How to write when writing is hard
Last week I took a trip to Charlotte Russe, the fast fashion store for high school girls and 32-year-old brides-to-be who need white, mildly inappropriate dresses for their upcoming bachelorette parties. (Guess which one I was?)
As I stood in the dressing room struggling to sandwich my body into a tiny lacy dress, the thought popped into mind:
Crap. I still haven’t written my blog post.
You know that feeling, right? It’s 9pm, the mall is closing, and you haven’t done the ONE most important thing to grow your audience, connect with new clients, and move the needle on your business?
Yeah, we’ve all been there.
By the time I got home, I was tired—too bleary-eyed to think straight, let alone write something coherent for my audience. I went to bed kicking myself.
Why don’t I just SIT DOWN at my desk and take 60 minutes to write whatever I want? Why don’t I just ACT like the freaking EXPERT I know I am?
Lest you think “real writers” wake up bubbling over with ideas and skipping toward the blank page, let me tell you the truth: resistance happens.
There are going to be plenty of days you don’t WANT to sit down and do the work. When you don’t FEEL like it. When you will do literally anything—including clean the fridge, vacuum cobwebs off the stairs, and scrub tile grout with a toothbrush—to avoid that blinking cursor.
So go ahead, ask a professional writer:
How do you write when writing is hard?
Chances are, you’ve tried to outsmart writing procrastination before.
So allow me to review a few critical errors most people make—and the easy alternative you should try.
Inspiration doesn’t operate on the human timetable. You can’t call her down on command. Nor can you expect her to stand by your side, ready to pop out sparklers and unicorns whenever you need them.
The muse is real, and she is powerful, and she’s got a sense of humor. (Ever notice how your genius writes itself the second you get into the shower? When you can’t possibly write anything down?)
The most reliable path to meet the muse, to “get inspired,” is to sit down and do the work as if inspiration will never come. Because she shows up when YOU show up, prepared and ready to do the work. The more you practice, the more you make time for her, the more readily she makes time for you.
It’s like the “second wind” described by marathoners.
When you’re new to running or writing, the race feels like a chore. Your feet pound the pavement with deadly repetition. You put one word in front of the other. You’re bored. Your chest hurts. Your mind jumps from idea to idea, lamenting all the other stuff you could be getting done right now. You want to quit.
But if you choose momentum over hesitation, if you cajole yourself into perseverance, you get better. The road gets easier. And your second wind arrives.
Some days, you may not catch your second wind. Others, the entire process feels easy and amazing. But that’s the magic of the muse—and it makes her gifts so much sweeter.
In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King writes:
“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you.
Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.”
You don’t need permission or outside magic to kick off your work with a bang.
Flip that passive attitude on its head. What do professional runners do before a marathon?
They jog in circles, tape Band-Aids over their nipples, and eat globs of red goo from plastic tubes. Or so I’ve noticed.
So maybe don’t do that (unless you’re REALLY active while you write). But definitely get in the zone!
Go ahead—get pumped up!
Here are some easy ways to change you mood state:
- Read something that makes you think or feel inspired.
- Listen to music that makes you happy.
- Dance around your living room.
- Watch this video.
In short, avail yourself of the #inspo oozing from every crack in your life. Take advantage of other creative people churning out brilliance night and day.
Flip the switch from blasé to hooray and watch your words come to life.
Do you ever miss a deadline—dawdle and dream instead of doing the work—then rip yourself a new one?
Spoiler: You already know writing is important! You’re using it to grow your business and expand your platform and establish your expertise! Goodness, the pressure! Enough already!
I admit that it’s VERY hard for me to take my own advice here. One wacko part of my brain lives by the old joke, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
But trust me, feeling shitty about yourself is NOT the recipe to get things done. In fact, writing under the weight of self-criticism can backfire—big time.
You want to create magnetic, powerful content, right? You want your readers to fall in love with you via the written word?
Remember this: Your readers connect with your energy LONG before they connect with your words.
