The Mystery of Writing

A few nights ago, I sat down with the intention to write a blog post. I had been mulling a specific idea over for several days. I thought it was a slam dunk. I should be done in 30 minutes, I thought, 45 minutes—max.

A Man with His Head on His Laptop and a White Flag of Surrender - - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #9029390

Photo courtesy of ©

Not so much.

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The first paragraph came quickly. But then I got stuck. I wrote another one, didn’t like it, and deleted it. I spiraled through that same loop ten times. Nothing seemed to work.

About that time, distraction set in. P.J. O’Rourke described it well when he wrote:

Usually, writers will do anything to avoid writing. For instance, the previous sentence was written at one o’clock this afternoon. It is now a quarter to four. I have spent the past two hours and forty-five minutes sorting my neckties by width, looking up the word “paisly” in three dictionaries, attempting to find the town of that name on The New York Times Atlas of the World map of Scotland, sorting my reference books by width, trying to get the bookcase to stop wobbling by stuffing a matchbook cover under its corner, dialing the telephone number on the matchbook cover to see if I should take computer courses at night, looking at the computer ads in the newspaper and deciding to buy a computer because writing seems to be so difficult on my old Remington, reading an interesting article on sorghum farming in Uruguay that was in the newspaper next to the computer ads, cutting that and other interesting articles out of the newspaper, sorting—by width—all the interesting articles I’ve cut out of newspapers recently, fastening them neatly together with paper clips and making a very attractive paper clip necklace and bracelet set, which I will present to my girlfriend as soon as she comes home from the three-hour low-impact aerobic workout that I made her go to so I could have some time alone to write.”

But distraction wasn’t really my problem. At least not initially. I was intent on writing—I just couldn’t.

After writing four books and almost one thousand blog posts, I have learned two things about writing:

  1. Sometimes, I just need to park myself in my chair, fire-up my laptop, and force myself to start. Nine times out of ten, this works for me.
  2. When that doesn’t work—after a concerted effort—I just need to quit. I have to get up and do something else.

This is all part of the mystery of writing. It’s a balancing act, isn’t it?

You want to exercise self-discipline and force yourself to write, even when you don’t feel like it. But you also have to trust the process and recognize when that won’t work. If you are patient—with yourself and with the process—the Muse will eventually speak.

Questions: As a writer, have you learned to trust the process? Is there a time when you got stuck but eventually regained your inspiration? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Patricia Zell

    Been there and done that! One thing I have learned to do is to not worry about not being able to write at any specific time. Sooner or later, I step up to the plate and hit the ball. When I find myself unable to come up with words, I know I haven’t had enough “simmering” time.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Me, too. It is easy to obsess about “not writing.” This makes a difficult situation worse!

      • Ginny Jaques

        Like trying to overcome insomnia at 3:00 am.

        • Darlene Pawlik

          I don’t bother trying to overcome, I pull out my laptop and write until I cannot see anything. It does make the next day difficult, especially if it’s a full shift of 10-12 hours.

  • Doug Hibbard

    I keep a “recycling” file for documents, which is separate from the Windows “Recycling Bin.” It’s where I start, then restart, then finally cut out, paste into a new file the half-measures of attempts at blog posts, sermons, and other writing that I do.

    I started that because I found the quickest route to getting discouraged was to write 5 or 6 paragraphs and then decide I didn’t like them for the point I was making. I’d feel like it was all a huge waste of my time. So, I started saving it. Eventually, I’ll have to purge that file folder. I don’t go back to it very often, but it tricks me into thinking the time wasn’t wasted.

    Of course, I also have the option of just not writing when it comes to the blog, which is liberating. It doesn’t have to happen, so it happens a little easier. The work stuff? That gets tougher to hit that deadline some days.


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  • Alise Wright

    I’ve found sometimes that I just need to abandon my “good idea” and work on something completely different for a while. I find that fairly often, the more I love an idea, the longer it needs to to rattle around in my brain and when I try to write about it too quickly, it just dies a horrible death. Or at least doesn’t develop into the really awesome idea that I thought it would. Which might even be worse.

    I’ve got a good dozen or so posts sitting in my drafts waiting for the words. And I’ve found that just letting them wait for the right words is definitely the best way for me to work. Sometimes getting that “other” stuff out of my brain helps clear the way for a better post on something that I care more deeply about. So I’ll write through it, but not by necessarily writing THAT piece.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I have a friend who refers to this as putting his writing “in the crockpot.” Sometimes, they just need to cook slowly.

    • Bret Mavrich

      Alise, my problem is that those good ideas will lose steam while I wait for words. I hate the feeling of returning to a draft and thinking, “I wonder why I felt that was such an important thing to write about.” I’ve never looked at a finish piece and thought that.

      • Ginny Jaques

        It’s so true. When I have an idea, I have to slap it down right away, and by the time I finish I like what I’ve done. But I hate when I think I need to say something and don’t know what it is. I know dedicated writers sit down and write until they get something to say, but don’t think I should write then.

  • Girli Pangilinan

    As a writer, have I learned to trust the process? Honestly, it never occurred to me that it was a process, I get too busy scolding and practically verbally abusing myself for not being able to finish what I thought I had in the bag, and just needed to type out…But you’re right, it IS a process, something that writers go through every once in a while (more often than that for me, it seems, though). With me, I better learn to stop berating myself so much and get back into it. Thanks for sharing this! ^_^

  • Walter

    I have had nights Michael when great blog posts have come to me in my dreams. In fact, often, I’ve dreamt the whole post. Then the next day when I sit down to write it… voila… nothing comes out. It sure can be frustrating. Thanks for “permission” to let go of some of that frustration.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I have experienced this, too. I have found, however, that the best ideas stick!

    • Ben

      It’s amazing how many good ideas come to me right as I’m about to drift off to sleep or right when I’m waking up.

    • Ginny Jaques

      LOL. That’s happened to me too, but when I try to write down the brilliant thing, it looks like nonsense in the light of day!

