How to Write When You Think You Can’t

Even the best writers need writing help! 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.

“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.”

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 learn how to write. And, check out my writing tips…

If you know you can write but your writing is weak, read How to Write Powerful Words That Grab Attention.

When you fear of rejection, failure, or success

Write as much as you can. Don’t just write for yourself. 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.

Writing 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 Peter on 10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Magazine Writing Skills. “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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.” He/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.

For more tips, read 13 Tips and Prompts for Creative Journaling.

What’s the best writing help you’ve ever received? Did it help you write, even when you thought you couldn’t?


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5 thoughts on “How to Write When You Think You Can’t”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Clarisse,

    Welcome to the writing world! Even the most established writers doubt their competencies — whether they’re native English speakers or not. 🙂

    And thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate it!

    Keep writing,

  2. Hi Laurie,

    Thank you for this very helpful post. I am a freelance writer, and I am a non-native English speaker. Although I can say that I am confident with my English speaking and writing abilities, there are still times that I doubt my competency as a writer. This is the same reason I’ve been looking for some good read over the Web that’ll help me boost my confidence as a writer, and improve my writing abilities in general. I am glad to have found your site because you don’t only offer tips for your fellow writers; you also encourage them to do better by being an inspiration. Your positive outlook in life is evident in your writings and it’s infectious!

    Again, thank you for this post. You’ve helped me accomplished a ‘difficult writing’ task today.

    Happy Freelancing,

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    George ~ it’s great to see you here, especially since your internet time is so limited these days! Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

    Michael ~ “writing from the heart” is advice that is amazingly easy to ignore! Writers get caught up in selling articles, making enough money to pay the bills, not pitching ideas they think editors might think are “stupid”, and even losing touch with what they really want to write about.

    Writing from the heart is important for web writers and bloggers, too.

    All good things,

  4. Great article. All excellent advice, all food for thought, all things I have to remember from time to time 40 years into my writing career.

    The best advice I ever received was “write from your heart.” My early reading is very much in the old philosophical tradition, where the author had to be as invisible as possible. Theme-based examination of issues, even in the fiction. Themes and issues remain at the heart of my writing, but to make them the only thing is just boring for the reader, and eventually the writer. It’s okay to see me in my words. I don’t have to squash my heart like a bug.

    I received the advice about 30 years ago. I started listening about 10 years ago. It made a difference. Or at least, it does when I’m not procrastinating, lacking ideas, noticing the lack of readers, searching for incentive…

  5. Laurie,

    You have managed to capture the essence of literally all of the things that can slow us down as writers. Good advice to review and keep handy. I think I’ve suffered through most all of these at one time or another and sometimes they have even dog-piled on me.

    Yet another bookmark in my browser for something I need to keep handy.