When Should You Not Write? Guest Post by Alex Fayle

Anywhere you go, you’ll find lots of advice on how to get yourself writing more, how to create daily pages and how to pump out more words… but sometimes pushing yourself to write just doesn’t make any sense.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably experienced these moments often.

Like when every word that comes out of your brain feels like a burning hot coal searing its way from neurons to fingertips. Or how about when the idea you had gets dragged sideways, moving your story (or blog post or client work) in a direction that not only isn’t intended but actually damages the piece you’re building.

And then we have the biggest creativity killer: obligation. Any time I obligate myself into writing the output is pure and utter rubbish.

By rubbish, I don’t mean the type that’s four pages of verbal composting that gets sifted later to produce the finest most fertile half page of grade A writing. I’m talking about the bad writing that comes when we obligate ourselves.

The stuff that lacks any sort of spark and reads like a legal document gone over a thousand times to remove anything that might contain even a whiff of life.

choking by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ 's photostream

The big lie that blocks writing

Almost every day I struggle to write my fiction. I can pump out four blog posts and other articles a day and yet sitting down and writing a single scene in my novel makes me squirm like a child in front of a plate of Brussel sprouts.

I rarely let myself not write because normally once I get started I slide into the flow, finishing every sprout on my plate – and I’m usually left wanting more.

There are days, however, when no matter what sort of coaching or cajoling I do, the words do not want to flow. And if I push myself I end up with something that I redo completely later.

And that moment comes whenever I tell myself that I have to write.

The words “have to” do not exist. There is no “have to” there is only “choose to” because everything in life, especially our writing, is a choice. Yes, if we don’t write that piece of copywriting we won’t get paid and we won’t eat, but the decision to write is still a choice.

The instant I tell myself I have to write, I’m lying and my muse sees right through it and says “No way, Jose! I don’t put up with liars!”

The simple sentence that unblocks writing

Once that lie comes out of my mouth, productive writing becomes impossible so I take a break. It might be for an hour, a day or a week. It depends on how much I’ve irritated my muse.

If I’m still in a have-to mode then I feel guilty because I’m not writing and I’m wasting time, talent and, basically, my whole life. Add in the pressure of a deadline or client expectations and the guilt blossoms into a muse-eating plant more voracious then the plant from The Little Shop of Horrors.

To break out of the grip of this all-consuming guilt, I tell myself something really simple:

“It’s okay, I’ll write later.”

I turn the “have to” into a “choose to” as in I choose to write later rather than right now. I take away the pressure and reclaim the power over my own writing.

When it comes to paid work making the choice to write later often means after lunch or after checking emails and Twittering a bit. My fiction muse isn’t so forgiving, however, and usually demands the whole day off before agreeing to get back to work.

Conversation points

Because every writer is different, we all have our little things that block or motivate us. Help all of us understand ourselves a bit better by giChokingving a think to the following questions and add your thoughts to the comment section:

* Do the words “have to” motivate or demotivate you?
* What do you do when faced with a muse on strike?
* What words do you use to get yourself moving again?


Alex Fayle from Someday SyndromAlex Fayle, of Someday Syndrome, is a writer who has learned that his writing rocks and is working at letting enough people know until the right person offers to publish his books.

He also uses his amazing skill of uncovering hidden patterns to help people break the procrastination obstacle so they can finally find freedom and start living the life they desire.

Alex’s previous guest posts here have been on Allowing Ourselves to Be Successful and Putting Confidence In Your Writing

Photo Credit:  Choking by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ ‘s photostream


    • June 24, 2009

    It’s true, we put an awful lot of pressure on ourselves to write well and write often. Sometimes it’s just not as simple as that. The key is not necessarily to either plough on or take a complete break, but to be aware of your own limitations and capabilities. Ultimately, you have to work in whatever way suits you best and not be afraid to make tough decisions.

    • June 24, 2009

    When I’m pressured to write, and only when it’s self-imposed pressure, my writing muse goes on a long-term strike. Of course, my immediate response is to tell my muse that “I have to,” or “I should,” write and this just causes her to dig her heels deeper in the sludge of writer’s block.

    A simple change of language definitely helps. I tell myself it’s okay to write later, but more important, I say, “Trust yourself.” This phrase packs a lot of punch - trust my decision to take a break, trust my writing ability, trust the timing, etc.

    • June 24, 2009

    ‘Have to’ actually works for me when I don’t write because of procrastination and am just being lazy. It’s kind of no-nonsense way of me telling myself to quit making excuses and start writing.

    In other scenarios however, ‘have to’ doesn’t really help.
    .-= Avani Mehta´s last blog ..Following My Heart =-.

    • June 24, 2009

    Thanks for a great post. I find it next to impossible to rouse myself to do almost anything when I use the words “have to.” Changing tactics is the only way to get around my stubborn streak. Some days I can re-start by something as mindless as listing fun words. Or baking bread. Or walking in the woods with a pencil and index cards. Fooling that muse requires a bit of creativity in itself.
    .-= Bo´s last blog ..Dancing Skirts =-.

    • June 24, 2009

    Alex, excellent points that are not often made. You’re right! We do hear lots of advice about writing more, but very little on when to step away from the pen. There are times that “have to” cause my inner child to become petulant and rebellious. At those times, it is best to step away and regroup, rather than waste time on bad writing. At other times, my inner child is just being well childish and needs a good kick to just get to work. Not because I have to but because I want to (I mean I have become accustomed to indoor living, lights and eating daily). However, shifting our language reminds us that we ALWAYS have a choice, bad choices come with consequences but we never have to, it’s always a choice.

