What will you do when you can’t write?

It’s a question that people rarely stop to consider when they are thinking of a career as a writer. “I’ve always wanted to write,” they say and, “It’s been my dream since I can remember.”

All well and good. But there will be plenty of times, some short, some possibly long, when you can’t write. It will happen for physical, mental, geographical, political, spiritual or emotional reasons. It may be that you can’t write for an hour, or you can’t write for a year, or you can never write again.

What will you do?

It’s a serious question, and any writer who wants a career should take care to answer this one early, clearly and definitively. With any business that demands ‘inspiration’ you can find yourself uninspired. With any business that has a built-in lode of luck, you’ll find your luck running out (ask William Goldman, better still, read his Which Lie Did I Tell – Further Adventures in the Screen Trade), with any job that has downturns, your down will turn until it reaches bottom.

And sometimes you can’t write for good reasons: ask a breastfeeding mother, marathon-training runner, or anybody who’s just heard that their dog or cat is about to produce an unexpected litter. Stuff happens.

The most common thing that happens, as you write regularly (and hopefully, well) is that you see the times coming when writing must stop. I’m at one of those times now, where a new realisation about my current novel has to be processed before I write any more, or I’ll end up having to rewrite the whole thing because I didn’t stop and think it through. So instead of writing I’m making bread. Specifically, fancy Christmas bread.

Breadmaking is what I do when I can’t write. Sometimes I garden, but gardening is season specific and breadmaking is always possible, so that’s my release. It isn’t always bread – I make cakes, biscuits and other forms of baked goods, and I cook for my family every day, but breadmaking is the thing that burgeons when writing doesn’t.

I also have a freezer, for the times when writing refuses to return and I end up making bread seven, or fourteen, or twenty-one days in a row. I take requests, I deliver bread to friends, and generally, my life become cereal-centric.

And then it passes and I can write again. But I didn’t waste a day worrying or fretting, and I do believe that makes the writing come back quicker.

So what will you do?


  1. Mark Hubbard
    3rd December 2008

    Good luck working through the problem with that novel Kay.

    Unrelated to this post, although I’d love some of those bread buns, you might find this link interesting – synaesthesia in literature:


  2. Lou
    8th December 2008

    In the back of my mind I always fret … but I try to just “be”. I do more “living”. Contact more friends. And I write letters! The only kind of writing with no pressure for me …

  3. Kay Sexton
    8th December 2008

    Thanks Mark, synaesthesia is odd indeed.

    Lou, that’s really good – a very balanced approach!


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