Tactics for a bad writing day

22 Mar 2022 | The Writing Process

The definition of a bad writing day to me is when you have all the words in your head but can’t get them onto the page.

Just like I explored in the blog Should you write every day? there are plenty of ways that life can interfere with your art, from simple procrastination to kids and work.

And sometimes a writing day just sucks – you sit down to work and it’s just torture.

All of that is okay – bumps in the road, as long we are determined.

Because a writer is professional to their core, and just as you take the rough with the smooth when doing the 9-5, so too does writing need a long view.

On days when it’s tough, here’s what I do.

Some days you write in a field of wildflowers. Others, not so much!

Write extra on a good day

The Paris Review’s The Art of Fiction interview with Ernest Hemingway is a must read for writers and readers alike, with deep insight into his process, even if he’s very cagey about it.

My favourite part is this:

He keeps track of his daily progress—“so as not to kid myself”—on a large chart made out of the side of a cardboard packing case and set up against the wall under the nose of a mounted gazelle head. The numbers on the chart showing the daily output of words differ from 450, 575, 462, 1250, to 512, the higher figures on days Hemingway puts in extra work so he won’t feel guilty spending the following day fishing on the Gulf Stream.

After reading the interview years ago, that’s what I do now too.

When I have a clear day, I write as much as I can and try to squeeze out some extra work. That can cushion the impact of a crappy day that could follow.

But it’s also a reminder that when we have the time, we have no excuses. 

Do the work. Then you can go fishing!

Write one paragraph

This applies for day when you have time constraints or the going gets tough.

One paragraph is doable. Push the story and the characters forward one inch. Then another, and another, as much as you possibly can.

This can take all of five minutes if you’re pressed for time. Do it before you go to bed, or in what space there is between the demands that are pulling at you.

And if you’re having a tough day at the page, this could take all your allotted time. 

But at least you have moved forward, and that puts momentum on the wheel, even if it’s a fraction. You’ll feel better for it.

This is also a good tactic to match with a handwritten notebook. It might be a faff to get the computer going, but a pen and paper takes seconds, and is stealthy.

Take care of the body

The body keeps the score.

A bad writing day could be a sign that you need to take a breather. Not a break – just some time away from the page to recalibrate.

And if you’re pressed for time, I think exercise is doubly important. Plus, it kindles thoughts, which lead to writing and satisfaction.

The other day my daughter woke very early, and I lost my writing time. Then it was the school run, work, pick up time, dinner, and bedtime routine, and then more work, and suddenly it was 9pm.

I had two choices: write or exercise.

I chose to slip my runners on and go for a jog. It was a beautiful night, with the full moon rising yellow through the haze of streetlights.

Time evaporated to breathing in and out, sweat streaking the sides of my hair, running through sleeping streets.

When I got back my mind was buzzing with images of my book, and I smashed out a page of writing before taking a shower and going to bed, ready for whatever the next day brought.

Whatever you choose to do, keep going. Every step forward counts.

Want to learn more about writing? 

Why not sign up for my writing course?

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