What To Write When There’s Nothing To Write

Who has anything to write about right now? Not me. Not you. We’re nearly two years into this slo-mo dumpster fire and we’ve pretty much wrung and dissected all the inspiration from our immediate surroundings.

Some of us are using writing as an escape from the general generalness of things, but many of us are really scratching around for words. It’s distressing to lose a creative outlet, but also a monumental effort when it’s not coming naturally. So right now, writing needs to be something that feeds rather than depletes you. 

Journaling can be an excellent way of keeping your writing habit going through times like this when braining and big-C creating are out of reach. The beauty of journaling is that it removes all pressure and expectation, allowing you to just move your pen across the paper for the sake of it.

But enough of my journaling evangelism though – hurry up and get to the bit about what to write when there’s nothing to write! Alright, hold your horses. First, get out your notebook and open it on a new double page spread.

On the right-hand page, write about your day. There’s no need to be clever or profound or have a story structure or a Fundamental Human Truth (although I bet you five pounds there’s one in there somewhere). Mundane is fine – in fact it’s encouraged.

Write about your morning routine, the bird you saw out of the window, the people you spoke to, or thought of, or avoided replying to.

Jot down your to-do list – what’s been ticked off and what will be put off until tomorrow.

Write about your totally run-of-the-mill trip to the corner shop and your walk around the block with the dog.

You’ll find there’s always something to record even if you haven’t left the house, even if it’s pretty much the same as what you did yesterday. And don’t forget to draw on your internal world as well as external happenings – feelings and sensations are part of your landscape too.

Gif of Noface from Spirited Away being swept sideways by a wave that's made up of the word 'feels'.

Now, you could just leave it there – no rules and all that. You do you. But if that didn’t slake your writing thirst and you’re still hankering for some creative magic, take your matter-of-fact, stream-of-consciousness right-hand page, and on the left-hand page, make it poetic.

I use the word “poetic” pretty loosely here – make of it what you will. Give yourself license to embellish, fictionalise and find metaphor in your words. Remember, you’re still in your journal, so no-one’s watching: you’re free to play around. If you get stuck, here are a few pointers:

Experiment with giving weight to your words, reading into them and considering what a Highly Creative Person (spoiler alert: that’s you) might do with the material you’ve come up with on the right-hand page.

For example:

  • Give your day to a character quite unlike yourself.
  • See what memories it’s sparked for you and trundle off on a tangent.
  • Write a different ending – or beginning.
  • Draw out threads that have potential to feed into your WIP or even spark a brand-new story.
  • Pick one detail and give it the whole page.
  • Try writing with your non-dominant hand.

You can let yourself be really free with form, space on the page and subject matter here. Don’t make sense, just see where you’re led. Keep going until your gut tells you you’re done.

… and just like that, you have written something. You’ll have the sense of achievement that comes with writing two pages, plus all that sweet, sweet creativity dopamine. Plus, chances are that left-hand page has within it a grain of inspiration, a crumb of creativity, a morsel of story. 

Or maybe not: no biggie. Either way, shut that notebook and let it percolate. It might be the beginning of a poem or story, but equally importantly, it might simply be creativity for creativity’s sake, a moment of play and rest for your mind.

And that, my friend, is worthy of a gold fucking star.

Gif of Tina Belcher from Bob's Burgers as a cartoon star, shooting up into the sky.
PoppyWHQ

PoppyWHQ

Poppy does lots behind the scenes at Writers’ HQ. She also writes nonfiction books about mental health for children and adults and reads entries for NYC Midnight. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester, for which she won the Kate Betts Memorial Prize. She lives in Sussex with her wife, two children, two cats and a dog.
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