  • Cris Ferreira

    I completely identify with this situation too. The difference is that I don’t write for a living, so I hardly have to deal with deadlines.
    When I want to write something, usually I am able to wait for an inspiration. When it comes, I just start writing and don’t stop.
    However, when I have to write something and I have a deadline, and I force myself to seat and write, it takes forever. I do everything but writing.
    I remember once, a few years ago, I was supposed to write a technical article. I had about a month to do it. One day (it was a Sunday), I had just woken up and I got an inspiration. In order to avoid losing it, I didn’t even try to get out of bed and turn on my laptop. I started writing on my Palm Treo smartphone right there on my bed. I got it all done in about 20 minutes. I did some tweaking on it afterwards, but I know that if I lost that “wave” of inspiration, I would regret.

  • Carlester T. Crumpler

    I know this is going to sound like Paul, but… when I want to think, I can’t think. And when I don’t care to think, I end up thinking. And those non-thinking moments end up generating the best thoughts. So, the long and the short of it is, don’t be so hard on yourself because a shorter post may end up being your best.

    • Michael Hyatt

      So true. I have found that there is no necessary correlation between how hard I work on a post or how long it is and how popular it is.

  • Shannan Parker

    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You for this! I no longer have to beat myself up in the wrestling match ring of writing. Discipline is a must, but no more black-eyes!

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s the perfect way to say it! Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    It helps if you’ve already established the discipline. And it’s important to still give it a good effort, as you did. I let myself fall out of the habit and find that like any form of exercise, discipline (i.e. being intentional about frequency, timing, quantity) and “showing up” for that good effort are key elements. Thanks for a timely reminder about balance.

  • Larcampbell

    Procrastination, frustration, irritation. AHHH! The past couple of weeks I have been trying to finish up the novel I began last month for National Novel Writing Month. The minute the challenge ended and I didn’t make the 50,000 word mark, I froze. Inspiration or should I say motivation finds me at odd times and I take advantage of it, but I really want to finish the novel. It just sits on my computer waiting for me and I avoid it at all costs. I’m new to writing full-time and I’m still testing my limits. The process, I need to believe in it more and give myself permission to write.


  • K.Victoria Smith

    Sounds like my FB status:-) I am not a full-time writer (wish I was) so I have to deal with the job thing. Oh and, this time of year, don’t forget the holiday thing and, of course the family thing, always more fun at the holidays. Too many things on the plate to allow the muse room in the brain, so it is nice to see that I can cut myself some slack. I am catching up on the “to-be-read” a little and keep a notebook nearby to jot down the random idea. Onward to 2011!

  • David Teems

    As much as I would love it to be something else, something more fascination friendly, discipline is the only muse, or at least the best one. Regularity. Same spottedness. Being there. If the muse can trust you, he/she will be there too. Writing in flashes of inspiration doesn’t really work either. Inspiration trusts the disciplined. Nurture and vigilance works, consistency. I have often told people they would be amazed at what 15 minutes a day would do for them as a writer. 15 minutes, hopefully at the same time, same place. Not Starbucks, not down by that beautiful stream, or by a statue of Byron. The muse waits somewhere else. My office is a workshop.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I agree. I also love your writing. Just your blog comments are noteworthy!

    • Lrovig

      Oh golly. Can we take Starbucks and their clones off your list of not good places to find the muse? Pretty please? Some of my best doggeral poems, the kind that make people laugh, started out over a cuppa joe that someone else made.

      • David Teems

        Even worse, Stephen King suggests, and I do too, a “basement” place, a blank place, preferably a windowless room, undreamy and uninspiring in itself. The point is inspiration must be coaxed, and from within. Even this awareness takes time and discipline, watchfulness. Your own cue, Starbucks, says more than you may wish to admit, that is, a place where I can write something laughable.

        • Tom

          Yes, we’ll said :)

  • Chris Jeub

    Great post, Michael! Want to know something interesting? Blogging has helped my writing immensely. I believe it is because I’m able to keep a robust folder of drafts. Right now I have 41 drafts, a collection of ideas that I’ve gathered over time. When an idea comes around, I jump on it and type at least something in. Every morning, I pull up an old draft and prepare it for publishing. I blog every day, I write a few times a day, and my writing has become better and better.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It has helped my writing, too. I think it is the regularity of it.

    • Bret Mavrich

      I’m going to start doing this. Like, now.

  • James Castellano

    Being a relatively new writer, I am still developing my process. I have several projects going simultaneously so I can switch back and forth when uninspired. When this doesn’t help, I’ll get up and do something completely different. When I am really stuck, I read and get my mind off all projects for a day or two.

  • Brett

    My problem has been to write only when inspiration hits. Consequently, I’ve always said that I love to write. Recently, I’ve attempted a more regimented schedule. I still love it, but it’s like anything else that’s worth doing: not always easy, but always worth it. The best by-product of the new schedule, my eyes are opening to ideas much more than before. The discipline has been to sit with them and allow them to develop. I think I’m totally off topic, but it was on my mind!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I find that the inspiration doesn’t happen until after I sit down and begin. That’s no guarantee, but it covers about 90% of my writing experience.

      • Bret Mavrich

        That’s a shocking statement.

  • Andy Janning

    This post is both an inspiration and a relief to this wanna-be writer, who can have an fully-formed blog post, book proposal, or 60-minute presentation fly through my head while I’m brushing my teeth only to have all of it evaporate once I sit down to write. I’ve thought that’s a sign that I should chuck all of it and fire up the Xbox instead. As a result, I sometimes approach writing as a full-contact cognitive sport, a verbal wrestling match against an uncooperative brain. Lately, though, I’ve embraced the concept of free writing – just typing random words and sentences related to the chapter I’m working on or the world around me. That warm-up will usually lure the ideas onto my keyboard. Thanks for the reassurance and encouragement.

  • Karen Jordan

    So … what do you do when you’re stuck for days, weeks, or longer? I guess you take it “Bird by Bird,” as Anne Lamott suggests, huh?

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s never really happened to me. If you are being disciplined, you will still have days when you can’t write, but it should eventually begin to flow. I have a post called, “13 Idea-Starters for Stuck Bloggers” that you might find helpful. Thanks.

