When I Can’t Write

Sometimes I get into a place, mentally, where the words just won’t come. It’s not really writer’s block, it’s usually when I’m going through some situation that causes a lot of emotion, which makes it difficult for me to “clear my mind” and write.

But I know that situations change, emotions fade, and my mind will clear—eventually.

So I don’t get too upset about it.

There are things I do do when this happens that seem to help me settle my emotions and gain that clarity I’m looking for.

One thing is I move more. For example, I had a lot of “to-dos” on my list today, but I went snowshoeing for two hours anyway. Returning from the woods and the pond, I was much calmer and ready to tackle that list.

Another thing I do is anything that involves using my hands. I’ve picked up various projects and worked on them in the past few weeks, from a shawl I’m knitting to a latch-hook rug I’m making for my son.

I’ve also started making zentangles. I’ve always been a doodler, but I recently read about making doodles as a meditative practice. I took to it right away.

Here’s the first zentangle I drew:

IMG_3330

 

 

 

 

Here’s the most recent one I drew:

IMG_3333

All you need is a pencil, a pen, and a piece of paper (or a tile, which is just a small square piece of very nice paper to draw on.)

I have found doing the zentangles therapeutic, and I’ve also gotten some ideas about my writing while doing them. When I do them right before bed, I find myself more relaxed and I’ve been getting more ideas. It’s a right-brain exercise that often leads to a left-brain “ah-ha” moment.

The point is just to do them. Insights may come, but the act of focusing on a small square of paper and a repetitive design is what’s important. The hardest part is giving myself permission to “waste” time in this way. When I do, I’m always glad I did.

How do you clear your mind and settle your emotions so you can write?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. I’m plugging away at my writing life, in the midst of everything else, just like everyone else I know.

 

43 thoughts on “When I Can’t Write

  1. I love this post because it reaffirms what I am just now learning: go with the flow and don’t try to force the words to come. I spent many years grinding away at my writing even when I couldn’t find my words. I finally realized that when I do this, I am wasting time. I’m much more efficient when I do as you say and busy my mind and hands for a while and then come back to the writing. My mind is usually much more clear by then and the words flow more easily and the writing is much better. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea, we always think we should write through the occasional block, but it just doesn’t always make sense!

    • Hi thewritertracy,
      I agree, it always helps to get away from the writing and do something else, then come back to it. It’s taken me a while to figure this out also! But even when I write a draft of a blog post and then go throw in a load of laundry, I can come back to it with fresh eyes–even after only 10 minutes!

      I’m really enjoying the zentangling. I’ve always loved using my hands and moving my body, so it makes sense that I can get some creative work done while I’m moving or while my hands are occupied.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  2. Just as every writer has her own voice, I’m certain each has her own method that works for her … at least most of the time. Mine is to set the timer on my phone for five minutes, then sit in front of my computer with my eyes closed and just breathe slowly in and out. My sub-conscious takes over after a minute or two and the tension drifts away. Often I can find the thread I was looking for.

    • As with any art form, what works for one, won’t work for another. It’s important to find your own process and not rely too heavily on reading about how others make their own way I think.

    • Hi dils,
      I agree, we each have to find what works for us. I was just throwing out an idea that worked for me, because sometimes hearing about other peoples’ process can allow us to give ourselves permission to do what works for us.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Warmly,
      Diane

    • Hi Leah Ward-Lee,
      Thanks for the idea. I have tried taking three deep breaths, but I’ve never tried sitting at my desk for 5 minutes before starting to write–I’ll have to try it!

      Thanks for contributing what works for you and thanks for reading!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  3. That is interesting. Thanks for sharing.
    When I want to settle my emotions, I write. I just sit down and type out everything that is in my mind to get rid of it.
    And when I need to write something and am hit by a severe procrastination attack , you know, the kind where vacuuming suddenly becomes a very attractive task, then I sit down and write about why I cannot write.
    I write down my inner dialogues until I am empty. Then I wait for an answer about how I should continue. Sometimes the anwer comes right away. Sometimes it comes in a dream. Sometimes as a song in my head where the lyrics carry a meaning.

