December 2nd, 2015

When “Writing Every Day” Isn’t Producing the Results You Want

Colleen Story Colleen M. Story

You’ve heard the advice “write every day.”

It good advice, especially if you’re serious about having a long-term writing career. But what if you’re doing it—you’re showing up—but you’re not happy with the results?

Maybe you’ve suffered some of the symptoms:

  • When you do sit down to write, you stare at the page, unsure where to start.
  • You dread sitting down to write, because you feel blocked, or uninspired.
  • You actually manage to write, but when you look it over, it just doesn’t look good to you.
  • Your story just doesn’t feel “right” no matter how much you work on it.

If you’ve experienced any of these, don’t despair. The solution is pretty simple. Next time, you just need to make sure you’re ready to write when you sit down.

How do you accomplish that?

Successful Writers are Writing All the Time

Most successful writers will say they “write all the time,” even when they’re not at the computer (or notebook or typewriter).

They’re thinking about their stories while in the shower, while driving, and even when watching movies. A writer “in the zone” will take a trip to the grocery store, and see something that gives him an idea for a scene he’s working on in his book. Or she’ll be talking along to her friend about something, and wham, she figures out a sticky plot point.

If this isn’t happening to you—if your story isn’t “living” in your head and popping up at you at various times during the day and night—most likely you’re not ready to sit down and write.

This is a sign that your muse isn’t with you yet. She may be hovering somewhere in the distance, watching, but she’s not an active member in your creative project. Usually, there’s a reason for that.

Somehow, you’re scaring her away.

Three Reasons Why The Muse is Avoiding You

How could this be? You’re sitting down every day, after all, waiting for her. Why won’t she come help you out?

To be truly prepared to write when you sit down, you have to have the muse at your side ready and willing to do her part. Every writer is different, and you may have to do some detective work on your own to figure out what’s going on, but here are three reasons why your muse may be a little apprehensive—and how you can make things more to her liking.

  1. You’re too distracted.

Perhaps you have your smart phone nearby and you’re checking your Facebook page too frequently during your writing time, or you’re thinking about your to-do list rather than your characters. Maybe something is going on in your life that’s stressing you out, and try as you might, you can’t “not” think about it.

Focusing on one thing is not an easy task, especially in today’s world where everything competes for our attention. If you’re distracted, though, your muse will know it and she’ll stay away.

To fix it: Turn everything off, including your smart phone, your Internet connection, and of course the television and any other distracting machines. If you’re writing at home, make sure your family knows not to bother you. Do whatever you have to do to create a bubble around you that allows you to concentrate.

If you still find your mind wandering, start writing about how distracted you are. Likely your words will show you why you can’t stay on task. Maybe you need to write about whatever it is that’s stressing you—even if it’s the writing itself. You may not even realize how much it’s bothering you—in which case doing a little freewriting will reveal that to you.

Once you know the reason why your attention keeps wandering, you can solve the problem and get back to writing. The solution may be as simple as writing down the issue, setting it aside, and promising yourself that you’ll attend to it after your writing time is over.

  1. You’re in a rut.

Routines can be beneficial, in that they help us maintain the writing habit, but if you’ve been in the same routine too long, it could be that you’ve dulled your creative brain.

And the muse doesn’t like that, at all.

To fix it: It may be time to shake things up. A good way to do that is to spruce up your writing area. Maybe you need a new chair, some new paint on the walls, a different light or some new pictures.

Are you exercising regularly? If not, that will dull you out more quickly than just about anything. Exercise benefits the brain as well as the body, so get back into it, even if it’s just a daily walk before you sit down to write.

Have you done anything new lately? Taken a new route into town? Gone exploring around your home area? Tried a Panga:Zodiacnew skill? Signed up for a new class? Find ways to inject novelty into your life, and then sit back and watch the muse come a little closer as your brain fires up again.

  1. Your story doesn’t “grab” you.

Sometimes we think we want to write about something, but when we actually sit down to write about it, the magic just isn’t there.

That could be a sign that your topic isn’t the right one. As long as you continue to try to pursue it, the muse will ignore you.

Or it could be that you’re playing it “too safe” with your writing. Is there something you’re holding back?

To fix it: Set the work aside and try something new. Give it at least two weeks. If the original topic is really meant for you, you won’t be able to forget about it, and you’ll eventually go back to it. In the meantime, have some fun with your writing.

