What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Write

Often, when I sit down with the intention to write, the words are nowhere to be found. I don’t know what to write. When my attention is on something else, like driving, it’s another story. That’s when I have a steady flow of profound, intelligent, humorous things to say. But, you can’t write while driving. 

This suggests, however, that the ideas are there, and somehow they get stuck when it comes to putting them on paper.

Here are six things I have found that help me get started when I don’t know what to write:

1. Browse through your old ideas

Sometimes I have a specific topic in mind, or a message that I want to share. Other times, I don’t know what to write about. In these cases, it helps to look back in my old notebooks to see if something sparks my creativity. Or, I would take 5 minutes to brainstorm a list of interesting topics, then pick one. 

Think about what has been on your mind lately, or conversations you’ve been having, to pick out some recurring themes. 

2. Keep a notebook or recorder handy.

Since inspiration can strike at any time, and words come in the weirdest places, I try to always have a notebook or recorder handy. I often use the notes app on my phone, instead of a notebook, because I always have my phone with me. When driving, the recorder app works better than a notebook (because writing or using a phone while driving is frowned upon, and probably against the law). 

So, if you are like me, you can try this. Just don’t forget that the notes and recordings are there, and use them in your writing.

3. Imagine talking to the person you’re writing for

When I write, it helps to have an audience in mind. I need someone to write to. I imagine I’m talking to that person or group who would benefit from what I have to say. And, voila, it’s easier to find the words. 

Writing is a great way to share your thoughts and opinions. It’s a way to express who you are and what you think. Your words can help others to understand themselves and the world better, and not feel so alone. 

Try thinking about who you are writing for and what you want to say to them next time you write.

4. Don’t edit the first time through

One of the things that stifles my creativity is censoring myself while I’m writing. I have found the best thing to do, when I don’t know what to write, is to write whatever comes to mind and edit it later. This allows my thoughts to flow more freely. I’d rather write too much, imperfectly, and then pare it down later than get stuck trying to come up with more words. 

When you write, try telling yourself, “This is just a draft, nobody will ever see it.” That may help you open up and say what you want to say. After you finish your draft, you can edit it until you’re satisfied.

5. Write with someone else

When I want to write, and the words won’t come, I find it so much easier when I am co-writing, with Ann, or with the Write the Real You community. I’m not sure why, but even if I come into it thinking I have no ideas, as soon as I start writing with someone else, the floodgates open and I surprise myself with how much comes out. Maybe it’s the support I feel, or the prompts and questions in our writing workshops. Whatever it is, it works! 

If you can be part of a writing community, or write with a friend (even if they are on the other side of the world), it may be the key to unlocking some great writing.

6. Remember why you’re writing

It helps to have a purpose when you sit down to write. Are you sharing your story to help others make sense of theirs? Are you sharing information or trying to persuade someone? Is there a friend or family member that you hope this message would reach? Where do you want to see your writing published?

Answering some of these questions and keeping them in mind while you’re writing can keep you on track.

Remember, you’re not alone…

Having trouble getting started when writing is not uncommon. It’s something we all deal with at one time or another. If you’re feeling stuck and don’t know what to write, try some of these suggestions. Remember to ask yourself questions about why you’re writing, who you’re writing for and what you’re writing about, Also, have a way to capture your ideas when they strike. This will help you feel more inspired to write when you want to.

Ginny Hillyer - Writer, Designer

Ginny Hillyer is a writer, crafter and tutor at Write the Real You. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and fur babies.

Check out her crafts at: https://ginnyscozygifts.etsy.com

Write the Real You. What To Do When You Don't Know What To Write. Ginny Hillyer. Background: There are many doodles of question marks on a white wall.