    • June 24, 2009

    I fight with my writing everyday. When I say”I have to write” I find myself with writers block. But what keeps me moving with my writing is that is my purpose in life and my children. At least this is my case.

  1. Alex, thanks for prompting such an interesting conversation. I think as Iain says that it’s really a question of figuring out what works for you - for some of us that command to write is what gets us past procrastination, for others it’s an immediate invitation for the muse to go on strike!

    Michele hello, and thanks for sharing those perspectives. ‘Trust yourself’ is great advice… not just for writing either ;-)

    Avani whatever works for you, just go for that :-)

    Bo I like the idea of fooling the muse as a creativity exercise… hmm, we could have fun playing with that :-)

    Karen good point - we need to learn how to be wise parents, when to draw the line in the sand and say ‘enough’!, when to recognise something is going on that requires patience, care and a little breathing space

    Alexander hello, and yes, that’s a point well made - there’s a different set of switches we use when we’re writing for work, to time, to generate income. Focusing on the intention is a great way to get past the blocks then - I find it’s something the muse responds to happily

    • June 25, 2009

    Frankly, Alex. The ‘writer block’ is always became the big obstacle for me, especially when I having the urge to write some great stuffs. However, after reading your article, now I knew the best way to overcome it! :)

    • June 25, 2009


    Thanks for articulating what I struggle with quite a bit. Something that inspires me in terms of a blog post topic sends a rush of enthusiasm and the key-taps are flyin’. If I have a “have to” assignment, each stroke of the key is a labor.

    Love the analogy of the child with the plate o’ sprouts. That would be me as well.

    Great post, Alex. Love your stuff


    • June 25, 2009

    Writing well and without obligation is so much about being self-aware which for anyone, writer or no, is not an easy thing, eh?

    “Trust yourself” is another great phrase. It wipes out the insecurities and reminds us that we don’t have to fear writing badly.

    For some scenarios (like the ones involving money but lack of passion) the words “have to” work for me as well, but I hear you totally on the laziness - I often feel the same way. ;)

    Changing tactics gets around the obligations too - I often change up my timetable so that instead of writing in the afternoon, I’m writing in the morning or at the library instead at home.

    As I said to Avani, “have to” works when it comes to paying bills because I too like living with a home and electricity - for everything else me inner teenager rebels under obligations.

    It’s funny because it doesn’t matter how much I *LOVE* writing I struggle with it every day - but that has more to do with fear then procrastination. ;)

    So glad I could help! Woo hoo!

    I figured that if I was struggling with this then others had to be too and having found a way around it, I hoped others would learn from it too.

  2. Wilson I’m like you, trying to write something good always gets me stuck. Good enough is so much better ;-)

    George I’m glad you enjoyed Alex’s post - it’s great to see his procrastination busting techniques applied to writing isn’t it?

    • June 27, 2009


    I enjoyed this post. Like you, I seem to be able to write blog posts and articles any time, but I struggle more with fiction. Some days I can hardly stop myself, some days I can hardly get started.

    One thing I know though— if I allow myself NOT to write for more than a day or so, I feel a hundred times worse than if I’d forced myself to sit down and do it.

    Thanks for the tips!
    .-= Suzannah´s last blog ..10 Publishing Myths Exposed =-.

  3. Suzannah thanks for chipping in… I’m a bit like that too with blogging (and I’m still wondering if it’s a good or bad writing habit). Interesting reflection on how you feel when you don’t write. Thanks

    • June 30, 2009

    I know what you mean! Right now I’m trying to write a blog post but it’s for work and I can’t figure out how to blend the two. I’ve been trying for several days and as I sit here getting ready to review what I have done so far and how I can fix it, I’m reading and commenting here. Sometimes it helps to see what others have done to get a feel for what direction to take. Twitter can also help but I have to be careful or it will break my train of thought when I finally get started. Sometimes I just have to get up and go do something else and let the words form in my head before I can go any further.
    .-= Debbie Yost´s last blog ..Table Rock Lake =-.

    • June 30, 2009

    I understand what you mean - I’ve made writing fiction a part of my schedule taking away any sort of pressure - it’s just another part of my day, sometimes I do it and sometimes I don’t depending on my calendar and it’s been working very well.

    Twitter while helpful can also be a great excuse not to write (“I’m networking!”) ;)
    .-= Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog ..Starting Life Someday-Free: Bud Hennekes Interview =-.

    • July 6, 2009

    From “I have to” to “I choose to.”

    I love it - changes the dynamics of writing entirely. Or the pet notions we have about writing.

    I’d love to meet your muse. Pretty interesting lady - a force of nature from your description of her. :) Splendid post by the way. Your muse must be delighted. This is pure joy.
    .-= jan geronimo´s last blog ..Elmot’s Way of Harnessing the Power of the Cosmos =-.

  4. jan it’s good stuff isn’t? And a good example of the language of possibility… and how it changes the way we feel.

    • July 8, 2009

    My muse is pretty no-nonsense. She’s prompt, answers questions when needed, and tells me to leave her alone when I’m not going to be productive with my writing as she has a lot of other things going on.
    .-= Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog ..It’s a Journey Not a Destination: Goddess Leonie Interview =-.


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