One Word Then Another

How to Write When the Words Won’t Flow

Photo by Kevin Menajang on

All writers go through good spells and bad spells. Whether it’s an afternoon spent staring at a blank screen or months without turning on the computer, not being able to write can cause feelings of hopelessness and frustration.

It can take time to rediscover a writing routine. But just as the sun will rise and the tide will turn, the words will come flowing back. In this post, we offer five simple action plans to help set you on your way.

1. Write about not being able to write

Don’t just put the pen on paper; put the pain on paper. Words are still there for you even if you are struggling to string them together right now.

Take a feeling. Take an image. Take a single word and use it to write a rough, cathartic poem. Repeat, rhyme, rupture… you’re in charge. The result won’t be perfect, but that doesn’t matter. Keep these frustrated scribbles for future reference: one day you may turn them into something more polished, or if not they will still remind you of how far you’ve come.

sometimes the words
just don’t

you strive and strain to string
a chain

words smudge into desolate sheet
scour the dictionary
tear the thesaurus

write scrunch write scrunch

right scrunch you’ve made
can’t create coherent


2. Read about not being able to write

There are countless articles online about overcoming writer’s block. It’s not a good idea to trawl through them all, but reading a couple of well-written, inspiring pieces can give you a prod in the right direction.

Knowing you are not the only writer who feels like giving up can stop you being too hard on yourself. Take a look at Twitter’s #writingcommunity for a supportive and encouraging space where writers share their insecurities.

3. Write about ANYTHING

This is the least useful advice you could ever give to someone struggling to write. Yet it can also be liberating.

If you’ve hit a brick wall with your writing, maybe what you’re trying to create just isn’t right for you. Every writer has a unique voice that can be refined through practice. When you choose to write in a certain genre, form or style you are deciding to neglect hundreds more. This is fine when the going is good. But if you’ve lost your way, it could be time to retrace your steps and choose a different path.

Going back to basics and reconsidering what you really want to say may propel your writing in a completely new direction. Or it might remind you why you chose your original style in the first place. A lot of the time you’ll end up carrying on with what you had already started, but by taking a step back you’ll have renewed and reaffirmed your passion.

4. Read about ANYTHING

Novel, poem, nature magazine or recipe, anything can be a source of inspiration. Try reading:

  • An opinion piece you know you’ll disagree with. Read the article and write a response from the heart. Alternatively, try to put into words the anger you felt as you were reading.
  • Your favourite book. As you’re reading, think about what the author does that makes you want to come back to their work time and time again.
  • Five poems. Then choose your favourite word/line from each. Combine these into your own poem, edit and gradually work the source material into your own piece. By the time you’re finished you may no longer have any of the original words in your poem, but starting this way saves you the pressure of seeing an empty page!
  • In another language. If you’re struggling to write in your mother tongue, remember there are over 7,000 languages spoken in the world! With even a limited vocabulary you can start writing short poems that might just inspire something great in this or your first language.

5. Take a break

Sometimes taking a break is the best option. Bake some brownies or watch some welly wanging. Do whatever helps you relax. Taking some time away from writing will rekindle your desire and allow you to come back stronger.

We hope some of these ideas inspire you to start or resume writing. You can follow @BrieflyWrite on Twitter for more inspiration and tips, and don’t forget to check out the Briefly Write Prompt Game too.

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