Don’t get me wrong, I love to write. Creative projects fill my proverbial cup. But sometimes, I just don’t have the time to devote to the practice of writing, or when I do have the time, I can’t muster up the energy to actually put my fingers to the keyboard. Am I a bad writer because I can’t get the words to flow?
I’m not a machine. I can’t flip a switch and suddenly be in production mode. That isn’t how creativity works. When the baby hasn’t been sleeping well or when I’ve spent all of my creative energy at work or when the dishes are overflowing the sink, it’s hard to even want to write.
There is a voice in my head that says, “You’re not a real writer if you avoid writing. You’ll never publish your novel, finish your podcast script, send this short story out, etc.” Maybe you’ve heard this voice, too. It’s persistent, gnawing. It’s also dead wrong.
I don’t know anybody who can write like clockwork every single day without a break. We all feel exhausted or overwhelmed sometimes. I often take long hiatuses from my creative writing, which makes me feel guilty, but it shouldn’t. Because there are days when the news is bad and the chores can’t be ignored and after all that, I just need to shut my brain off for 30 minutes with some TV. Or simply go to bed early.
I would love to be one of those highly disciplined artists who stick to a rigid schedule, churning out masterpiece after masterpiece. Maybe I’ll be a full-time writer someday and have the privilege to spend my days like that. But right now, I have so many other things that need my attention.
I don’t think that makes me a bad writer or somehow not a “real” artist. I’m human—and most of us humans need to rest when we’re tired, so we can come back refreshed, inspired, and excited to put words on the page. After all, if you’re not enjoying the act of writing, then what’s the point?
How do you write when you don’t have the time or the energy to write? 1) Aim small. Instead of writing for an hour, write for 10 minutes, or write even one sentence. It feels good to make progress on a project, no matter how small it is. 2) Maybe you don’t worry about it today. Your Word doc with its incessantly blinking cursor will still be there tomorrow. It is good to give yourself a break. Rest when your mind and body need it. Give yourself permission to focus on your to-do list and don’t feel bad about dedicating time to other parts of your life. Stephen King has to fold and put away his laundry just like the rest of us.
It’s okay not to write. You’re still a writer, even if it’s been days, weeks, or months since you actually wrote a word. If the desire to tell a story is still in you, then you’re the real deal.
So here’s to the working parent writers. The full-time job writers. The juggling-multiple-jobs writers. The caregiver writers. The chronic health condition writers. The gotta-focus-on-my-mental-health writers. The burned-out writers. I’m with you. And when we’re ready to get back to our manuscripts, it’s going to be amazing. Until then, be kind to yourself.
Jonny Eberle is a writer and podcaster in Tacoma, WA. His work has appeared in Creative Colloquy, Grit City Magazine, and All Worlds Wayfarer. You can follow him on Twitter, join his mailing list, and listen to his audio drama, The Adventures of Captain Radio, wherever you enjoy podcasts.