Maybe not your current project, but your raw emotions will propel your work to places it hasn’t reached before. The more we share our life journey, whatever the masquerade of genre and characters, the more our readers can relate. After all, don’t we all read to feel?

11. Read.

Reading will not only take you away from your misery for a time, it helps to open your heart. And an open heart not only lets us take in, but allows us to release doubt, pain, anger and so much more. Reading also will remind you that you are a writer. And eventually you will start telling your stories again.

The curse of life is that nothing is permanent.
The beauty of life is that nothing is permanent.

What have you done to help you “soldier on” during a life crisis? How have you been able to come back to your writing?

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About Fae

Fae RowenFae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak.   Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present.  As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now enjoys sharing her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at  or

31 comments to 11 Things To Do When You Just CAN’T Write

  • Thank you, Fae, for sharing your experience and suggestions on how to keep being creative. Four of my family members passed away in less than a year, and I know that your suggestions would help me.

    • Fae Rowen

      I’m so sorry for your losses, Elizabeth. I hope your healing is swift and complete.

      • Thank you, Fae, and condolences and hugs fir your losses. I have some tough days still, as I’m sure you know. I especially like the suggestions of letting a character live my year. It’s a great way to get to know them.reading and music are also very helpful.

  • I can attest, though Fae was down, she wasn’t out. We talked about writing and her next book many times during this period. No keeping down a warrior!

  • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist)

    What I like about these suggestions is that they work for the “in-between” projects time, too, when I’m just not sure WHAT to write, yet.

  • Fae, I love this post not only because you found so many interesting ways to divert your mind and heart … but also because when life is good these can still work to better our writing. And when distance and time allow, you will use the loss in ways that will help others.

    Remember we can give immortality to those we love by remembering them and talking about them. My dad passed when I was seventeen and to this day, my older brother and I have made it possible for our children and grandchildren to know who he was with the stories we weave about him.

    • Fae Rowen

      Thank you so much for your words of wisdom, ramblings. A couple of weeks ago I took a trip with six friends, and we shared lots of stories. I found out things I hadn’t known and “remembered” moments I’d forgotten through their stories.

  • So sorry for all you went through, Fae. I’ve had a rough 18 months myself and had to continually give myself a “pass” from feeling guilty over not meeting my own internal production guidelines.

    I’m especially intrigued by number five – seeing an experience through a particular character’s eyes. I’ve used my emotions from past painful experiences but it would be interesting to try and approach the event from a character with a personality completely opposite of my own.

    Thank you!

    • Fae Rowen

      You can write a character with a personality completely different from your own? Wow! In my new book I realized that both main characters are me. I think I’m going to end up schizoid. (But I really know both of them! Ha!)

  • Thank you for sharing 🙂 The past three has been a difficult time for my family (my stepdad has stage 4 cancer). Long jaunts on the treadmill, Imagine Dragons, my faith, and TONS of sticky notes all over the place has kept me writing.

    • Forgot ‘months’….three months. Sleep has not been part of the therapy, as demonstrated by my typo 😉

    • Fae Rowen

      Big yes to the Imagine Dragons, Alanna. And thank you for adding the faith piece. Just be careful driving–my grief counselor gave me that tip, and my car is very happy!

  • Great pointers! Thanks for sharing. I love to get out into nature, sometimes when I should be writing 🙂 and always love music.

    • Fae Rowen

      Thanks for your comments, Shawn. I didn’t always make time to spend time in nature. Makes me wonder what I could have imagined if I had!

  • Wonderful ideas, all. Thank you, Fae!

  • Wonderful post, Fae. Thank you for sharing that experience. For me, it’s walking. Sore feet = slowly healed heart. Thanks again.

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    I’ve been using so many of these over the last few months.