This is the time to go a little crazy. Write about something that strikes you as a little far out, a little edgy. Go to the extremes. If the new idea doesn’t get your heart racing a little, you haven’t gone far enough yet.

Maybe you were writing a family drama before. Try a short story involving a murder. Maybe you were writing a romance. Try a love story between two dangerous characters, or make the romance more scandalous than you normally would.

If you were writing a fantasy with wizards and dragons, try an urban setting instead. Throw some drug dealers into the mix—maybe they’re shape-shifting drug dealers. Or make your cops particularly vindictive werewolves.

The point is to get yourself excited about what you’re doing again. Have fun! The muse can tell when your adrenaline kicks up, and she’s attracted to that, so do what you need to do to get your fingers moving faster. In the end, if you go back to your original topic, you will have infused a little life into your process.

Or, you may discover that you were meant to write murder mysteries about shape-shifting drug dealers in love with vindictive werewolf cops all along. Eureka!

Do you have ways of inviting the muse in so you’re ready to write when you sit down? Please share them with our readers.


Colleen M. Story writes imaginative fiction and is also a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness. Her first book, Rise of the Sidenah, was recently honored in the North American Book Awards. Her next novel, Loreena’s Gift, is forthcoming from Dzanc Books in April 2016. She is also the founder of Writing and Wellness, a motivational site for writers and other creatives. Find more at her website, or follow her on Twitter.


24 comments to When “Writing Every Day” Isn’t Producing the Results You Want

  • Holly Robinson

    Great advice here, Colleen! It’s really true that some of our best writing can get done when we’re doing something other than sitting at our desks! I keep journals everywhere to capture fleeting thoughts: by the bed, in the car, in my purse, in the kitchen–even in the bathroom. That way, if I get stuck, I can always gather up my journals and read through them for inspiration.

    • colleen

      Thanks, Holly! Ha ha. Yes, I know how it goes to have those notebooks and pieces of paper all over the place! :O)

  • I recently got stuck on my WIP, a historical fiction. I realized I had to stop and do more research so I could immerse myself deeper in the era. Besides doing research online, I got out old family pictures of that time (depression era and WWII). I read old letters from my father when he was stationed in Germany. I gained new perspective and now I’m off and running again.

  • marcykennedy

    I’d add emotional exhaustion to the list too. Sometimes when we’re going through a particularly difficult time in life, we’re so drained from our day that there’s either no emotion left for the page or we can’t stand to face our character’s emotions. At those times, I think it’s better to either write non-fiction or focus on learning craft.

    • colleen

      Oh definitely. I have experienced that exhaustion and I’m sure most writers have. It’s so hard to take a break sometimes, but often the only solution. Thanks, Marcy!

  • I write Christian non-fiction which is a bit different than most people at WIT. For those of us that write Christian material, whether fiction or non-fiction, I think there is another factor, “Where is God in this work?” In 2011 and 2012 I immersed myself in a deep analysis of one of the books in the Bible. I sensed the Lord was giving me support and insight – it was coming together as a series of books. It was a very laborious process to be sure but I sensed God was definitely in it.

    In the spring of 2012, my flow dried up. That is, my insight into those Scriptures was turned off. God was not in it. I put the project down. I did not know why it dried up but it did.

    On Thanksgiving morning this year, I took another look at that effort. It was 85% complete and I marveled at many of the things that the Lord had shown me. So I put another book series on hold and pursued this one. During these last six days, I know God was once again in this work. He gave me new revelation which showed how some of my thinking in 2012 was incorrect. I can clearly see the end of the first draft for the main manuscript.

    Now I’m motivated and eager. As a self-published author, I need to learn Adobe’s Illustrator and InDesign so that will be my next hurdle. If God is in it, He will help me learn what I need so He and I can together produce this title with quality.

  • My writing life tends to go in cycles, which can last anywhere from a few months to several years. I’ll go through a phase where I write, write, write and don’t feel like doing much else. When I’m not writing, the characters are swimming around in my head like hyperactive fish in an aquarium. But eventually, the fish die off, the aquarium dries up, and I need to get out into the real world and refill my brain before I can start the next project.

