Writing and Life: What to do when you just can’t

When my youngest child of four started school in September I thought that I would blog about that. After all this blog is called Head above Water, it’s about the years of juggling life and writing when the kids were very small. After almost twelve years, with all the children now in school I’ve entered a new era and perhaps I will blog about that in the future.


But for a number of reasons (lack of a clear holiday downtime during the summer, the effort that goes along with getting the children settled back into their routine and other things) rather than having a new lease of life I’ve felt worn down and came to the point where I was unable to blog, to write very much, tweet, market my self-published books or any of the the things that I’d previously thought important both because I enjoyed them and because I was building a career.

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. Not the kind where you stare out the window and wait for the muse to come and can’t think of anything. I’ve used writing prompts to help me get started, walking always makes new ideas come, focused effort has worked for me: I’ve completed NaNoWriMo (the 50,000 words in a month challenge) three times.

But the air sometimes gets thin when you’re running and running and don’t take the time to figure out why or where. We talk about fitting writing into our busy lives, eking out the hours around our work but we talk less about doing nothing, about enjoying ourselves, having fun, exploring the passions and interests we have for their own sake.


There’s a lot of talk now about marketing, building platforms, social networking, raising your profile, unlocking Amazon’s algorithms to gain visibility. But again, these activities can become vapourous when we are doing them just for the sake of keeping up, because it’s the done thing, because everyone else is running faster and faster now and we have to keep up.

Too much in the head

We know too much. We are aware of almost every tragedy and every success. We try to assimilate, to compare, to see where the world fits in relation to us and where we fit in relation to it. As writers we hear of the publishing deals, the advances, the runaway self-published successes, the wonderful word counts and so on. We are happy for others but anxious for ourselves, wondering if we’re doing things right. And publishing is changing so much, from week to week both on the traditional and self-publishing fronts that authors don’t always know if they are doing the right thing, making the right choices.

So what can we do if we have lost our way with writing and with fitting writing into a life that is rich and varied outside of our daily wordcount

What to do if you have lost your way


Stop writing, have some time off altogether, rest, don’t even think. Just stop.
Some people say we should write everyday to keep the writing muscle going, to keep in the story. Yes, yes if you are enjoying it. Yes if you love writing your book. But if you have lost your way in general or in the project you are working on, just stop.


But only if you can stand it. Sometimes being a writer can ruin reading. But if you can find books that carry you away, that make you feel like you did when you had no authorly ambition and you were just reading because you loved it.

Refill the well

Do the things you would do if you weren’t trying to be a writer. Watch the telly, play table tennis, tie conkers with string and smash them against each other with a friend, waste time, go out, chat, dig a hole in the garden, paint a picture, watch football, go to the library for non-research purposes. These are ways of being a writer when you’re not writing but do things to that have absolutely nothing to do with being a writer at all. Why do I even have to say that? Sometimes we develop tunnel vision.

Read Karen Rivers’ blog

Karen Rivers’ blog is about the experience of living. She shines a light on how we are in the world and the odd things we do and how we get through things. She makes us stop in the middle of a tornado and find quiet in the eye of the storm.

Remember it’s okay to take time out for yourself

This post from Barbara Scully is very apt for me as a mother in the home, life is very full on from 1.30 onwards to late at night, there is little time to recuperate. This applies to everyone, male or female, particularly those who spend much of their day tending to or sorting out the needs of others. How can you write and know what you want to write and why when you are still in the headset/mindset of a clamour of voices other than your own.

Listen to all the rubbish you are telling yourself and talk yourself out of it

When there is too much noise, when we know too much, when we compare ourselves, when we are giving to other people without taking time to reestablish our equilibrium we are wearing ourselves out with everything that is in our heads. Chris Brogan gives an example of how we can listen to what we our inner critic is telling us and how it is making us feel. We can learn to talk back and stop confusing ourselves and losing the focus of what we really want to do, not just think we should.

I’ll write a related post about how we need to stay in love with our novels or learn to love them when the spark goes out but if it’s gone further than that and you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything you are trying to achieve then I hope this post shows you are not alone and that there are things you can try to help.

Related posts: 5 New year resolutions for writing parents

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