    • Hi Karin,
      Thanks so much for sharing your process with us! It’s always good to hear how other people handle the whole I want to write/I don’t want to write conflict.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  4. Beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing this. I was getting pretty frustrated with trying to write something. I went on a nice long bike ride and now I am much better 🙂

    • Hi simonefallen,
      Excellent! I’m so glad getting out helped you feel better. Moving is great for our bodies and our minds!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  5. Love your zentangles. Besides my blog I’m not writing on any schedule or any regularity. I really want to but I know that beating myself up about it is not the answer. Hopefully I can figure out what’s going on through some of the other activities you’ve mentioned and start up again. Thanks!

    • Hi wheremyfeetare,
      Beating yourself up is not the way to go. There are many different things to try, such a dialogue with yourself, as another reader mentioned above.

      Good luck!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  6. I find writing pieces for my blog simply to keep me writing will inspire my main project when my mind is ready to. In time. Therefore, there can be no ‘writer’s block’. I can’t force myself to write. If it doesn’t happen, I move on. Reading widely helps to inspire as well as listening to music ☺

    • Hi dils,
      It’s so great to hear how you handle your writing life. I agree, reading and listening to music are helpful. I find listening to new music and reading outside my normal range are especially helpful.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  7. I was recently bereaved and found it has been very hard to write, which is something I love. If I am honest I didnt want to write anyway, i was hurting too much. I didnt worry about it at all, i knew it was grief and the writing would return or maybe it wouldn’t. But it didnt really bother me. This is all passing now and I get moments like now when I just feel to write. Nothing big , just comments. So i am healing slowly and i am carrying on with life which includes moving but sometimes resting…..although I am moving a lot more now; gardening, walking, reading when i go out to a coffee shop, etc…thanx for your post , it inspired me to answer. Barbara

    • Hi Barbara,
      I’m so sorry for your loss. I don’t think I’d want to write much after a loss, not even in my journal. I think some things deplete you so much that there are no words available. I’m glad that you are healing and starting to find a few words again.

      Best wishes!

      Warmly,
      Diane

    • Hi ladyquirky,
      That’s a good point! I like the focus I feel after I doodle. Plus I have something concrete in my hand to show for the time spent.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  8. I have had my fair share of this problem. For me, my writing does not get “blocked” as much as it is drowned out by background noise. When I sit down to write at the end of the day I will often have a lot on my mind, and sitting still can be difficult. That’s why I like to do my writing as soon as I get up in the morning – my mind is as blank a slate as it’s going to be at any point during the day, and I am usually too groggy to worry about anything other than putting my fingers on the keys.

    • Hi lukeythekid,
      I like to write in the morning, too, but my son’s up at 4:45 AM these days so I only have time for my 5 minute journal in the morning. One of the things I like about my doodles is when I do them, I stop thinking about all the things I have on my mind so I get closer to that “blank slate” you mention than I otherwise could in the middle of a busy day.

      Here’s to morning pages! I plan to get back to them one of these days!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  9. I’m not the world’s greatest doodler, but I have also found many things that help me when the words are stuck in that place where you just can’t reach. Going outside and just taking a walk is one of the simplest and most effective things for me. Good to know that we all have these moments!

    • Hi biancabee101,
      Everyone has had these moments of feeling unable to write, we just handle them in our own ways. I think taking a walk is a great choice. Movement always clears my mind!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  10. I find swimming helps. It releases the stuff piling up in my head, (ie, my ever-growing to do list, built-up emotions and processing reams of ‘how to’ information). This has the added benefit of creating a space where by the time I’ve got out of the pool, I have fresh insight into what’s next – and clarity to start writing again! I think this is what they mean by grounding …

    • Hi mkmacinnes,
      I agree, swimming is great for clearing your mind. I get great ideas when I’m swimming!

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I love hearing all the different ways we get out of our heads so we can get the writing done!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  11. im drawing zentangles my self too…actually was not aware why Im drawing them and even they have a special name untill now..Im actually amazed at how similar they are to your zentangles 🙂

    • Hi lunarlidi,
      Cool! Yeah, I just learned recently they had a special name and there’s a special process to it. But it’s still a doodle and those of us that doodle are going to doodle no matter what the name of it is!

      I hope you have fun doodling and writing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  12. Pingback: Zentangle: Creativity and Focus - The Spare Room Project

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