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How to Keep Writing When You’re on Empty

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NOTE: This blog post was written during — and is about — normal times. Now is not a normal time. There are a number of suggestions below — like “sneak out to a movie” and “do your work in a café” — that you cannot or should not do right now. I hope you will take this advice in the spirit of what you will do when things get back to something like normal. In the meantime, do the things you can to overcome the barriers. Stay healthy, look out for others, and be kind!  – Jeff

I know how it is. Sometimes you’re just a wrung-out sponge. No more ideas. No creative energy. No inspiration.

Even with deadlines looming and colleagues waiting, the thought of sitting down to write your next fundraising project fills you with loathing and dread.

That’s okay. It’s normal, and it happens to all writers.

The problem is, your deadlines don’t know that. They march on no matter how empty you are.

And nobody wants to hear your whining about it.

Seriously, one of the most annoying — and pointless — things you can do is talk to your colleagues about how blocked and uninspired you’re feeling. Cry me a river, they’ll say, rolling their eyes.

But I have some good news: There are ways to beat that empty feeling.

It’s not easy, but it is simple: You just need to change the size and shape of whatever box you find yourself in.

You see, you are always in a box. Sometimes it’s a cozy, comfortable, happy little box that you really love to be in. Sometimes it’s a gigantic box, with plenty of room to run around as much as you want. But often, the box is cramped, uncomfortable, weird-smelling, and missing all the things you need to do great work.

Your box is made of two things:

  1. Your circumstances — the things outside of you, like the time of year, what your topic is, how busy you are, etc.
  2. Your attitude — how you feel about those things.

There are things you can do to change your circumstances, but on the whole, they are hard to change. How you feel about those circumstances is more important than what those circumstances are. This is why the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Because nobody has an attitude about someone else’s circumstances. Their problems always look simpler and more solvable as a result.

There are many things you can do to change your attitude, to break out of your box and recharge your energy.

Starting with these quick actions can rescue you from being stuck in a matter of minutes:

  • Meditate or pray.
  • Breathe for one minute (or more). Take deep and slow breaths and pay close attention to how it feels.
  • Turn on some music. (This doesn’t work for everyone, the type of music is important — and specific to you. Experiment with this!)
  • Write in a journal. (Maybe write about how it feels to be empty.)
  • Drink some cold water. (The colder, the better.)
  • Drink caffeine.
  • Read, listen to, or watch something funny.
  • Read, listen to, or watch something inspiring.

If the quick methods aren’t doing the trick, you may need to take more time-consuming steps. These things may take an afternoon or even a whole day.

  • Do something creative other than writing: draw, make music, dance. You don’t have to be good at it. Just do it.
  • Watch a movie. For best results, sneak out and watch it at a theater.
  • Sneak out and do anything. Doing something you don’t have permission to do can have an almost magic effect on how you feel.
  • Listen to music actively. Really concentrate on it.
  • Go to a museum.
  • Work out.
  • Work in a café. (This is my go-to option when I’m stuck. Cafés seem to have good writing magic for me.)
  • Take a nap.
  • Take a walk.
  • Copy — by hand — a passage of writing you admire. (This is weirdly powerful. I don’t fully understand why, but it really charges me up sometimes!)
  • Memorize something. Poetry, scripture — anything you’d like to have in your head.

Beyond the things that can recharge you and overcome blockage, there are a number of “maintenance” activities that can prevent the emptiness before it hits:

  • Now and then, take the long way home. You’ll be surprised how energizing that can be.
  • Participate in community activities.
  • Practice thankfulness: Think about everything that’s good in your life and say “Thank you” for it all.
  • Take vacations. I know it can be hard. But it really makes a difference.
  • Study a language.
  • Take a class.
  • Learn a new skill, especially something that’s unlike the things you normally do.

Finally, cultivate a general attitude about writing: It’s just a task.

Think about it this way: Do you suppose your plumber ever gets “plumber’s block”?

The answer is: Of course she does! Sometimes she really doesn’t feel like doing anything at all involving pipes and water!

But she does it anyway.

Writing is hard. But when you get right down to it, writing is just another profession. Writers aren’t special. The blockage that we experience sometimes stops us cold — because we let it. If you remember that writing is just another task like plumbing, it can help you get on with it even when you don’t feel the magic.

And these exercises can really help you get out of the box. Let me know if you have any additional things that work for you by posting a comment below!

Get the help and inspiration you need to keep you writing with strength and confidence: Join The Fundraisingology Lab!

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