When I Have Nothing to Write About, I Write About Nothing

Declan Wilson

Photo: Mr TT/Unsplash

We all get stuck as writers, creatives, and artists. Ideas evaporate. Motivation dwindles. Output crumbles.

I almost didn’t write this article. I spent my morning staring at a blank screen. The last time I had nothing to write about, I wrote about nothing. That worked out well.

This time I wanted to try something different: I whipped out my Moleskine notebook and Pilot fountain pen and started writing an article by hand.

Don’t believe me?

photo by author

When my writing process fails to churn out work that is inspiring or informative — or at the very least interesting — I like to blow it all up and try something new for a change.

Like this article, for example, 90% of it was written by hand (with edits and rearrangements made after).

The point is, when the creative juices aren’t flowing, we mustn’t give up. Rather, we as writers, creatives, and artists should realize it takes a bit of self-awareness of ourselves and of our creative processes to help us get back on track.

How I ended up off track

Twice this week I woke up at my usual 6:15 AM, booted up my computer and either mindlessly scrolled through Twitter or gazed at a half-finished article in my drafts.

I just wasn’t feeling it.

This has happened so many times before that I can self-diagnose my ailment even before it hits me. Typically, one (or all) of the following things is going on:

  • I’m not paying enough attention to the world around me
  • I’m letting a strict routine dictate my day
  • Or worse, I’m letting social media dictate my day
  • I’m ignoring all the “ordinary” day-to-day gems of inspiration
  • I’m not intentionally consuming content
  • I’m being too hard on myself and expecting too much

I have a process that helps me avoid running into these six things, but I’m still human. Sometimes I get bored.

For most writers, creatives, and artists, we all experience these things from time to time. The question is, what should we do about them?

Not paying enough attention

When my journal is dried up and missing a few day’s worth of entries, I know I’m not paying enough attention to what’s going on around me.

I’m going through the motions.

Once and a while, all it takes is a quick reminder (like this article) to break me out of a slump — but most of the time, finding a moment during my day to pause and remind myself to look around is enough to keep me focused.

Your life, no matter how boring it may seem, has enough inspiration to fuel your art. Pay attention. More on that in a bit.

Letting a strict routine dictate your day

I like routines. I’m a stay-at-home parent to two young boys so having a routine in place helps to limit the number of decisions I have to make in a day.

However, there are days where I try to force the routine. It doesn’t work.

The same applies to my writing. I’ve written articles on sheer force alone, but they never end up any good. They sound like a robot copied and pasted an article together with bits of phooey inspirational quotes.

My best work — and the kind I find most fulfilling — comes when I sit down to write and the words flow onto the page.

Following a strict routine is like saying: Okay, it’s 6:30, writing time! Let’s see what I got. Ready? Go….

Have some structure, but don’t let it smother your creativity.

Letting social media dictate your day

I thought I could outsmart my phone. I deleted all of the social media apps on it.

It didn’t work.

Instead, now my dopamine hits come from the painful drip-feed of refreshing my email 26 times a day.

Oh, and instead of using the apps, I just check Twitter and Instagram with their mobile browser versions. The agony.

I have a problem. It’s easier to be distracted than to create.

We’re curious creatures so it’s no surprise that the figments of other people’s lives can seem so much more interesting than our own.

For this one I don’t have a “Here’s what you should do.” I’m still trying to break the social media addiction — although deleting social media apps does help. Those mobile browsers are brutal.

Ignoring the ordinary gems

What seems ordinary to you might not be all that ordinary to everyone else.

I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be an adult without kids. (“What do you mean you don’t spend your day picking LEGOs out of the vacuum?!”)

However, my “ordinary” life offers some unique perspectives about life.

Even the basic everyday struggles can become fodder for the creative mind. Don’t write off your experiences because they don’t seem cool and exciting enough.

Not intentionally consuming content

Contrary to my previous comments, I’m all for consuming content. So long as it’s done with intent.

Habitual skimming is one thing, but sitting down to deliberately watch a documentary to learn something new is another.

My go-to content is books. I read about two a month on a variety of topics: history, the universe, creativity. I even enjoy good literature.

When I’m not reading I’m on social media hunting for new ideas, okay, spying on other creatives for new ideas. I subscribe to a few newsletters that keep me up to date.

And of course, good television and film are great sources of inspiration. (My wife and I are re-watching Mad Men for the fourth time, someone tell

Todd Brison to watch it!)

You can’t create without consuming. It’s like making tea without the teabag.

Being too hard on myself

Sometimes I go through periods of intense creative output. Other times I don’t.

When I'm struggling to create, I try not to be hard on myself.

When I was younger and starting out, I was self-conscious about everything. And then I got older and I realized no one is actually paying attention to you. Nobody cares if you’ve only published 3 times this week instead of your usual 4.

Even if you are a writer with 50,000 followers, you probably cross people’s minds for 2 minutes out of their day.

If you think you command people’s attention for longer than that, first, get your ego checked out, second, everyone else is too busy worrying about their lives to care about yours.

Respecting your audience is important, but allowing them to hijack your well-being is a recipe for failure.

You’re the artist. Not them.

All that matters is that your art serves a greater purpose, not some metric on a spreadsheet.

Well, dearest reader, I’ve done it. I’ve written an entire article by hand. It might be more meta than I intended, but it proves (at least anecdotally) that when creativity isn’t flowing, try something different.

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Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado.

Baltimore, MD

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