  • Cherie Zack

    I am so encouraged to find out that I am “Normal” when it comes to the writing process. I have been struggling as a writer thinking I’m really not one and have just been amusing myself. I have a ministry blog that requires so much writing. Back in October I add two counseling classes from Liberty U that required even more writing. I thought “maybe your just burned out”! Thank you so much for this post. I do the very same things when my creativity gets blocked. I find myself making a cup of tea and walking all through my home as a distraction, or I will watch a commercial or call a friend.

    Thank you! I am smiling this morning having found I am a writer and in very good company. You have lightened my shoulders! :)


    • Michael Hyatt

      Excellent! I think many people mistakenly assume that writing isn’t work; that it should just happen naturally. I occasionally write out of inspiration. It is nice when it happens. But it is rare. Most of the time, if I show up and work at it, the Muse shows up.

  • Daniel Decker

    Certainly can relate. I’ve decided recently to give myself a window of about 30 minutes. If I can’t flesh out the basic post or if I find myself continually rewriting it then I’ll park it for later. I have a file I call my “Crock Pot.” It’s where I toss posts that give me trouble because sometimes I need to start them and let them simmer for a while and come back later to finish it off.

    I don’t normally run into a topic issue since I keep an Evernote folder that I toss ideas into at random as they occur. When I sit down to draft a post or two I look through that Evernote folder and the Crock Pot folder to see if I want to take on something new or pick up something that’s been slow cooking for a while.

  • Jonathan Vanhorn

    As a young writer this is encouraging for me. There are days and nights where I ask myself, ‘is it worth it?’ Not knowing if something will actually come to mind. Thanks for the encouragement to push through and stay disciplined as well as giving me the freedom to stop and put the pen down and walk away for a bit.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Those are exactly the two things you need to balance. Ninety percent of the time, discipline works. But when it doesn’t, you just have to trust the process and live to write another day.

  • Lynn Rush

    Great post. When I get stuck, I tend to plow through it, like you mentioned above. Just sit down and go. If it’s not working…then a long bike ride or run really helps me. I throw on some rockin’ songs and just go… It’s almost always worked for me!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yep, a change of scenery is often just what I need to get unstuck. For me it is running or—believe it or not—washing the dishes!

  • John Richardson

    Great post, Michael. If you write, you’ve probably found yourself there a time or two. For me I’ve found that I need three things to write consistently.
    1. A comfortable space
    2. A scheduled time
    3. A cup of coffee

    When I write for my blog, I like to sit at my desk in front of the computer in the early morning. Usually I have an idea that I wake up with to write about. If that doesn’t happen, I visit other blogs to see what they are saying. Sometimes my greatest motivator is creating a picture or graphic in Photoshop that conveys my idea. Some days it’s just a title on my blog editor, that will be finished another day.

    When I wrote my first book, I found that I needed a different place. That place ended up being the recliner in the family room. With the laptop in my lap and a cup of Joe by my side, I was able to enter the fantasy world of fiction. If I got stuck or needed to work an idea out, I would get up and walk around the family room. It’s amazing how walking brings on the ideas. I would schedule at least an hour to write. Some days that was a thousand words on the computer, some days that was a long walk with notes on paper. The secret to writing fiction was to give myself latitude to work without strict boundaries. That made every day an adventure.
    If all else fails… try this freewriting exercise. Sit at your computer. Set a timer for five minutes. Write whatever comes into your mind until the timer goes off. The physical act of typing and the freedom to write anything, usually work wonders.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I love the idea of starting with a picture first. I have occasionally done this for inspiration—and it works! However, I haven’t done it in a while, so I need to revisit. Thanks, John.

  • Dean Deguara

    Wow! This happened to me yesterday verbatim. I definitely had to trust the process, but wrote uninspired. I did not like my post but the more I read over my blog I realized it wasn’t as bad as I thought.
    Hope you made your flight.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I made the flight. In fact, I am writing this comment from 34,000 feet in the air. I love inflight wireless.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I made the flight. In fact, I am writing this comment from 34,000 feet in the air. I love inflight wireless.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I made the flight. In fact, I am writing this comment from 34,000 feet in the air. I love inflight wireless.

  • Rick Yuzzi

    I assigned myself a task to write a serial Christmas story for one of our company Websites last year. It had an installment each day for 12 days. I got started late and was quickly at a point where I was writing the day before it was due to be posted. That will get you motivated. I thought about writing another one this year, but decided there’s enough stress at Christmas without adding to it. Instead, I’m in “reruns” of last year’s story on my blog.

  • Leigh Vickery

    Wendell Berry said it best when talking with Andrew Peterson about his writing: “But you can’t think about that while you’re doing it,” he said. “If you think about what you’re doing, then you’ve stopped doing it. If you stop writing your song and think ‘I’m writing a song,’ then you’re no longer writing a song. The bird,” he said, “has flown.”

    • Michael Hyatt

      There is real wisdom in that. My best writing comes when I forget that I am writing. I think that is a major source of writer’s block—becoming too self-conscious about what you are doing. Thanks.

  • Andrew Acker

    #1 is definitely the most challenging of the two. If I don’t have adequate time to write, and I know I only have a window of time, it’s so easy to convince myself that it’s not enough time to actually accomplish something big, so why start and then have to switch to something else. If I can’t hit a home run, I don’t even settle for getting a base hit, just to start the process. The all or none mentality, in terms of writing, has to end!

  • Nora

    I find this to be true in creative endeavors. I’m not a writer but my husband and I create things from wood and textiles, sometimes together sometimes separately. There are times that we have to separate ourselves from the object/process to make it more clear. Our current project requires both of us. It’s nice that right now he is doing his part and I am working on something else.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I agree. I think what I have described applies to most creative endeavors. Thanks.

  • Georgiana

    I think we’ve all had times when we feel the want and intent on writing something meaningful but then lack the inspiration of flowing words to put on paper. Sometimes I ponder on my message awhile, thinking about the best way to gather my thoughts into tangible written words. Other times I look up Bible verses and different words in a thesaurus to get my creative juices fired up. Eventually all my puzzled thoughts tie together into a meaningful message. :-)

  • Peg Brantley

    Learning to write comes in two parts: craft and process. I needed to learn the process every bit as much as I needed to learn the craft.

