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How to Write When You Have No Ideas

You want to write, but you think you have nothing to write about. Maybe you’re paralyzed by fear or uncertainty. Here’s how to write when you have no ideas.

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open,” says Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.

Don’t turn away from writing, fellow scribes. Lower your expectations, shake off your need to write perfectly, and stop comparing yourself to other writers. Taste your writing. Keep going back for more. Sooner or later, you won’t need writing help — you’ll be helping other writers!

Don’t fall into the trap of believing you have “writer’s block.” That will become a self-fulfilling spiral of doom and you really will have no ideas to write about. Instead, focus on writing the first draft of your project.

How to Write When You Have No Ideas

Even the best writers need encouragement. These tips will help you write when you think you can’t – they range from overcoming the fear of writing to learning how to create better freelance article ideas.

Practice writing through fear of rejection, failure, or success

Write as much as you can, even if you feel like you have nothing to write about. Don’t just write for yourself — write for Suite101, Examiner.com, Associated Content, your own blog, or your friend’s blog. Hell, e-mail me and write on my blog! I’m nice to guest bloggers — as long as they’re not better writers than I am. 🙂

If you want to get over your writing fears, you have to practice the very thing you’re afraid of. Writing. Submitting. Dealing with editors’ decisions to publish or not. The only way to be a successful writer is to keep writing — and accept writing help whenever you can get it.

How to write through discouragement

Discouragement is a death knell for successful writers because once it sets in, it suffocates your motivation to write. To write even when you’re discouraged, focus on either: 1) your past writing achievements; or 2) the failures and successes of writers you admire. Every writer has his or her own way of staying motivated to write. Your job is to figure out how to fire up the muse!

“Never give up,” says blogger Petteri Ollila. “If you are not get­ting enough traffic to your blog right now, find out what the rea­son is and work more. Maybe you are not mar­ket­ing enough, or maybe you have to write bet­ter con­tent. There is always some­thing you can do better.”

How to write when procrastination is screaming your name

I’m doing it right now — instead of writing copy for my best client, I’m blogging. It’s not that I think I can’t write the article…it’s just that it’s work.

To force myself to write when I think I can’t, I say: “Laurie, after you’ve worked on your client’s stuff for 30 minutes, then you can reward yourself by blogging for an hour.” That’s an effective way to write when you think you can’t: schedule 30 minutes to write what you think you can’t, then do something fun.

How to Write When You Have No Ideas

“How to Write When You Have No Ideas” image by gfpeck via flickr

How to write when you have no ideas

Some writers have more ideas than they can use; other writers struggle to come up with ideas they think editors, agents, or publishers will buy. One way to write despite “idea block” is to spice up what’s already been written. For example, there’s a glut of articles about making money as a freelance writer. Instead of adding to the pile, add a twist.

Another example: I have a chronic illness that may slow my writing career. I met a freelance writer a few days ago who spent several years in jail. How do freelancers like us make money — do our “issues” hold us back or help us be better writers? Teach yourself how to spin your life or an article idea so it’s not just an idea — it’s a story.

How to write when you think your work will never be read

Most writers want to be read…and I’m one of those writers who once thought writing something that’ll never be read was a waste of time. But, I know better now! Even if nobody reads this article, I’m becoming a better writer by honing my writer’s voice, developing my writing style, letting my personality shine through my words. The best writing tip I ever got was to relax and let myself peek through my writing — and forget about whether or not my writing will be read.

This is how you learn how to love writing.

How to write when you have no incentive

If you’re a new freelance writer, you may find it tough to spend hours writing article query letters and have no idea if you’ll get an assignment from any magazine. So, my writing tip is to find an “accountability partner.”

how to write when you have no ideasHe/she can be another freelance writer or an entrepreneur. Find someone who has career goals similar to yours, and work together to achieve your goals. Make a pact to share your progress – and figure out effective “punishments” if you don’t perform satisfactorily. Be there for each other.

Free the Writer Within

“Writing is elemental,” said Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. “Once you have tasted its essential life, you cannot turn from it without some deep denial and depression. It would be like turning from water.”

Natalie Goldberg also said:

“A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp’s half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer’s task to say, “It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a café when you can eat macrobiotic at home.”

Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”

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11 thoughts on “How to Write When You Have No Ideas”

  1. It’s not JUST that I think it’s pointless to spend so much time writing rubbish and am scared to try or whatever, and I didn’t understand what you even meant by the last part about it being stupid to go to a cafe or something… – I don’t have anything to say at all! Not ‘my ideas are bad’ or ‘I can’t write’ (although that’s true too – whenever I want to say something I often can’t find the words and am unable to get across exactly what I mean, and it’s SO frustrating), but I don’t have ideas at all! I literally do not know how to have ideas. People just say ‘well think’, like it’s that easy and obvious and I must be stupid to not have any. I think constantly. I can’t understand anyone who doesn’t. But I think about things, not think of new things. There is nothing I have to say that wouldn’t be a copy of something that’s already been said. And why would one copy something almost word for word? That’s copying, not creating. I just feel like I must be stupid because all the so-called advice still means nothing to me. I want to be able to create things, I just don’t know what. Any of my so-called thoughts are just ‘oh, that book was good, that film was good, that idea that so and so was talking about was good’. Not ‘oh wouldn’t it be cool if ***stuff that I’ve not been told directly by someone else before at some point***’. I just feel so stupid. And if its a case of ‘oh you’re just not meant to be creative’.. well apparently my life has been telling me I’m not meant to do anything. I seem to fail at anything I try, or want to do, and I feel so pathetic seeing people talk like it’s obvious and easy and even the ‘problems’ are solvable. Nobody seems able to tell me how to have something to say, only that I should start saying it.

  2. Hey. I want to write. When i was in school I wrote a lot. I wrote some songs for my ex. I don’t know if I i can write or not but sometimes it feels like I really should write. i had ideas butI then seem to disagree with them. this post of yours in a way guided me. I am looking forward to you and myself. Maybe I don’t know this is gonna help me in many ways.

  3. Ah! Laurie, you just prodded me to action. Thank you very much. Do you know that for several months now, I’ve not been able to write a word? Now I’m beginning to do something. If I become any kind of a writer one day, you will be the first person on my mind that has really encouraged me. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for your comments! I’ve learned that it’s crucial to write down my ideas at the exact moment I have them, or I’ll forget…and then I’ll be stuck. That’s how I write a blog post – and sometime two – every weekday.

  5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thank you for your thoughts on how to write when you have no ideas! I find that sometimes I’m full of writing inspiration, and other times I’m dry. The trick is to ride the wave, and be prepared for the next one 🙂

  6. Laurie, I found your site to be a great source of information for a beginner such as myself. I have strong writing abilities and actually enjoy written communication; heck, I convey my thoughts much better on paper than orally. I though I’d give this a try, but the fear is not concerning my writing skills; it’s more or less being knowledgeable and being able to come up with viable content. Anyway, I really wanted to comment on your site and also point out that suite 101 no longer exists. I have briefly checked out Examiner.com and will look into Associated Content. I wouldn’t mind writing on your blog just for the experience. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I find that a good way to come up with ideas is to sit down and start putting words on the page. Even writing about how you have nothing to write about leads to something popping into your mind. So you just keep putting words on the page till something worth writing about comes along.

  8. I personally, when don’t have any inspiration just go for a walk or go to swim in a lake that’s right beside my house – it helps me.