• S.K. Valeri

My 'Can't Write Routine'

For the past six weeks, I've been bouncing between caring for my sick spouse and being sick myself. Neither of these states has been especially conducive to my writing in a linear way. While I've been learning about new things in the interim - 3d printing and live streaming chief among them - I wouldn't say those endeavors have been the most directly productive or relevant to my current writing projects.

That's fine, though. It's all part of my 'Can't Write Routine,' which I'm going to share with you now.

Don't worry. There are plenty of other, more writing-related things on my list that everyone can focus on when they just can't manage to write for whatever reason. Be it a terrifying political landscape holding us back, or a spreading pandemic, existential angst, lack of a professional haircut, clinical depression, or just being really fucking tired, etc. we can still be creative. It might be more challenging to get into the creative headspace than usual, but it's doable. We'll start small, with things that don't seem creative on the surface - organizing the inbox, for example - but that will act as a springboard.

Nothing I'm going to mention is particularly original. I've absorbed and adapted pieces of my 'Can't Write Routine' from various sources over the years and, more recently, from K.M. Weiland, who wrote an article on her website about 15 productive tips for authors. Though I'm not a published author, yet, as a person with depression and anxiety, I have plenty of experience 'tricking' myself into wasting time efficiently. Or rather, using downtime wisely. This routine is another extension of that form of healthy coping for me.

  • Roleplay Your Characters

Get into the mind of one of your characters. Feel how they feel, act as they act, and become them. Let your character lead you to a new story altogether or a unique aspect of their history that you haven't developed yet. Use scenarios to explore areas of the character that your writing doesn't take them often. Here are some ideas that I fall back on.

You can create that character for Dungeons and Dragons and play a one-shot campaign. Start your favorite videogame and create a new playthrough where the player character (your avatar) is your character of choice. Or do you have a perfume or cologne that they would wear? Find anything in your closet, library, or jewelry box that this character would appreciate or compliment. Walk into your home as that character visiting for the first time.

  • Research, Prep, Outline, Map, etc.

Before I start writing, I determine what I'm going to write about, somehow. Usually, I like to brainstorm a few details, then create an outline, bullet list, mindmap, etc. to reference when I can come back to my idea. Being unable to write is a great time to return to these ideas and take them a little further. That could mean making a map of the solar system or country the idea is set in, or it might be a family tree for the ruling mafia. Draw out battles that your characters might reference. Work on that magic system!

  • Create a Thing

If I had to pick a recommendation from this list that I use the most often, it would be this one. Of course, I like to make lots of different things from painting miniatures to those cotton loop potholders, pretty character profiles, decorating digital homes, making candles, knitting stuffed animals, and planting terrariums. Because I have an eclectic set of creative interests, it's not difficult for me to set down a pen and pick up a crochet hook, but that might not be the case for you. Instead of getting stuck in a loop of not knowing what to create, I recommend having a backup task list on a sticky note that you can reference easily.

  • Organize and Clean

A clean, well-organized space is a critical component of my creative process, but sometimes the papers, links, files, references, and notebooks take on a life of their own. I like to take a few minutes to scoop everything up together and sort it into bunches, then sort those bunches into more bunches and so on, until I can put everything in its place or find it a new home. It isn't the fastest method, but after years of trying other lifehacks, this process works the best for me.

The bunches method is versatile and can be applied to everything from digital files, to hardware components (all cables -> accessory, phone and computer cables), t-shirts, plates, desktop shortcuts, etc. However, it's critical to do what makes the most sense for you and your routine.

  • Learn Something

For me, this means to learn anything new. I try to focus on subjects that I can incorporate into a future project, like 3d printing or things that I've always wanted to learn, like knitting. Perhaps a more disciplined individual would avoid this altogether and instead roll it into their research, but discipline was never my thing. Instead, I permit myself to just learn, regardless of how practical it may seem to me in the present moment.

  • Collaborate

Fresh perspectives can restore inspiration or lead us down new roads. When we're finding it hard to do what we love, sometimes it helps to reach out to someone else that can help. I'm blessed to collaborate with a talented writing partner that inspires me every day to keep writing my best. With his support, I can usually find a way out of those Can't Write moods relatively quickly. You may have someone like this in your life already that you can ask for input or ideas. Even if they aren't a writer themselves, you can still collaborative on creative projects, make something unexpected, or just enjoy a new perspective.

As someone prone to the paralyzing, procrastinating form of perfectionism, I'm probably spending more time reminding myself to be kind to me than doing most of the above. You know what, though? That's ok. It's more important not to go overbored and risk burnout. I know that I'm not likely to write ten words, let alone a thousand after painting an army of Space Marines and making character profiles for the command staff.

So take it easy. Don't force yourself to drag the pen across the paper or beat yourself up if you can't get in your words for the day. Think about how else you can use your creativity or of an adjacently related way to recharge.

What's in your 'Can't Write Routine'?


The above is a silly thing I made when I felt like I couldn't write; then I wrote this post.

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