    Process consists of idea ranking, concept development, SOTP or detailed outline or something in between, discipline and figuring out what to do when nothing works. It’s different for everyone.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You bring up an important point. We have to get to know ourselves as writers, including our own delusions and deceptions. In the past, I would try to fight through writer’s block. I felt that to do otherwise was being lazy.

      Sometimes, it is! But I have also learned to discern the difference and go with the flow. Thanks.

  • Keith Jennings

    Years ago, I read some advice by one of my favorite poets, David Kirby, where he said that he advises poets to always work on 3-5 poems at a time. I’ve found that this helps with blogging too.

    1. It allows each post to “cook” in its own time. (Love the crockpot analogy your friend uses.)

    2. It creates an interesting tension where disparate ideas can feed each other in serendipitous ways.

    This doesn’t prevent us from getting stuck. But I’ve found sketching/drafting multiple blog posts at a time helps immensely when those uninspired moments arrive.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I do the same thing. I like to have several working at once.

    • Vannetta chapman

      When I have trouble, I think of Barbara Kingsolver.s essay on this topic. Writing IS hard. But laying asphalt in the summer in Arizona is MORE hard. Still not inspired? go FIND a road crew and watch them. Writer? Or street worker? God bless them, and suddenly I.m inspired.

  • Mary DeMuth

    I’m in the middle of that right now as I write this spiritual warfare book. It’s excruciating, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The only way I’ve found to plow through is pray, ask for prayer, make myself do it, give myself daily goals, and give myself permission to write, as Anne Lamott promotes, “crummy” first drafts.

    • Michael Hyatt

      The “crummy” first draft concept is worth the price of that book. I really believe in this. Creating a and editing are two different things. The biggest challenge is creating that first draft!

    • Tina Ann Forkner

      So true, Mary. Sending prayers up for you. Love Anne Lamott’s philosophy. It is hard for many of us to let ourselves write “crummy” first drafts.

    • rick hubbell

      Yes Mary! I once heard a message with the startling headline “Anything Worth Doing Well is Worth Doing Poorly”. The speaker was getting at your last sentence – that “on the way” to excellence you’ve got to give yourself permission to fumble around en route.

      That stuck with me.

    • Bret Mavrich

      I actually love editing my work more than writing my work. My most creative ideas come out in that part of the process.

  • TNeal

    For me, I’ve got to go to my other office–McDonald’s, Culver’s, the local library–to be my most productive as a writer. I do the P. J. O’Rourke routine if I remain home. Yet home always entices me with “You know your coffee is the best in town and you can get a load of clothes done while you’re writing and you’re stocked with plenty of chips and…” I’m more apt to listen when the thermometer hovers in the teens like today. But I think I’ll wind this up and head to my other office.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I am usually more productive when I go to a designated writing place as well. Thanks.

  • TNeal

    For me, I’ve got to go to my other office–McDonald’s, Culver’s, the local library–to be my most productive as a writer. I do the P. J. O’Rourke routine if I remain home. Yet home always entices me with “You know your coffee is the best in town and you can get a load of clothes done while you’re writing and you’re stocked with plenty of chips and…” I’m more apt to listen when the thermometer hovers in the teens like today. But I think I’ll wind this up and head to my other office.

  • Rick Hubbell

    Several times recently I have pressed through one of those mind numbing type sessions where you come up with a million angles and none seem to be the one. Very frustrating. During those times, the idea of giving up ‘to cooperate with one of my creative zones’ thrilled me, but I just wouldn’t give up.

    For me it’s hard to tell when the forced discipline “to just sit down and start” will pay off – so I have learned that I MUST give it a shot.

    It has proven rewarding.

    In 2 out of 3 of the sessions, surprisingly, I eventually arrived at something I was proud of. Contrast that with times when I simply sit down and everything flows; and you have exactly the mystery Michael is talking about.

    When in doubt, simply start and grind a little if necessary. You might get to something great the hard way.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You are exactly right. Your last sentence says it all. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    When I first started my blog, I thought it would be easy to write on a regular basis. I committed to posting 5 days a week. That lasted about 2 weeks. Now I post weekly because I still have a full time job and I need to ponder the topic. Yet my most popular posts are all the posts that I sat down without thought, forced myself to write at least 250 words just to get something on my blog. So I’m still learning a process.

  • Mimmp

    It’s like having a chapotle pepper stuck in my brain and four pounds of cold and congealed mashed potatoes stuck in my gullet. That’s how the pain of writer’s block coupled with the guilt of having writer’s block in the first place feels in my body. Brutal. And it doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself to “just show up”. Sometimes I can’t. And then the obsession begins. So we’ve all been there – the pain, the guilt, the simmering, the organizing of files. Until, one day, we sit down. And we write.

  • Nikole Hahn

    There’s a movie on that I haven’t seen and I park myself with my laptop in the livingroom to watch it, but the dirty dishes in the sink are distracting. I see a dust bunny skipping across the floor. An interesting blog catches my attention. I laugh at something my friend stated as a Facebook status. I have book reviews to finish. I’m in the dreaded middle of my novel and I find every reason not to write.

    I completely understand. Mmmm…I wonder if I should alphabatize my books?

  • Dan Miller

    Mike – love this post. I chuckled as I reflected on my own challenges here. I hear so many wanna-be writers talk about waiting for “inspiration.” And I agree with you, writing is a process – get started and the inspiration comes. But I’ve also learned to listen to my procrastination. Sometimes I discover that I’m forcing the process of writing on a topic about which I am not passionate.

    There is the Taoist concept of “wei wu wei” which roughly means “doing without doing.” The implication being that if there is an authentic fit, then your passion and energy will carry you along like a raft on a river.

    I don’t want to just be a wordsmith – I want to write about things that line up with my talents and passions – then the words come much easier.