If you show up miserable and beaten down, you aren’t pumping good vibes out into the world.
As Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic:
“Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.”
And make no mistake. The most magnetic, electric ideas you share with the world? Have their origins in the divine.
Here’s a shocking stat for you:
10 out of 10 tongue-tied marketers and would-be writers actually LOVE to talk about the stuff that interests them.
Okay, I made that stat up. But my point here is that you already know how to communicate about things that matter to you. Chances are VERY high that you know how to open your mouth and talk.
Writing, like speaking, is a healthy self-expression.
Writing, like speaking, is easy—assuming you a) care about the topic, and b) don’t judge yourself the entire time.
So do yourself a favor: Choose a topic that engages you. Something you enjoy talking about.
Give yourself permission to write about things that you enjoy, and you will (gasp!) look forward to talking about it.
For example, imagine you’re a brand photographer for creative entrepreneurs. And you’re obsessed with watching Gilmore Girls.
What can your clients learn or discover from the last episode you watched? Brainstorm ideas and blog about that.
Maybe you write about the way cinematographers use lighting to convey Rory’s true feelings for Logan. The point being that cameras showcase emotion—which is exactly what YOU do for your clients.
Or maybe you write about the way Lorelei dresses to compliment her environment or express her true personality. Since your clients need to dress themselves before a photo shoot, you can give tips for dressing in front of the camera.
Look, I’m a veteran of numerous writing retreats. You book an adorable house in the countryside, stock up on goat cheese, Anjou pears and rosé, and unpack your journals, poetry chapbooks, and fresh pens with the best intentions.
Sitting at a desk with a view of rolling green pastures and blue skies and long, lazy hours in which to scribe is every would-be writer’s fantasy…
…but actual writing? May not happen.
If you give yourself TOO much time to write, you fall into the trap of waiting for inspiration. (See Critical Error #1 for a refresher.)
The easiest way to write something? Is to just sit down and do it.
We know procrastination will try to convince you to get up and do ANYTHING except the work.
So how do you overcome that little roadblock?
Set a timer for 20 minutes and get to work when the clock starts.
Promise yourself that you won’t do anything except write for those measly 20 minutes. It’s just 20 minutes. You can do anything for 20 minutes.
By focusing in short, concentrated bursts, you’ll make rapid progress and finish SO. MUCH. FASTER.
Just get your butt in your chair and get to work.
No matter how many times I tell people to this, the vast majority of them never try it. Which is crazy. I use my timer several times a week—nearly every single time I need to kickstart a writing project.
Once you’ve got the force of creative momentum behind you, you’ll start to flow. You’ll be excited and moving and then inspired to actually finish the thing.
To quote Stephen King again, “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”
The hardest part is always just before you begin.
Have you ever done that thing where you type out one sentence, re-read it, go back to the beginning, and delete and fuss with every single word?
20 minutes later, you’ve got two sentences instead of three paragraphs.
I know you want to do a good job on your content. And you will!
But you don’t have to sap your motivation like this.
Instead, separate the creative and editorial processes. Let the words flow into a first draft and go back and edit once that first draft is finished.
New York Times best-selling author Laurell K. Hamilton agrees.
“Don’t rewrite as you go. Don’t try to make your first chapters perfect. If you come to a scene where you don’t know what 14th-century underwear looks like, don’t stop and research 14th-century underwear. Just write ‘underwear here.’ The second draft is filling in those holes.”
So there you have it—my easiest hacks for how to write when writing is hard.
Yes, these are simple. But that’s why they work.
So go ahead, give these a try the next time you’re feeling unmotivated.
- Inspire yourself—read or listen to an article, video or song that pumps you up.
- Choose a topic that engages you while sharing a lesson with your audience.
- Set a timer for 20 minutes, sit your butt in your chair, and write.
Now I want to hear from you.
What are your best tips for overcoming procrastination?
Let me know in the comments!