How to Write When You Aren’t in the Mood

Neutral2_180_180_whiteIn honor of the first day of NaNoWriMo 2011 ***cheers*** (National Novel-Writing Month, for the uninitiated) I’m blogging about something I’m sure none of my lovely writing friends need help with…at least, not on fantabulous Day 1 of a month devoted to writing:

How to write when you are in the mood to curl up in the comfy chair with your favorite four-legged pal and veg out in the company of your favorite…

  • book
  • movie
  • handicraft
  • music
  • sugary treat
  • fill in the blank _____________

…and you absolutely, positively are NOT in the mood to write. Not even a grocery list, thank you very much. Not that I’ve ever been there. Much. 😀

Here’s my list of fave ways to kick the writing doldrums. Bookmark it, print it out, or write up your own and keep it handy and ready to smack down any anti-writing vibes that may creep up on you in the next month! Because remember, the best defense is a good offense!


  1. Go for a walk. Exercise is a proven way to get your brain–and your creative juices flowing. I find this works especially well if you bring along a pen but no paper. When ideas know they can only be captured on skin, clothing, and other materials not usually designed for writing, they’re far more likely to come out to play.
  2. Freewrite. That is, write anything. Really anything, whatever words pop into your head–and if no words pop into your head, feel free to write okay, I can’t think of anything to write this feels really stupid. Brains being what they are, yours will eventually take an unexpected turn. You may discover the perfect solution to your problem scene or you may write dreck—but the way I see it, sometimes you have to write the dreck before you can write the good stuff. Kinda like running the faucet until the water runs clear.
  3. Set a word goal. This is what NaNoWriMo is all about, right? By giving yourself a goal, you give your brain something to work toward. Maybe it doesn’t feel like producing words for you, but if it just coughs up a few…more…phrases, maybe you’ll be satisfied and leave it alone. Or maybe you’ll feed it chocolate….
  4. Set a timer. I’ve written before about thepower of deadlines to increase your production. If you don’t feel like writing, coax your muse into a 15 minute sprint and see what happens!
  5. Mine your memory for emotion. What emotion does your character feel in the current scene? Pull up a memory where you felt that emotion and write it out—and then apply that depth of feeling to your scene and see what happens.
  6. Mine your character’s memories. If you don’t know what happens next in your tale, it might help to go backwards for a bit. What memories do your story’s events evoke in your main character? What memories, good or bad, will be triggered by his current challenge? This backstory might not fit into your current scene, but that’s okay (see #7). Heck, it might not even make it into the final manuscript, but that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about: generating raw material from which you can craft a great story.
  7. Skip ahead. There are lots of reasons for a stuck story. Maybe you’re writing a scene that doesn’t need to appear in the final manuscript, an event that can be summarized rather than shown. Maybe the scene is boring and needs some action to liven things up. Maybe you’re trying to force your character to perform actions that fit the plot but aren’t really true to his or her character. Whatever the reason, sometimes it helps to jump forward to another scene and go back later to fill in the gaps—or leave the gaps unfilled, if you discover they weren’t needed in the first place.
  8. Switch point of view. I find this exercise incredibly helpful when I am figuring out how my antagonist will react in a scene. I write out what he wants, what he thinks, how he responds emotionally as well as physically as events unfold—and even though I may never use those actual words, they enable me to understand how he would react to unfolding events.
  9. Make a list. If the words won’t flow in the traditional paragraph format, try listing key details for a scene: possible plot directions, sensory details, character emotions, logical chains of events, illogical reactions, character paranoias, stage directions, etc. Pretty soon one will trigger your muse into cooperation.
  10. Incorporate an unexpected image. If you’re feeling stuck, find a picture that speaks to you and let it serve as a writing prompt. Pinterest is my new favorite place to browse images galore; select your category and scroll through the cute, the fantastic, the ugly, the raw.
  11. Try a prompt. Sometimes you just don’t know enough about characters or scene for the words to flow freely. A writing prompt can help you discover story and character. Check out one of these resources to find a prompt that inspires:

What tips or tricks do you use to get yourself writing when you really, really, really don’t feel like hitting the page? Please share in the comments!

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You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more […]


  1. says

    Numbers 1, 2, and 11 are regular prods for me, but # 7 (skipping to ahead) sounds promising, too. Thanks for the tips :-) Great post.

    • Cheryl Reif says

      Hi Kenda, glad you found the tips helpful! I plan to use a few myself in the coming weeks :)

    • Cheryl Reif says

      I get a lot from hiking and walking as well–it’s just hard to make myself take the time to go! 😛

  2. says

    Great tips, Cheryl! I always try to think about character emotions when I’m wondering what comes next, but I haven’t tried relating them to my own by writing mine out. I’ll have to try it.

    • Cheryl Reif says

      That one’s been really powerful for me–it helps me to figure out how an emotion plays out, beyond the obvious heart pounding, palms sweating sort of stuff.

  3. says

    Great tips, indeed! Hello from a fellow NaNo-er … (though, perhaps, “informally” as I’m thus far working on a novel I’d already begun … but that a defunct hard-drive consumed).

    To keep myself accountable, I’m planning on putting chapters on my blog, etc. Chapter 1 (revised — not from scratch for NaNo) went up yesterday.

    Hopefully, those of us participating (formally or informally) can keep each other encouraged over the next month.

    • Cheryl Reif says

      Don’t worry, I’m one of those not-quite-by-the-rules NaNo-er, too, as I’m working on a manuscript that I began and then decided needed to be written in an entirely different way. So I’m writing the whole book, but technically I did start it once. All new words for NaNo, though! It’s still a valuable exercise. Good luck!

  4. says

    Thanks for the tips! Hope it’s okay…I’m linking to this post on our blog tomorrow! christy

    • Cheryl Reif says

      Of course it’s okay! I love your blog :)

    • Cheryl Reif says

      Thanks! I haven’t started yet–other work I need to do first–but hopefully (crossing fingers) I can do some fiction-writing after lunch today :)