  • Todd Henry

    I think you’re right in that process is EVERYTHING with regard to writing. It’s important to push through the walls. Steven Pressfield (“The War Of Art”) told me in an interview that the difference between a pro and an amateur isn’t whether money is exchanged, it’s the attitude of the writer. A pro writer writes because it’s necessary, not because they feel like it. It’s something I’ve tried to adopt as a working philosophy – inspiration follows action, but waiting around for inspiration is a loser’s game. (And it was the only thing that got me through 10 grueling months of writing my first book… :)

  • Jeff Randleman

    I completely understand! I’m coming from a different point of view right now though. I’m not a published author, and just starting out as a blogger. My big struggle comes in the area of journaling. I fight and fight to write good stuff. Because, not only are these journals my private thoughts and dreams; they are also a part of the legacy I want to leave for my children. They can hold a journal and say “This is who Dad was…”

    Sometimes I just have to walk away and come back to it later. Other times I force myself to start writing; when I do that I find that it starts to flow easier as I go… most of the time.

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  • Willie Mac

    I totally understand this. I am writing a blog novel just for fun and for practicing my writing skills. Well, I have been promising an installment since Thursday and I have been doing anything and everything but editing it so I can post it up for my readers. It is just so difficult sometimes, even though one loves to write more than just about anything except to read, to get the ball rolling; writing is an art, but it is a disciplined art.

  • Tina Ann Forkner

    Some novels I write come together quickly, but some take longer. Giving myself permission to step away from the story for a time is the best advice I’ve ever received. I am learning that sometimes my best writing takes longer than my own self-imposed deadline and I have to, as you described it in your question, trust the process.

  • rick hubbell

    You’re welcome. Great post.

  • John Pearson

    Exactly! I love Winston Churchill’s insight on this ordeal: “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”

    • Michael Hyatt

      I LOVE this quote. Thanks!

  • K.C. Procter

    This reminds me of the TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert. While I don’t agree with the selfish ideology of Eat Pray Love it is a fabulous video on creativity.

    As a “writer” it is my job to show up. Sometimes inspiration is forced, but I have to be there.

  • Linda Gartz

    Last night I had a blog post 95% written -or so I thought! After re-reading I hated the voice & thought the approach was boring. The the HTML messed up and spaces appeared where they didn’t belong. THREE hours later, I was done. As a long-time writer/tv producer waiting for inspiration is NOT an option. I jump in and write crap–but get something down. I start early, if possible, so my subconscious can percolate on my pathetic first draft. As I come back and back I realize what I really want to say and new ideas emerge. Finally I get it pretty much–or just right. Perspiration, as we’ve all heard, engenders inspiration. I’m writing now on the centennial of letters, diaries and photos from 1910 — and how they reflect our common humanity. I’ll post my grandfather’s diary of his trip to America on Christmas Eve– the 100th anniversary of his emigrating out of Transylvania . See if you think my method works as all of these posts were reworked multiple times!

  • Amy

    I think both of your points are true! I have a bunch of files of posts that I have started and can come back to when the time is write.


  • BeyondTheD-Pad

    Honestly this has been the hardest thing for me thus far, the simple process of just writing. I spend the time gathering ideas or researching how I can be a better writer or be more productive. But none of that takes the place of actually writing I just need to DO IT. Thanks for the insipration.

  • Gospel lab

    I wonder what it was like to be one of those chosen by God to write the words down that would become our Bible we have today. How was their process? Pick up the quill and ink and write until the Holy Spirit said stop?

    Imagine if the Apostle Paul wrote a blog back in the day. Would it be easier or harder for him? He would probably sit there and sit there and then finally admit, “I am just human, I think I prefer to write the words of God instead.”

    • Michael Hyatt

      I am not always sure they were penning Holy Scripture. Regardless, it is an interesting question.

  • Bret Mavrich

    For me a title is everything. If in my initial conceptualization of a topic I can land the title, usually that is the rocket boost necessary to get me to my computer. I may land on a different spin, a different angle, or even a different title than I started with, but a working title is critical for me to even get in the game.

  • JD Eddins

    Been there, in fact, I might be there now. That’s why I keep a moleskin note book with me at almost all times. I can write ideas and thoughts for future blog posts or continue thoughts from other things I have written down.
    I’m glad to know that others who have been doing this much longer than me have the same issue.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I do the same. Sometimes, I get great ideas in meetings that have nothing to do with the topic at hand. I jot it down, so it doesn’t dissipate into the ether.

  • Gary

    I find that to be very true of journalling. I sometimes have so much on my mind I cannot get it out of mind and onto paper. I find it is then that I must just let my mind wonder and work through those issues that constrain it. That is the time I put pen and paper down, meditate, pray, and just think. Other times thinks flow as if the mind and pen/paper are one. I feel your pain.

  • Anonymous

    This has been the story of my life this week. I finally had to unplug the internet yesterday afternoon and clear my desk of all the “extras” that had been distracting me all day. And, amazingly enough, once I got started, the words started to flow and it all came together!

  • Linley

    I am so glad that I’m not alone in that. Thanks for sharing.

  • Paul Thomas

    “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” -Jack London. I once read he wrote 1,000 words a day, and sometimes all 1,000 went straight from the typewriter to the trash can.

    Writing even when what I write is terrible and will never be used is useful when I’m stuck.

    An odd thing I’ve found is that when I have a particularly good idea, I am overcome with an overwhelming urge to get up and find a distraction. That’s weird. Does it happen to anyone else?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I am personally less likely to be distracted with a good idea—but it happens. That’s why I refer to the writing process as a mystery. It’s not science for sure!


        Hubby and I learned ‘get it down not get it right’. I am an iterative writer. The first draft is exactly that – a draft.

  • Jennifer Rowsell

    As a student, I have no choice! I have 3 papers due by Thursday night so I gotta get inspired and write fast, haha.
    My blog is purely for fun and so sometimes I write 4 times a week, sometimes I go a whole month and don’t post a thing. I don’t worry about it :)

  • Laurie Wallin

    Yep, I’m learning to trust the process. Until recently I went with the muse version too often, and wrote seldom on my blog because of it. Then I scheduled time, and started finding myself in the position of the guy in your picture. Now things are balancing because I’ve got speech to talk apps on my phone, so I “write” while I walk my dog and during other inspiring moments. Then I just rummage through my ideas when it’s time to post. Yay!


