How to Keep Creative When You Can’t Write

When life hands you less time, more stress, and the inability to write, you can reduce your frustration by continuing to keep creative through alternative means until you can get back on track with your writing.

Boulder-Sized Problems Blocking the Way to Your Writing

Remember the good old days when writer’s block was your biggest worry? As if! You’d kill for a good old fashioned bout of sitting for hours in the chair with nothing to say!

Nowadays, you probably have plenty to say- you’re bursting with it- but there’s simply too much lying in your way.

All writers around the world are confronting “pandemiblock”: we’re working from home, homeschooling kids, worrying over loved ones and friends, and/or coping with having lost our jobs and dealing with the financial aftermath while also trying to find ways to “pivot”.

Even if you had the wherewithal to get over, around, or through the seemingly impassable mountain that now stands between you and your writing desk, your desk would be occupied by crayons and a banged-up plastic cash register with goldfish crackers spilling out of the money drawer, yet another Zoom meeting you’re late for, or the lockdown dread of what the future may hold. And these are the best-case scenarios for the luckiest among us. In truth, you are grateful for being so lucky as to have such problems.


large rock sitting alone in a field on cloudy day

Yet such problems still mean you can’t write. And when you want to write but can’t, it’s easy to begin feeling creatively withered, frustrated, and overwhelmed, all of which can lead into an even deeper downward spiral because then writing is no longer your outlet or release: it’s now a burden.

Apart from needing to stay physically healthy, which is naturally most important, the secondary problem here is you need to write because writing helps keep you mentally healthy. Your daily writing is your time to productively articulate your thoughts about yourself and the world and feel creatively productive and whole.

In short, your writing makes you a better person, member of your family, and contributor to your community. Without this important outlet for your conversation and ideas, you’re left to ruminate, which as everyone knows from having watched mice on a wheel, is a perfect way to go nowhere, and to develop a permanent frustrated angry thistle lodged in your throat.

Frustration benefits no one. It puts your personal world, and the world at large, at risk of sinking into a certain kind of creative disrepair, a sinkhole of lack.


Lower Your Expectations on Your Writing

Instead of living this way, you can recalibrate your expectations on your writing and how much time you can allocate to it, or find alternative creative solutions to keep up your flow if you can’t write at all.

By lowering your expectations or removing them, you’re free to re-imagine your writing under different auspices.

  • Write “for pleasure” in non-formal ways: in your journal right before going to sleep or at your computer at 6 a.m. on Saturdays
  • Keep your phone’s notes app open, so you can quickly dictate ideas to yourself throughout the day to keep the creative home fire lit and email them to yourself
  • Stash paper and pens throughout your house to arrest titles, pithy asides, or observations as they come.

Releasing the steam like this in small increments is a great way to keep your creative flow alive but in a nonthreatening low-expectation context.

(As a side note, with the pressure off, you may very well find some good stuff pouring out of you!)

sliced citrus fruits on cutting boardHow to Keep Creative When You Can’t Write

During this period of reduced writing time and low expectations, you can and should also maintain a creative lifestyle- one that’s fun, enables you to keep your body and mind nimble, and challenges you to re-see daily ongoings in a new creative context. That way when you get back to the chair for your normal writing routine, you’ll be able to hit the page running.

  • Get outside for your daily fresh air. Whether you’re alone or surrounded by a gaggle of kids or a dog, the noted lift in your mood that comes from being outside– particularly amongst trees and quiet- is restorative. If you can get your heart rate up, so much the better, even if that simply looks like a walk.
  • While you’re outside, take some pictures- let yourself look at trees, zoom in for patterns. Enjoy nature or architecture or how people have engaged with the environment. If you keep a blog or own a business, you can use the images for your website; older kids may like to get in on it and manipulate the images in a photo software like Canva or VSCO.
  • Add one vegetable you don’t normally buy to your grocery order or dip into the local fruit store. Build a meal around it!Or bake: sub in healthier flours like spelt or kamut, try cookie dough chick pea blondies, or make old fashioned chocolate chip cookies, wrap them into little parcels, and leave them for neighbors.
  • Clean out your closet or pantry. It’s not particularly creative, but it’s really nice to have a clean closet!
  • Got time for only something small? Try choreographer Twyla Tharp’s recommendation: scrub your sink.

vintage typewriter with One Lit Place notebook and coffee
Your Writing Is Always There

This time is not easy for anyone, but it’s particularly challenging for writers who ache to write but can’t for all the many extenuating circumstances. Lowering your expectations on your writing time and writing in the cracks, or finding alternative ways to maintain your creativity will help reduce your frustration and keep you primed for when you can get back to normal.

You may also wish to reach out for support to maximize the time you do have, let someone show you the lighted path through the challenges, and inspire you in personal ways, so the moments you do have are productively spent.

Amazing things happen when we’re supported. Chat with a fellow writer, get a writing coach by your side, invest in a writing course or a book on craft, or even carve out an hour a day and along with a dedicated mentor,  end up in 4 months with a draft of a novel, memoir, or business/self-development book through one of the One Lit Place 4-month book writing programs.

During this period of time, whether the plastic cash register taking up all the space on your writing desk is real or only a metaphor, it may also be that if you move it to the floor, you’ll find where it had stood, your writing has been patiently waiting for you for you to tuck in and feel like your old self in no time.


1 Comment

  • Reply Marianne Scott January 25, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    Jenna, did you write this article specifically for me, or could it be that I’m not alone suffering from writers’ slump? I don’t know what happened to my creativity, but it is certainly in hiding. My excuse is that restrictions from the Covid pandemic puts limits on our boundaries and without the freedom of space to explore the world, our minds keep bumping into barriers. The longer we are confined, the tighter we shut down. I write short pieces only to set them aside, asking ‘who the hell would want to read them anyway’? Ok, so I will do a creative load of laundry in between writing practice pieces of my distaste for this horrible house arrest we are obliged to maintain for our own safety. Thank you for your constant encouragement and support. I certainly needed this boost.

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