The Only Way To Defeat A Bad Writing Day


Bad Writing Days. We all have them.

We don’t like to talk about them. We’re frightened that by talking about them we will make them stronger. Or, worse still, we will jinx our productivity and conjure them into existence. No writer wants to say the word ‘block’.

I’ve always struggled to write. There are two people inhabiting this body; one wants to be left alone to write, wants nothing more than acres of time in which to type and think and come up with sentences and words and passages of description and dialogue. The other one, unfortunately, wants to do anything else. Anything!

Both of these people, however, like having written.

I read this quote from Brene Brown (from her book Rising Strong) recently: ‘We can choose courage or we can choose comfort but we cannot choose both.’

The toddler part of me bawled ‘why not?’, while the adult part of me nodded sagely, letting the words sink in and the truth trickle through…

I can’t have both.

It’s supposed to be scary.

I need to choose courage because that’s where creation lies.

But on a bad writing day, I choose comfort over and over again. I choose to write this blog rather than open my work-in-progress because however frightening a personal post like this feels, it is nothing to the anxiety I feel about working on my book.

On a bad writing day, I choose to say ‘yes’ to a friend’s invitation, even though I know it’s during my writing time. I may pretend this is something else (the selfless act of a good friend, for example) but I am lying.

On a bad writing day, I slip into the comfortable routine of editing a piece of old work when I should be making something new. Or I take all day to write a paragraph, telling myself it’s ‘difficult’ when the truth is, I am stalling.

On a bad writing day, I let the voices that tell me I’m worthless and my story is stupid and that I have no talent or creativity win.

I’ve had a lot of bad writing days recently. I’ve chosen comfort so often it’s beginning to feel like my new routine.

Luckily, that frightens me. I see my life stretching ahead, filled with comfortable no-writing-days, and I imagine all the books I will never write, the stories I will never tell.

That frightens me enough to make me open my document and get back to work. I want to have written and I know fine well there’s only one way for that to happen: courage.


Did this post resonate with you? Do you have Bad Writing Days? How do you overcome them? Please share your tips, advice, or experiences in the comments below! 



22 thoughts to “The Only Way To Defeat A Bad Writing Day”

  1. I tell myself not to panic and go for a walk. I will write again, no shadow of a doubt. So this bad writing day, or week, or month, is simply a time for me to garner more ideas and move my body. That way mind and body won’t stagnate.

  2. Sooooo much empathy, Sarah! Bribery is my main tool for getting through Bad Writing Day apathy. E.g., “If I can just write 100 new words, I can have a square of chocolate…” “If I write another 100 words, I can have ANOTHER square of chocolate…”

    Also, when I’m desperate, envy can honestly be a motivator, as in: looking at announcements of gorgeous-looking new books coming out and thinking, AGH, I want to write a gorgeous new book too! So, whoops, I’d better get back to work after all…

    1. Thank you so much for the empathy, Steph! Funnily enough, you are one of my role models for writing… When I’m feeling apathetic, I often think ‘what is Stephanie doing right now? I BET she’s writing’ and it spurs me on! I love your tips – thank you. I tend to get into a slump when I can’t/don’t want to read anything else because I’ll just feel worse (as in – this book is so good, why am I bothering), but it’s a good idea to flip that to envy as a motivational tool… If nothing else, it would let me read other stuff (on really bad days, I’m not even able to focus on reading and that makes me acutely aware of the time I am wasting when I could be researching etc). x

  3. Word races! Real-time 1-hour sessions where I bash out as many words as I can along with another author or two, after which we share word counts (and, if feeling brave, the text!). I found it wonderful for unclogging the mind and though the material was rough and needed editing, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be!

    1. Hi Sally, thank you for reading and for the word race tip! I think an hour long race might be too daunting (for me) on a Bad Day, but I could probably manage a ten minute one. Followed by chocolate/a nap/pint of wine 😉

  4. This post resonates SO MUCH with me, Sarah – especially the feeling of panic when I think of all the books I want to write that I’m not getting on with writing. I get so frustrated and cross with myself – in fact, I gave myself a good talking-to about this just this morning. That fear motivates me too – but I like Stephanie’s idea of using envy as a motivator instead of just letting it make you feel deflated.

    Sometimes if I’m having a really bad day, though, I just have to step away from it and do something else. I like doing jigsaws at times like that because I find it completely absorbing, but at the same time it doesn’t really engage my brain, so I can let my thoughts drift and think about my story, and hopefully come up with ideas.

    1. Thank you for the empathy, Clodagh. I felt really nervous about posting this and I’m so glad I did! It helps so much to know that I’m not alone. I really suffer from the ‘getting frustrated and cross’ thing and I always seem to forget that it doesn’t help. I probably need to re-read the Rettig book as I seem to remember her having wise things to say on that subject… Stepping away is good advice, too, and Jigsaws are a brilliant idea (I do like a jigsaw!) for putting the brain into ‘neutral’ – thank you.

  5. I have plenty of bad writing days. I’m currently experiencing a bad writing month (err… months…) to be honest! I finished my first novel this summer and have been revising since. In the beginning I was still high on adrenaline, and I NEEDED a new project. So I started a new one and quickly wrote 8K. And now… I’m not STUCK, but it also doesn’t flow the way it should. It’s little steps, and I can fix it in revisions, but… yeah, you get the idea.