      “Trust the process” – like that line, too. I’ve not had real occasion of ‘writer’s block’ but my blog posts are not on deadline. Laurie, will you send me more information about the speech to talk apps on your phone? (Laurie and I know each other, Michael.)

  • Shawnhope

    Reminds me of a couple quotes, I am not sure of the source for this one but it rings true in many ways: “writers love to have written.” Also, Peter De Vries said “I love being a writer, what I can’t stand is all the paperwork.”

    I often find myself sitting down with a great idea to write about, then, half way through writing the blog, or essay, I scrap it to write of a new idea, that happened to flow freely.

    In a lot of ways, as a writer, I feel as though I am just a facilitator of what the page is going to do naturally. If the process just isn’t working, I let it rest, and save it for another time.

  • Randy Kinnick

    O’Rourke, like me, was not distracted, he was suffering from ADHD! ;-) At any rate, I agree completely with your approach. I find that I must eventually do one of those two things to deal with the hurdle. It is a mystery, for sure, what brings the flow at times and shallows the waters at others.

  • viviana fonseca

    i believe good ideas always make it to the “paper”. they’re in my mind till the time is right. not before. meanwhile, they wander around getting ready for my heart/mind/good-sense-of-proper-grammar to connect them.
    thanks for your post, it’s great. makes me realise i need to try harder. will do.
    excellent blog, by the way, thanks a lot!

  • Doug Armey

    Had this happen today. I had outlined a post yesterday to begin the rough draft on this morning. Sat down to write and I couldn’t even understand why I had written what I had yesterday. No energy. No passion.

    I prayed about what I really wanted to say and just started writing. I quit thinking about what I ought to say and just looked inside for what was burning and needed to get out.

    The good news? It flowed. I’ve never had that happen quite the same way.

    Have others ever experienced that?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Absolutely. The danger for me is in thinking I have discovered “the formula.” Almost every writing experience is different. Sometimes it is easy; often it is just work. Occasionally, nothing I do works. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Nicole

    So true! At times I have ended up writing articles the day before the deadline for the same reason. Most of the battle is getting myself to start. Usually once I get going it’s easier to finish.

  • pastorbrett

    Most of my ideas come when hot water is flowing over me in the morning. As for getting the job done on paper, a mentor advised: “Bolt your tail to the chair; bolt your chair to the floor; don’t get up until you are done.” Easier said than done, for sure. Sometimes a good walk does the trick. As we come to understand better (scientifically) the brain, it will be interesting to see if we will learn how to best harness the creative process.

  • Katherine Hyde

    I’m on my third novel now (not counting three I began and abandoned), and I’ve gotten stuck for a significant period somewhere during the process on all of them. Sometimes it’s because I need to work something out about the novel before I can go on. Sometimes, though, I quit writing because I’m too stressed. Stress is the great enemy of creativity. At those times, I have to force myself to breathe, turn the stressful situations over to God, get my butt in the chair and write–and eventually inspiration returns. Then the vicious cycle reverses and writing helps me deal with the stress.

  • Brian Notess

    I’ve definitely been there too. Most of the time I can squeeze something out, sometimes it’s even almost physically painful, but I find, once it’s out, polishing doesn’t take as long as I thought.

  • Gregory Scott

    Michael–Having written almost daily for the last 20 years as a trial lawyer, I can tell you nothing inspires me like an immovable deadline. I find myself stuck a lot more when I’m blogging at home (w/o a deadline) than when I’m drafting a legal brief at work that has to be done by 5 pm. Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom.

  • Dean

    I noticed that with the novel I have tucked away in a drawer somewhere. Most of the time I just didn’t want to write, but forced myself to start. An hour or two later I had some of the best pages I had ever written. There is definitely a balance of knowing when to walk away and when to push through.

  • Sharon

    I can identify so well with this! I am still unexperienced in writing, but I have found that when I keep my eyes and heart open to how God is working around me and how He is growing me, the words will flow freely. Times when I allow my life to become rushed, busy and the tyranny of the urgent drives my days, no matter how much time and effort I put into trying to write, nothing comes. I find I need to peel away and write when the words are there, no matter what else I am supposed to be doing at the time. Thanks so much for your advice and encouragement!

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    I completely concur with your perspective. The only advantage I have is that I am not a professional money making writer but an amateur writer. I do not necessarily have to meet any time bound schedules.

    I start to write when zeal sprouts inside me. I keep nurturing the idea inside my mind. Finally, I love to write in isolation without any disturbance. I always have a writing pad and pencil with me (even in my bed room). Whenever an idea germinates, I put down that in my pad and later develop the same.

    I have written technical articles and blogs (but not books till now.) Many times, it is the result of several rounds of fair drafting. It’s like experimentation for me. I have to accept this trial and error technique to bring out the best in me. Passion and desire to write keeps me ticking to produce articles. I remember, one time, I woke up during midnight and started writing immediately by switching the lamp. I didn’t even get out of my couch and persisted for 2 hours to complete my writing in one go. That article got me good reviews later. In a sense, I am typically an undisciplined and non time bound amateur writer. But, I enjoy being so.

  • Caleb Griffin

    I find that writing a short outline of my blog posts days ahead of time allows the idea to germinate so that when I return to the writing it flows more easily.

  • Jeanne Farrington

    When I’m working on an article, and I’ve written those pesky paragraphs that just don’t work, I create a separate document called “Pieces.” I move the rejected paragraphs or chunks over to that document, just in case I can use them later. This way, I don’t feel like I’ve been wasting my time, and occasionally, those paragraphs become the seed of a new article or post.

    • davinabrewer

      I do a version of this, keep so many posts and sections in “draft” mode. I make a point to revisit them from time to time, make sure I’m not repeating the same thoughts, or at least updating them to stay topical.

