You CAN Write: How to Get Unstuck When You Feel Uninspired

If I could snap my fingers and make the world perfect, we’d all only write when we felt inspired. Yes, I realize what I just wrote likely implies that The Pocket PhD wouldn’t exist in the perfect world. I’m not sure how I feel about that. But let’s move on.

Unless you live a monastic life and write poetry in your spare time, you probably don’t have the luxury of only needing to write when you feel inspired. I certainly don’t have this luxury. And even setting aside deadlines on client work, I have to write for myself when I’m feeling less than excited about putting my fingers on the keyboard more often than I’d like to admit.

So what do we do when we have to persist through those less than inspired moments and churn out some decent or even remarkable content? In this article, I’m sharing the steps I take to get myself unstuck when I’m feeling uninspired.

Step 1: Ask yourself, “why am I not writing?”

This first question is really important. When we reflect on our motivation (or lack thereof), we have a better chance of finding a solution and of avoiding that stuck feeling next time. So, whenever I get stuck, I ask myself, “why am I not writing?”

Often the answer is: I was really productive yesterday and I have nothing left in the tank today.

When this is the case, it’s important to identify the feeling. There’s a big difference between feeling tapped out and feeling uninspired. 

Here’s what it’s like when I’m tapped out:

  • I spend a lot of time staring at a blank page or out the window.
  • If I try to read something, my mind will wander and I’ll have to re-read parts of the same article or chapter over and over.
  • None of my tasks, writing or non-writing, seem interesting to me.
  • Editing may feel easier than writing from scratch and I might want to switch to an editing task, which takes longer than it would if I weren’t tapped out.
  • Writing often won’t happen — no matter how hard I try to “muscle-through.”

Here’s what it’s like when I’m uninspired:

  • I write a few lines, then I start to question what I’m writing (“This isn’t good enough,” “Ugh, I don’t know what to say,” “I wish I didn’t have to get this done today”).
  • I am easily distracted. Anything is more interesting than writing (“I probably should rearrange my sock drawer,” “maybe it’s time to make that elaborate French recipe for dinner tonight”).
  • I rationalize going down Google rabbit holes as “research.”
  • I CAN write if I dig deep, focus my mind, and get on a roll with it. But I won’t unless I get tough with myself.

When I’m tapped out, I’m better off switching to less directly creative tasks, like editing, documenting my processes, or making checklists for projects.

If I really am feeling uninspired, though, then it’s time to dig deeper. I ask some more questions:

  • What would make me feel more inspired about this piece of writing?
  • Do I need a better hook or angle?
  • Do I need to read around a bit (without going down any rabbit holes) more to figure out what might be more inspiring?
  • Do I need to step away and let my mind wander for a bit before I come back to write?

Everything starts from asking the simple question, “why am I not writing?.” Ask it without fear. Ask it without judgment. Ask it like a curious friend.

Step 2: Get inspired 

Once you’ve taken a moment to interrogate why you aren’t writing during the time you’ve dutifully set aside for yourself, it’s time to try to shift your mood from uninspired to inspired. Perhaps this obvious answer is not that helpful — “oh, you say you’re feeling uninspired? Well, get inspired, why don’t cha?” But hear me out.

If you can shift your environment or make some other dramatic shift, you may be able to jumpstart your brain. 

I like to keep a running list of things that inspire me:

  • Walking down to the creek or through the woods
  • Chatting with a friend
  • Reading posts on the What Works Network
  • Writing someplace new or different

Okay, I’m lying. I don’t actually have a list, but I really do do these things when I feel uninspired. So, I guess, now I do have a list.

Step 3: Start by writing just the first sentence 

We can learn a lot from artists about creating when you’re feeling uninspired. And some of the best artists I know are really good at talking themselves through perfectionism or not enoughness. If one of these mindset challenges disguises itself as a lack of inspiration, remind yourself that the only thing that matters is that you start.

No matter how uninspired you feel, there is one thing you can do: You can write the first sentence. So don’t let yourself get out of the chair until you write that first sentence. After you write it, give yourself a small reward. Or do something that inspires you from the list you created (you created a list too, right?). 

Not feeling it? Remind yourself that procrastination can be a form of self-sabotage. Tell yourself your feelings are irrelevant in this situation and “I do hard things.” Respect your future self enough to do this favor for yourself. 

Why does this work? Often when that voice inside your head is saying, “you can’t do this,” changing the narrative is as simple as proving that voice wrong. I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of proving my inner madwoman wrong. So if I can get that first sentence written, I start to feel bulletproof and writing the next sentence and the next paragraph and the next section gets easier and easier.

Step 4: Keep going 

Finally, if you manage to write that first sentence, keep going. It doesn’t matter how rough what you’re writing is, as long as you’re intentional about it. And you can always edit at a time when you’re feeling more inspired. 

Now you might be wondering, “okay, but if I’m going to edit this when I’m feeling more inspired anyway, why not wait to write it until then?” The answer is, “you’ll get a better result.” You’ll get something down on paper and you’ll tell off your inner madwoman (-man, -person, -camera, -TV), which will make you feel amazing and in the process, you may even find your inspiration, who knows?

The point is, if you give up and go watch Friends for the hundredth time, you’re only making it more likely that you’ll do the same thing the next time you feel uninspired. You’ve got to break the pattern to get unstuck. 

So, unless Friends makes you feel inspired, stay in the chair, write that first sentence, keep going, and if you get on a roll, start writing the next thing until you absolutely have to stop. You CAN write when you’re feeling uninspired (but you don’t HAVE to)! 

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