4 Things You Can Do on the Days You Don’t Feel Like Writing
There are some days you sit down in front of the computer to write — but you just aren’t feeling it. Maybe you can’t get an idea to gel in your mind, or you have a topic but just can’t find the words. It happens to all of us.
If anyone is justified for needing a break from writing, it’s me, this weekend.
You see, I had committed myself to the challenge of writing 92 articles in the 92 days between the American Thanksgiving holiday weekend and March 1. I’d done pretty well the first week, with 5 published and 1 waiting to hear back on acceptance into a publication. I also published three short-form stories, although I don’t count those toward my total.
Then I got the call.
A buddy of mine had been found dead, at home. He was my friend, my neighbor, and perhaps most importantly, my bartender at the restaurant a friend of mine owns down the street. He was young and in good health, and his death was completely unexpected.
Needless to say, that news destroyed my creativity.
I still kept going, however. Let me share with you some ways I remained productive, and you can too.
Spend some time reading articles in a publication in which you'd like to be published
A lot of writers have their work rejected by publications, not because the writing isn’t good enough, but because the subject matter isn’t a good fit for the publication’s mission.
The best way to make sure that doesn’t happen to you is to open that publication and read. Don’t just read the “how to submit to us” article. Read everything that’s been published the past several days.
Get a feel for what topics the writers cover, so you’ll have some boundaries to stay within. Notice the writing style. Do writers use a lot of short paragraphs? Or do they tend to go longer? The more you’re able to blend in with the writing style of already-accepted writers, the more likely your work will be accepted too.
Do the majority of the writers cite outside sources of expertise? If so, you better make sure you cite or link to sources when you submit your piece to the publication.
Look at the banner image. Is it always full-screen width, above the title and subtitle? Or is it below those lines, same width as the written page? The more you observe these little details and follow them when you submit, the less an editor will have to fix, and the better the impression you will make.
How clickbaity are the titles? If other writers have stayed away from sensationalizing their titles, you will probably want to do the same.
Are there tags that are frequently used? If so, you’ll want to consider using at least one of those tags when you submit your work.
Reverse-engineer the work of Medium’s top writers
I love to go through an article piece by piece and take notes on the writing style of top earners.
Start with the title and subtitle. What about them would compel you to keep reading?
Look at the featured image they selected. Does it communicate a message that goes well with the title and subtitle, and arouse an eager want for more in the reader?
Read the preview of the article on their profile page. What did they do in the first 100 words or so to make the reader want to click that Read More… link?
How do they establish authority on a topic? Did they establish themselves as the authority, possibly through the use of credentials? Did they quote established experts in the field?
What was the purpose of the article? Was it to educate? To inform? To inspire?
As you read the article, ask yourself, what did the writer want the reader to feel as they finished reading the article?
Look at the use of pull quotes, bolding, images, and other strategies the writer used to give the reader variety, breaking up the monotony of paragraph after paragraph of plain text.
Lastly, look at the tags. Why do you think the writer selected those tags? How many of the five tags they selected award Top Writer status? Did they use any smaller, lesser-followed tags to more precisely define their niche?
As I reverse-engineer their articles, I like to think, if this writer had a writing course, what do I think would be taught in that course, as deduced from their writing?
My two favorite writers to reverse-engineer are Ayodeji Awosika and Sinem Gunel, but I encourage you to pick whichever successful writers you enjoy reading the most. Tim Denning, Sean Kernan, and Nicolas Cole would certainly be excellent choices.
Encourage new writers
As a former college teacher, I enjoy encouraging people who are at the start of their journey. I like to pick a topic of interest to me and pull up the URL
http://medium.com/tag/(that topic's name)/latest
So, for example, I write about writing, inspiration, and creativity. So I might pull up one of the following URLs:
I scroll through, looking for Medium members who have joined in the last 3 months and who have fewer than 200 followers. Where I find them, I pull up their latest piece and give it a read.
If it’s not any good, I keep moving; I’m not going to support bad writing. But the teacher in me looks for anything good about the post: topic selection, writing style, use of a good analogy, something new I learned from reading. When I find something worthy of a compliment, I leave them a comment and some claps. If I think I’d like to read more of their work, I give them a follow too.
Fund your reading habit
I nearly always have the Amazon Kindle app open on my laptop, reading whatever book has most recently struck my fancy. However, I don’t like paying for books.
So, when I’m burned out on writing and in the mood for some mindless activity, I’ll log into Amazon Mechanical Turk and accept some simple tasks that I can do over and over again. Perhaps I’ll draw bounding boxes around images for 5 cents apiece, or characterize writing as positive, neutral, or negative for 10 cents each.
If I do this for 10–15 minutes I can make a couple of dollars, which will be paid out to my Amazon gift card account (you can get paid by bank transfer if you prefer). By the time I finish reading one book, there’s usually enough in my gift card balance to buy the next one.
There’s a lot you can do to still be productive as a writer, even on days when writing itself just isn’t coming naturally to you. You can
- Spend time studying your favorite publications, learning what works so you improve your chance of getting submissions accepted
- Study top authors and try to figure out the secrets of their success
- Encourage new writers, buying yourself a good name among other members
- Fund your reading habit with a little mindless work
Plus, you never know… as you’re doing these things, the idea for a new topic might be jarred loose in your head. It happened to me! Thanks for reading. I have an email list you can sign up for if you’d like to be read more of my work.