  • David

    There are times when writing just flows out my fingers on the keyboard like water downhill. Then there are the other times it is like I’m carrying a piano on my back alone up three flights of old wooden stairs. The easy times always seem to come from inspiration of a “God Moment”, or the catching a glimpse of God in anothers life. They may not even see it happening as they are just being servants to one of God less fortunate in this lifetime.

    Sometimes it is something that one of the many animals that we have had over the years or now have did. How they showed their unconditional love towards us as does God. I have found out when I stand back and get “me” out of the way to tell anothers story I write like a maniac. I can always tell when it is inspiration verses perspiration. Because when I am done with inspiration I don’t want to change one word, and I am physically exhausted. When it is perspiration writing I end up reading it over and over changing a word here or a thought there. I even sense then that I am frustrated as does anyone in earshot. Many times I need to just walk away to come back later to finish it.

    The only exception I have personally found to this is when the Lord is really developing an idea or deep thought in me. It is as thought He is bringing it to my heart as well as up form my inner well at the same time. Those times take a lot more meditation with perspiration on the old pump handle before I see any water flowing out. But when it freely flows, and it does, it is cool, sweet, and satisfies the thirsting of my soul. I Hope this helps as it works for me. Whatever it takes keep writing as the Lord will bless what you put your hands to if you will give your heart and whole being to Him. God Bless…..David/ New Vision Ministries

  • Anonymous

    I keep a running list of all the post topics I thought would be slam dunks, but they weren’t. We’re all going to run head first into that wall. I have had many an ideas that I just couldn’t flesh out. Some of them have become really great posts, but some haven’t. I still have them written down, but they aren’t at the top of my topics list simply because I don’t have the inspiration for them.

    I’ll get to them eventually, but for now, they can just relax — they’ll come around and once they do, I will write like crazy.

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  • Gail

    I find that the best thing to help me get into the creative zone is to do something physical like take a walk, weed the garden or play foozball. For some reason this kicks me into a space where the ideas and words start to flow again. Great for problem solving, releasing writers block, not so good for winning foozball games 8-S

    • davinabrewer

      I’ll clean, do laundry, dishes.. something active that helps remove the clutter and distractions.

  • Christopher Scott

    I have learned to trust the process.

    My process is to always outline my writing before sitting at a computer. This allows me to always have something to write about, and it prevents me from getting stuck. Plus, when I begin writing what I have outlined, I seem to have more ideas flow to me that I can write about.

    Writing feels easy most of the time, but when it becomes difficult, I just keep writing. I keep cranking out words until I have nothing left in me.

  • davinabrewer

    Michael, Don’t have a great writer’s quote to share, probably should look into that. My holdups are not so much writing as publishing, per my writing goals and basic discipline. I could type the days away, writing about hobbies, about fun things I enjoy, about things that irritate or annoy. But that’s not always gonna cut it, as I write and blog for my business. So when that pressure is on to share something new, write some deep, insightful perspective on social media and PR that enhances my personal brand, professional reputation (feel free to role your eyes, I did), that’s when the fear hits.. causing slacker “do it later” undisciplined tendencies to take hold. So I need to do less of Step 2, and a lot more of Step 1. Thanks for the motivation.

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  • Tory Satter

    I have only been blogging for about 5 months. Last month I had a post that just took off (and it wasn’t even one of my favorite posts!). When all was said and done I think it was shared on Facebook around 30 times. I found myself struggling to write anything for the next week because I wasn’t sure to how “top” the previous post. I finally just sat down and started again, but it was tough.

  • Tom Stuart

    I had exactly the same thing happen this morning. Seldom do I have to walk away from my thrice weekly practice of writing my blog. But today I did. Like you I just hit the wall. When I came back three hours later it miraculously all fell into place. Thanks for the encouragment.

  • Tim

    I believe you nailed it. You just have to trust the process. I found that to be true in writing Every Day is Game Day, The CHILD Game Plan, and The Street Sweeper. I have also had to trust the process many times in writing blog posts for Irrefutable Success. Getting stuck will happen… It’s a wonderful feeling to get un-stuck as the ideas begin to flow.

  • Best Woodworking Plans

    Mike – love this post. I chuckled as I reflected on my own challenges here.

  • Carlene Byron

    The more seriously I take myself as a writer, the more ways I record what I’m thinking and seeing and the more of my time I’m writing and recording — in notebooks, on the laptop, and in long cellphone messages to myself while I’m driving (until I get used to the digital recorder that’s Dragon compatible). And the more stuff I record, the more stuff I will eventually have to throw away, I’m sure. I always tell students that they should plan on throwing out 95 percent of what they put on paper … that writing is one way to get your thoughts outside yourself and think them through, and it can take a while to figure out how to say what you really want to say.

  • Ben Lichtenwalner

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never had that problem… and, if you believe that, I have a bridge I want to sell you.

    What helps – though it’s still not great – is when I lose my muse or the words just are not coming, I use that time to tweak the website, read other blogs and contribute through comments or other feedback. The result is a feeling I’ve at least been productive – even if I did not get that post or chapter written.

    Love that quote by P.J. O’Rourke by the way!

  • Scopwife

    After years of beating myself up for “not writing” I came to the slow realization that you are indeed writing all the time: eavesdropping on a conversation at the grocery store, listening to music, taking in a scene, etc. —and once I discovered that, I decided that the down time is just as important! Sometimes when I walk away from it, I come back with so much more…
    Write on!
    SCW Stella

  • Jeff Goins

    Yup, been there… many, MANY nights. I find that as a writer, the best thing I can do to “get inspired” is to just show up. If I wait for inspiration, it comes intermittently and inconsistently. If I show up, inspiration eventually comes.

    That said, when I DO feel inspired, I’ve learned to stop everything that I’m doing and at least take some notes, because when the Muse comes upon me suddenly, it can often mean a profound thought that may leave if I don’t jot something down.

  • Chris Manion

    I made a file once titled “To Order.” In it went pages from magazines or newspapers that had something I thought I wanted to buy. I’d review that file from time to time and find that I could dismiss most of its contents . It was a way to get me past distractions and onto core values. The process of writing is like that for me sometimes.

