Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 19, 2023

How to Overcome Obstacles to Writing, Part 1

by Ellen Buikema

All great relationships have obstacles, including the relationship we have with writing. Sometimes the muse loves us, other times…not so much.

What to do When the Muse Stops Talking

It’s hard to hear your muse when you’re worried. Worry is loud. It drowns out the wonderful inner voice that spurs your creativity.

Instead of stressing because nothing is coming to mind try:

Meditation. Freeing the mind for as little as five minutes can dredge up interesting thoughts that might be useful to your writing.

Going for a walk. Physical activity is great for releasing stress and clearing the mind.

Playing with a pet. Our pets, or if we are speaking of cats, our roommates, seem to have a sixth sense regarding our feelings and often know that we are stressed out before we do. Playing with them is freeing. Your inner voice will be back in rare form in no time.

Dwelling on the inability to hear your muse is a waste of time. Step away from the keyboard, do something mindless, and the inner voice will return.

How to Find Time When There Isn’t Any

We make time for those things that are important to us. Whether you should be writing every day or not depends upon several things, including:

  • Where you are in your writing journey?
  • Do you have other responsibilities that demand your attention?
  • What do you want from your writing journey?

If you are beginning your writing career chances are you’re working a full-time job and writing in the wee hours of the morning when the house is quiet, or whenever quiet time happens to be. For those who choose writing as a hobby, writing may not be on the daily agenda.

However, if you want to be a professional writer, you’ll need to be productive.

“You resign yourself to writing lots and lots of rubbish. You just got to write that out of your system and sooner or later you will hit what you should be doing.”
J. K. Rowling

Here are four helpful steps to get you on your writing journey:

Set a routine

 According to Psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., maintaining a route helps keep us grounded. Make a schedule that works for you.

In 1965, Vonnegut wrote a letter to his wife about his daily writing habits. Kurt Vonnegut: Letters (Kindle).

“I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare.

"When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not.”

Have a daily word count

How much can you realistically write every day? If it is around 200–400, no worries! Set the goal, but stick to it. Value consistency over quantity. Stick to your daily word count for as long as necessary. Eventually, you will be able to write 1000–2000 words or more each day. Practice will get you there.

Allow for cheat days

Just like being on a diet, there will be writing cheat days. Accept that fact of writing life. Although you may not be writing, these days can still be productive.

  • Brainstorm ideas
  • Look for visuals
  • Plot your course
  • Read for fun

Set a sleep routine

Here are the sleep routines of a few fine writers.

  • Toni Morrison had two children and a day job when she started her writing career. She rose at 4 a.m., and then wrote until it was time to get her children up and off to school.
  • Virginia Woolf got up with the sun. After breakfast with her husband, she went to her writing room at 9:30.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of "The Great Gatsby" regularly slept until 11 a.m., and then spent the afternoon trying to gear up for a writing session.
  • James Joyce usually slept until 10 or so, then lounged around in bed for another hour, pondering.

Each writer followed their specific sleep routine. Sleep is critical for your mental health and creative voice.

What do you do when your muse stops talking? Do you keep a routine for writing?

* * * * * *

About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents, and The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon chapter book series with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, MG Magical Realism/ Sci-Fi.

Find her at https://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

Top Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

13 comments on “How to Overcome Obstacles to Writing, Part 1”

  1. I do keep a routine, which isn't difficult these days given I'm retired and can do what I want. What I want is to spend 6-8 hours/day editing. So, I do. It hasn't always been that way, of course. Before the pandemic, when I still worked part-time in the mornings, I still managed 4-6 hours in the afternoon and evening. I live alone. When I worked full-time it depended on my schedule, but I found ways to write during meal breaks and after work.

    My muse doesn't know what quiet is, but I'll never complain. Instead, I wish I could keep up with her. Still, there are times when I have to work out details, and like you suggest, if my hands, feet, or both are engaged it's easier for me to think. That often means walking, but mundane household chores also work, like vacuuming or cleaning the kitchen. My polar opposite technique is also one you mentioned: meditation.

    1. Hi Christina,
      It sounds like you have the best muse ever!
      Do you use a recording device for the times you are away from your computer?
      We are all so different. I seem to need breaks and can only manage a few hours at a time if writing or editing. "Chunking" works for me.
      You have mighty stamina!

      1. The way my brain works, if I used a recording device the playback would reveal how often I digress. I fear it'd be incomprehensible. If walking, I play and replay scenes in my mind trying to perfect them. I hear the dialogue, see the action. It's like a director calling for another take.

        If away for longer, though, and if I'm busy, I'll write notes or keywords on my phone or the little notebook I often carry. There are a lot of diagrams and sketches in there from when I was working out what airships looked like, or how the school in Stealing Light appeared.

        I do actually "chunk" my time. I read posts like this one, write, then take a walk. I have a meal while catching up on social media or other sites, then write. I meditate and practice yoga, eat, and write again. I'd say my day consists of 3 to 4 sessions over 15-17 hours. Even within my writing blocks I take minutes for laundry, checking meals, etc.. I'm describing the ideal day, but not every day is like what I describe. Life demands that I be flexible.

        1. Hi Christina,
          I can appreciate the flow you have. It makes sense to pause and do something like the dishes, in order to allow myself some processing time.

          It can be too easy for me to fall completely off task though. So, I started using a simple time tracking app on my phone when I work. It's an easy tap and I can total up the time I am working on various projects - from blogging to social media posts and writing a draft of a new WIP to editing the current project. It has been insightful and keeps me focused on the work I have completed.

          And your ideal day sounds pretty great to me!

  2. Hi Ellen,
    This is always a tricky balance - the drive to finish the novel versus not burning oneself out.
    Thanks for the timely post!

  3. Great post, Ellen! I don't have a routine, and it shows in my productivity. I have a "work routine" which is different. I feel like I must do certain things before I write, and that hampers me. I've been working hard to reschedule my life so that I can come to a place where writing can take priority, and I'm almost there! Thanks for the reminder. I particularly loved the sleep schedule advice, because I'm one of those who can't do much in the mornings, but can work all night!

    1. Hi Lisa,
      I think we should use our strengths to our best advantage and go forward.
      If you write best late in the evening that's what you need to do.
      I've been thinking a lot lately about sleep schedules and teens. Generally, they work best in school if they can start later in the day. Some districts are finally going to give them a later start.
      Personally, I write best in the late morning and early afternoon. By 9pm my writer-brain is pretty useless.

  4. Walk away, look at the plot journal, do some freewriting on something else, read, get some tea...

    then come back refreshed.

    1. Hi Denise!
      These are all excellent ideas.
      Sitting in front of a blinking cursor for an extended time is awful.
      Tea time sounds lovely.

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