  • Great post, Colleen and interesting timing at the end of NaNoWriMo. 🙂

    I am strange. For me I can put on music late at night and write better. Most of the people I text with or play games with are in bed. I often will hear a song, put it on repeat and write. I block it after a few because I’m writing away. I might come up for air (cliche alert) and sing along. It just seems to help me relax and get into it. It worked for NaNo because I wrote 102,045 words. That averaged out to around 3k a day. There were some days I barely wrote 1,000 words, but others I rocked. I work on the couch with a laptop. I did pretty good going to Starbucks, except twice I sat there shaking and shivering because it was so darned cold in there. I was wearing a jacket and still froze, even with it being hot outside.Guess they don’t want people hanging around working-lol.

    • Fae Rowen

      C.K., I’m right with you about the music. I can get a whole scene from a snippet of a song. In fact, I have a playlist for each main character in my book. Turn that on and I’m back in their world!

    • colleen

      Oh I do that too, C. K. Exactly like you described it. Cool. I’m curious as to which song you were using? Sounds like you did great with NaNo! Ha ha–why is it always cold in the cafes/coffee shops? If only they knew–I often choose which one to go to according to how they keep the temperature! :O)

  • Colleen, I’m one who writes every day. If I’m breathing, I’m writing. That said, I’ve have a LOT of these days. Most of the time it’s because I’ve already written something that is wrong, and subconsciously, my brain is making me stop and think. OR I’m about to do something wrong, because I don’t know enough – about the character, the setting, the research.

    My subconscious is a pain sometimes, but it’s never wrong.

    What helps me the most is distracting my brain. It’s like that math problem that drives you nuts – until you walk away, and when you come back, the answer is right there.

    What works best for me is getting on my bicycle and going for a ride. While my brain is distracted by balancing, watching for traffic, listening to the birds and my muscles are suffering and I’m breathing like a buffalo in heat (sorry for the visual), my subconscious lets go of it’s secrets.

    Thanks for this great topic!

    • Fae Rowen

      I love it when you talk math, Laura!

    • colleen

      Ooo, Laura, you’re talking exercise to break through blocks—want to do a guest post for W&W? (ha) Right up our alley there! 🙂 Ha ha ha. Love the buffalo image–you must really kill the calories on that bike!

      • I made the mistake of playing back a brilliant idea for Fae from my DVR recorder I carry in my jersey…after she was done laughing hysterically, she asked me if I was recording while having sex!

        I’m so used to hearing the panting, I didn’t even know what she was talking about for a minute.

        Are you kidding? I’d LOVE to do a post for W&W!

  • I haven’t been able to put words on the page for several days due to some life-interfering events. However, I have found this to be a great time for “writing” — because I’ve been mulling over worldbuilding and plot issues in my WIP and things are finally clicking into place. On one hand, I have no word count to show for it, but on the other hand I have made great strides for my story. When I can devote time to writing again, I’ll have some great stuff to write. Thanks for covering that circumstance! Love your tips.

    • colleen

      Thanks, Julie! It is hard when you have no word count to show for it, as you say. I know for me that can feel like I’m not getting enough done. We’re such taskmasters! Thanks for the reminder that “mulling” is just as productive.

  • Fae Rowen

    Like you, Julie, when I’m not writing, I’m still “writing.” The characters keep talking to me, I see more of their world and struggles, so when I sit down at the computer again, my fingers fly.

  • ruth Maxwell

    The Muse is not an imaginary thing. I’m sure it a “she” who lives on your shoulder, and can push you out of the way, borrow your fingers, and type out her fantastic stories Leave her to it, she’s got far more imagination than you.

    • Fae Rowen

      You are absolutely right, Ruth. I remember the first time I sat down to write a new scene, not certain of what would happen, and my fingers flew over the keys anyway. I read what appeared on the screen and thought, “Wow, they’re going on a picnic in the forest. Who knew?” I sure hadn’t planned that!

  • Great strategies here, Colleen! I have one other instance when my muse seems to abandon me: when there is a problem with the story. In my latest manuscript, the ending seemed contrived, forced, and really unsatisfying. It really didn’t sing. It took a long time to deconstruct the scenes and find where the story started to go flat and then I was stuck for weeks on how to fix it. Finally, I sat, closed my eyes, and envisioned the characters in the midst of the action. I focused on the smells and sounds and connected with the ten-year-old me. Eventually, the characters started acting more like themselves and I couldn’t type fast enough!

    • colleen

      Same here, Pamela! So glad you got going again. I’ve been struggling with the same thing on my WIP. For me it helps to dive into a new book for some help—this time I turned to the recently released “Story Fix” by Larry Brooks and already it’s led to some eureka moments. Plus I love how I always learn something new this way. (Recommend the book by the way!)