    To your number 5 point, I’ll add a twist – I recently shelved a story because I found life getting way too comfy with imitating art. Instead of seeing my situation unfold through my character, I started on a new project and gave my character a completely different problem to deal with. But like every good therapy session, we discovered a handful of underlying issues that helped open her vulnerability–and mine. 🙂

    Because, as you pointed out, sometimes we’re not ready to put those emotions on the page. But those emotions generally aren’t out there by themselves. There’s almost always something else attached to them.

    • Fae Rowen

      You’re right about those sticky attachments, Orly. And the only way to work it out is through.

  • Oh, Fae, I’m sending you a HUMONGOUS virtual hug because I’m so thankful for you sharing this. Since October, my family has been dealing with a situation that’s just rocked us to our collective core, plus my work situation has been so challenging recently that I’ve had almost no extra brain power to spare. I’ve been beating myself up over not being able to write, but between Orly’s post the other day (big virtual hug for her, too) and now your post, you’ve both made me realize there are other ways to make use of the time I’m not writing. Some of them I’ve been doing just naturally, labeling it in my head as wasting time, but now I realize I’m really just recharging. I’m starting to see signs that both situations will be resolved soon, so hopefully when that point comes (or before that, even) I’ll be ready to go. I’m going to print out both posts and carry them with me, so I can peek at them and remind myself that this, too, shall pass. Thanks again, Fae and Orly!

    • Fae Rowen

      I’m happy that our unplanned synchronicity of posts has helped you stop beating yourself up, Linda. And I’m glad that you have embraced “the other side” of impermanence. Best of luck as you and your family come back from your challenges.

      Love and healing to you.

  • Thank you for such a vulnerable post, Fae. You’ve written a road map and believe me, when a person suddenly (it’s almost always suddenly) finds themselves in the situations you’re talking about, the thing they’ll do is go searching for someone to take their hand and show them the next step. Any step! For me, I searched all the words on the internet and cobbled together a list of steps something like yours. Most days, at least one step works. And those are good days because I know I’m not static. I know I’m not wheeling through space, directionless. I am holding onto my voice – maybe it’s holding me.
    One idea that’s helped me in an unexpected way (because I rebel against morning pages or a daily journal for some reason) is letter writing. Pen and paper, old school letters. If I can’t work on fiction (which has been impossible for months) and I’m not faced with a freelance project or teaching for the day, I’ve taken up writing letters. Sometimes to friends or family or even new acquaintances. Sometimes to teachers or librarians or people I want to thank for unknown kindnesses. Sometimes to friends I’ve parted ways with and sometimes to dead people. I mail some of them. I toss some in a box. Surprisingly, I’ve found these letters open my heart again, connect me when I want to isolate too much, and allow me to be grateful without succumbing to the constant urge to set things right.
    And some days, on good days, they lead me to the place where I feel safe enough to play with story. xo

  • Fae Rowen

    Thank you for your kind words, Kimberly, and for sharing another way to put together a “good day.” In the first weeks, I, too, wrote letters, none of which got mailed. But I got out some very harsh feelings and captured my pole-axed pain in a form that, much later, I could revisit and begin to work with it.

    Isn’t it glorious the first time you can put two good days back-to-back?

    Love and peace to you.

  • […] – for realsies. Life has other things that can truly impede. For all the other times, we have these suggestions from Fae Rowen. Rowen’s post comes from a situation of too many emotional obstacles, but I really like them for […]

  • Fae Rowen

    Thanks for the blog love, Prof Janet!

  • Fae, thank you the link to your blog. It makes me feel better to know I’m not the only one at bit down. We have lost some friends – three from the one family – within a short space of time. Having had cancer two years ago (and due for a checkup next week) I know how fragile life can be and this has rebounded somewhat. I am doing anything but writing at the moment though deep down I do want to. Thank you for the tips and yes, I’m going to use them.


    Diana Hockley

    • Fae Rowen

      I’m glad my journey can help you through the rough spots in yours, Diana. Best wishes for a fantastic check-up this week. Hugs to you!

  • PS forgot to tick the two boxes at the bottom of this.