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Can’t Write? Here’s How to Keep Creative In Other Ways

When life prevents you from writing or you've got writer's block, try these tips to help you keep creative when you can't write. These alternative creative efforts will help you feel strong and re-energized, so you'll be much more capable and enthusiastic to get back to doing great work.

When you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or simply can’t get into the chair to write, rather than beat yourself up and keep … trying … to squeeze out more writing from yourself as if water from a stone, the better option is to take a break and and enjoy keeping creative in other ways. 

At the least, you’ll have fun or discover something new, and at the most, these alternative creative efforts will inspire you afresh and soon send you racing back to your desk to write! 


I. You’ve Got Boulder-Sized Problems Blocking the Way to Your Writing

Parents, Working Stiffs, and Adults in general: Remember the good old days when writer’s block was your biggest worry? As if! These days you probably fantasize about having the luxury of being able to sit for hours with nothing to say.

The good news for most busy adults is if you truly want to write, you will find a way to squeeze it in (having support by way of a friend, fellow writer, or writing coach makes the time you do have the most effective). Your writing may be in shorter spurts than you like, or a little too close to dawn for comfort, but when there’s a will there’s a way, as they say. 

 

large rock sitting alone in a field on cloudy day

Unless, of course, you simply can’t make it work. There are those times when job deadlines loom, you’re deep in caregiving, or your responsibilities overwhelm all your time, leaving you without spare minutes and spiritually dehydrated. There’s no good concentrated writing that will come during this time even if you could get into the chair.

In this case, you—like many creative adults in your same situation—need to get your creative fix in other ways until you can find your way back to a gentle writing schedule. 

 

Why You Need to Keep Creative When You Can’t Write

Without finding alternate ways to express yourself, you may begin to feel creatively withered, frustrated, and overwhelmed, all of which can lead you into a downward spiral.

Once your writing is no longer your outlet or release, it can feel like a weight around your neck, a burden. 

Your writing is what sets you apart, keeps you feeling full and whole, and supports your healthy mental ecosystem. It’s probably also a large part of your identity– something you need to hang on to now more than ever.

blank page in typewriter

Rather than see your writing as an “all or nothing,” and, not being able to pay attention to it the way you’d like, getting that angry thistle of frustration in your throat, you can find ways to keep creative that are fun, a great outlet for personal expression, and that can fit more seamlessly into your life until you can get back to work.

II. You’ve Got the Dreaded Writer’s Block

Firstly, don’t worry; feeling stuck at intervals is entirely normal, expected, and fixable. All writers—from those just starting out to household names—have all experienced writer’s block in one way or another.
 
Writer’s block is simply fear, fear conjured up by you and also fixable by you. 
 
In my article, “Roadblocks, Detours & Dead Ends: 6 Things That Stop Aspiring Memoirists From Writing Their Stories,” I explore the 6 most common blocks a writer may face along with providing specific strategies to help you over, around, and through.

When your fears rear up like a great wave and stop you from writing, rather than duke it out with your block and remain in the chair, sweating and stewing, a smart solution is to take a break and do something else creative.

downed tree across a road
By removing yourself from the situation, you’re able to release some steam, loosen up your joints, and have some fun.

So uninhibited, you may very well find your block lifts and you’re re-inspired to do incredible things with your writing when you return.

dachshund in one lit place tote bag

How to Keep Creative When You Can’t Write: Strategies & Tips

During this period of creative pivoting, let yourself enjoy your differently creative lifestyle- let it be 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.

Not only will you learn new things, perhaps bond with others (after all, after all that solitary writing, being creative in new ways can be a group effort!) and remove the pressure off of you worrying over when and how you’ll get back to work, you’ll also probably feel energized enough for when you do get back to writing to hit the page running.

Try some of these creative ideas:

  • Get outside for some fresh air. Whether you’re alone or surrounded by a gaggle of kids or a dog (your own or one you borrow for the sojourn), 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. 

  • 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 or Instagram posts; you can also have fun playing with the images in a photo software like Canva or VSCO.

  • You can also do spontaneous or improved video scenes and put them together in Capcut or iMovie.
  • Add one vegetable you don’t normally buy to your grocery order or hit into the local fruit store. Then build a meal around it!

muffin wrapped in paper

  • Baking is also always soothing. Go in for a tried and true recipe you love or try some easy and partially healthy treats like vegan Snickers bars (pro tip: throw some chocolate chips into the base layer), lemon blueberry loaf, or tahini chocolate chip cookies. (I’ve made all of these, and they’re fantastic).

  • An excellent way to cure block is to think about others- brighten someone’s day by wrapping some of the baking into little wax paper parcels and delivering them to neighbors, your kids’ teachers, or people you meet experiencing homelessness.

  • Channel your inner Marie Kondo and clean out your closet or pantry. It’s not particularly creative, but it’s really nice to have a tidy closet!
  • Or if you’ve only got time for only something small, try choreographer Twyla Tharp’s recommendation: scrub your sink or quickly neaten your bedroom. Both of those small efforts will give you a feeling of satisfaction, which have a ripple effect.

vintage typewriter with One Lit Place notebook and coffee

 

Treat Your Writing Like a Pleasure and a Retreat

Writer’s block is an annoyance, that’s all. It means you’ve lifted your head and attention from the work at hand and allowed your inner fears to take over.

To avoid your block crippling your writing, you can step back and take a lighter approach. Rather than view your work as dire, indicative of your abilities as a person and everything you’re made of, instead consider treating your writing like a pleasure and a retreat.

If you view your writing as the beautiful outpouring of your inner self, a relief, and a private way of connecting to your thoughts, that minor shift can recalibrate your expectations and help you re-establish your relationship to it- healthily.

By lowering your expectations on your productivity or removing them altogether and simply writing to “play,” you’re lightening your load, even having fun! 

Try these strategies to remind yourself that you enjoy writing:

  • Write “for pleasure” (useful if you’re in the middle of a project): dabble in your journal right before going to sleep or upon waking. Let your thoughts ramble. Observations, feelings, doodles, and poetry are all welcome and encouraged. 
  • Keep your phone’s notes app open during the day, so you can quickly dictate ideas to yourself any time they arise. This will keep your creative fires burning (and give you some good material for later!)
  • Stash paper and pens throughout your house to arrest titles, pithy asides, or observations as they come.

blue notebooks, reading glasses, turquoise espresso cup on wood table for creativity courseEnjoy doing a prompt per day (there are a gazillion prompts on the web, including on our website) or take part in a creativity experience like our 31-day creativity course, “Cultivating Creativity,” which is guaranteed to give your creative center a happy workout!


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.

(With the pressure off, you may very well find some juicy stuff pouring out of you!)

lemons on cutting board

 

Your Writing Is Always There

In both cases—your time is too limited for you to write or you’re feeling blocked—it’s not easy.

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 (or “normal”).


Looking for Help? Your Next Steps:

Amazing things happen when we’re supported, particularly when time is short or our emotional interior feels frayed.

Chatting with a fellow writer in our private group the One Lit Place Writers Lounge, working with a writing coach, taking a writing course or reading a book on craft, or putting yourself into an all-in-one writing program to help you write your novel, memoir, or business/self-development book through one of the One Lit Place 4-month book writing programs will take the pressure off of you having to be your sole creative engine and ensure you feel strong, confident, and productive with all the writing you do!

One Response

  1. 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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