    What I do… sometimes I procrastinate. I’m a STAR. I read, I game, I spent hours on Facebook and Twitter. This is the stage where I avoid everything.

    The stage where I’m trying to fix it results in the most frustration. I can’t fix that plot hole, I can’t find the right voice for a character, the story isn’t exciting enough, you name it. I tend to do a lot of brainstorming in this stage with my critique partner (who is absolutely fabulous!). Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t.

    Last but not least; I also like to get in my car and drive. It does wonders sometimes (but I also wonder how many accidents I’ve caused by the time I get back home…)

    1. Shanna, I empathise so strongly with your comment. I’m very likely to have bad days when revising/trying to fix stuff, too. I get through the first draft saying ‘la la, I’ll fix it later’ but it’s harder to do that during revision! Brainstorming with a critique partner is a great suggestion – thanks. Also, huge congratulations on completing your first novel – that is fantastic!

      1. Thank you! I’ll see where I end with it — hoping to query this month, or November (before NaNo people finish 😉 ). So excited! Even if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay.

        I sometimes have a ‘la la I’ll fix it later’ mindset, and with my first novel I could afford to do that because the world wasn’t too complicated. But this next project (a YA retelling of Mulan combined with my interest in natural disasters) that’s just a no go. If I do that, I’ll end up messing up completely, I bet that will end up in throwing out what I have an starting over (so… lost time!). Instead, I’m trying to write slower and make sure that what I write works with the plot. Little details can be fixed later but questions as: what is the army for? etc., that’s definitely for now! No fixing later, haha!

  6. Recently discovered your podcast, Sarah, and have just about heard them all! I have more “no time for writing” days than flat-out bad writing days (because Day Job), but what I find encouraging is looking back at the results of a GOOD writing day, whether it’s in something already published or earlier in your WIP. Something you can read again and validate yourself with: “I’m really proud of that scene/chapter/sentence/turn of phrase.” Might be all the boost you need. I’m also a big believer in the idea-producing power of endorphins, and get a LOT of subconscious inspiration while running. I’m sure your walks have the same effect.

    1. Hi Bill and thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Do let me know if you’ve any suggestions for improvement or topics you’d like covered! Thank you, too, for reading and commenting today – I really appreciate it.

  7. Oh my goodness this is me. I’ve found so many ‘urgent’ things to do then panicked as I’m not writing. I’m 15-20,000 words from writing The End and I was worrying that I wouldn’t be able to tie everything up. I’ve been waiting the entire book to get to this point yet now I’m here I’m tongue tied.

    So, without meaning to, I gave myself time away from it. And tried not to feel guilty about doing so. Then, amazingly, at midnight last night the ending came to me. At such an inconvenient moment, just as I’m about to fall asleep. But I wrote it all down. And can’t wait for Monday when I can plough on.

    1. Yay! I’m so glad your ending appeared – what a relief! I definitely get blocked as I near the end of a draft; often a mix of fear of finishing, along with the practical plot/craft problems. Good luck with the writing tomorrow and thank you so much for reading and commenting. Sarah x

  8. This post resonated with me SO MUCH. You put words to the feelings I’ve been struggling with for so many years – having a writing personality and a comfort-driven personality duking it out every day, thinking mournfully of all the books I’ll never write if I don’t stick my butt in the chair – everything.

    For me it’s that first big step, sitting down and putting words on the page, that’s the hardest. I usually find that once I actually make myself start writing, it isn’t so hard, and I often get into a groove and have a hard time stopping. I also give myself word count goals on days where I know I have a good chunk of time after work, and I try to accomplish them as soon as I get home so I have the rest of the evening off. But it’s hard!

    1. Thank you so much for saying that, Abby. I’m not glad that you struggle with this stuff, too, but from a selfish point-of-view it really helps to know I’m not alone! x

  9. What a great post. You are amazing and these posts put people at ease, we are not alone in struggling. I am really struggling to find the time to edit and with only small chunks of time it’s not ideal. I need to just do it. x

    1. Thank you, Susan! I am so glad you found the post helpful, but I’m sorry to hear you are struggling at the moment. I empathise so much. I find editing very hard to do when I only have small chunks of time – it can feel as if you’ve only just ‘found your place’ in the work and it’s time to stop again. Is there any way you can carve out some longer sessions for you to do your initial ‘big pass’ through the work? Once you’ve done that, you may be able to break the editing into smaller tasks which will be easier to tackle in the time slots available. Good luck! x

  10. This post really resonated with me.

    I’ve crawled so far into “comfort” I dont know how to dig myself out! Then I get so disheartened by all the stories I want to write and pretty books I want in the world and just dig myself deeper in.

    1. Hi Claudie. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I empathise with your message and have also felt disheartened many, many times. Please be kind to yourself – writing is scary and difficult and it’s okay to take a break if it is truly getting you down. Alternatively, I’d recommend setting the bar really low – say 100 words a day – and just keep chipping away at your current project. The act of writing something – anything! – might help the self-doubt you are experiencing. Very best wishes and I am cheering you on. Sarah x

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