    We just have to show up. God works with us in the process. But we must stand before the door (laptop) before it will open.

    It’s also like golf. You can’t play it unless you get yourself to the golf course. Then there’s all sorts of routines to get ready, to warm up, practice shots, banter, and finally, a ball on the tee and a club in the hand. It’s not wasted time all the shifting of our weight, checking our swing, wiggling our hips. It’s all part of the process. On the occasions you can’t hit diddly squat, you go home early and call it a day.

  • Ben Lichtenwalner

    For me, if the creative juices are not flowing, I do one of the following:
    1. Work on the site (tweak this or that, find that plugin I saw on someone’s site, etc…)
    2. Read other blogs and comment
    3. Note ideas and outlines for other posts, when the creativity and flow is there

    The result is a still productive use of the time, even if I can’t keep the focus or creative energy on the content I originally intended. I also loved John’s suggestions on walking around – that will help a lot as well.

  • kerrydexter

    yes, I’ve learned to trust the process, and also trust that for me, my most productive writing time is often spent thinking, rather than writing.

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  • Julie Sunne

    My problem is I have small windows of writing time. Inspiration usually doesn’t strike during those times, and when I finally sit down to put my ideas on screen, the words have moved on. Frustrating.  I believe much of the cause of my brain freezes though is that I’m still a relatively new online writer and am lacking confidence to just let the words flow. Thanks for another great article.

  • Karen Zacharias

    I’m going to try sorting the neckties next. My husband must have 200 of them. If this works, then if I don’t get the next book written, at least the closets will be more organized. 

    • Barry Hill

      This made me laugh.

  • Dain Dunston

    I was at a conference once when someone said from the stage, “If you’re a real writer, you write everyday.” Wow, I thought, I must not be a real writer. And then I thought, that’s nonsense! I don’t run every day. I don’t work every day. Sometimes, I don’t eat and sleep every day. Sometimes you have to step away from the desk. If you’re a “real writer” the desk will always pull you back. 

    Horton Foote (The Trip to Bountiful, Tender Mercies) told me about this story he couldn’t finish, about a young couple who weren’t allowed to marry and so, for the rest of their lives she would sit on her porch every morning and evening and he would walk by on his way to work. But Horton couldn’t find the way to turn that into a play. He gave up and put it in the drawer. Ten years later, it became the seed for (and a story within) The Trip to Bountiful.

    I once quit writing for nearly five years, but it didn’t take. If you’re a writer, you’ll write.

  • Suzyomalley1

    By no means am I a professional writer. I did hear the author of Eat Pray Love speak once and she said the best advice she ever received was from her sister who told her to write as if she was telling the story to one specific person she knew. With this person in mind you could just start talking to them and it makes the writing more personal and intimate to any reader. It works.

  • Robin

    What’s worse is when you get a lot of other things done except for the writing you really want (and need) to do. I can only feel good about those kind of days so long as someone doesn’t come along & ask me how much writing I got done…

  • Scsiders

    I’ve been here a million times and just sitting down and writing anyway usually works. I once wrote about not knowing what to say and it became this lovely prose piece. It’s always shocking what happens.

  • Tim Krupa

    I would agree. I would also add another “block.” There are times when I believe there is no one who wants to read what I have to say.


  • David Manning

    Trust the Muse!

  • Carey Green

    Making myself do it is usually all it takes for me too. But I have noticed lately, especially on bigger writing projects that I tend to delay more. Anyone have an idea why that might be true?

  • Kandace

    I just took a month writing break. It felt good to miss it. I just came out of a season of using writing as an escape and needed to regroup -if that makes sense??

  • Julie Gumm

    I use Scrivener for all my writing and recently I started one file (or book) that is just a bunch of shorter pieces – ideas for blog posts, magazine articles, journaling, etc. Then when I’m stuck I open that and peruse the list. Usually something strikes me as interesting enough to write and add to. It’s helped a ton.

  • Sally Ferguson

    Oh yes, I can relate. Especially the interesting article on sorghum farming in Uruguay. haha.
    I’ve had to learn the hard way that I can’t force my brain to work when I’m at low peak. That’s the time to tackle other tasks. I’m at my best in the evening. Other people think better first thing in the morning. We have to take it when it works best for us.

  • Gary_Thomas_Writer

    I”m dreading starting my 3rd full length screenplay, even though I’ve been here before. It’s annoying, though I need to put my time in working out the scenes / outline and then get it all down. And try and keep in mind its only a first draft and accept that it changes. I learned with my first screenplay to start it when I knew I had enough material (scenes) so need to do the same with this one.

  • Abe S.

    Ha… This sounds about right. Then there is flow. I read an post from Evan Carmichael the other day and it summed up the other side of writing. There are times when it just hits you and you want to flow with it regardless of what you might have had on your schedule. I guess it does come back to being a balancing act. Life in general is that way.

  • Ginny Jaques

    And the ethernet is full of words that were written without benefit of the muse. Written by clenched-teeth writers who felt they had to write something, and disciplined themselves to do it. And I’m pretty sure the muse is shaking his/her head over some of that stuff.

  • Sarah Siders

    Hilarious because it’s so true. I’ve been avoiding writing my book. Sometimes I sit down and it flows. Sometimes it feels like a dribble. Success in writing is, apparently, sometimes starting, sometimes quitting, and the wisdom to know when to do each.

  • Akmal Akbarov

    I usually feel discouraged when I remember my last blog post did not enough shares and Likes or views but it is only a temporary feeling.))

  • Akmal Akbarov

    my process of writing is usually like this:

    – Craft the topic
    – Break
    – Get early ideas on the paper (short sentences)
    – Break
    – Write paragraph by paragraph
    – Break
    – Edit and polish
    – Break
    – Let it age
    – Polish, polish and polish ))

  • Christopher Jones

    To further support this author’s struggle, I was recently in an audience to hear Rick Bragg speak. He had a great line, “I don’t like writing. I like having written. Being a writer is not a gift, it is a craft to be cultivated.” This is coming from a former New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning author. My struggle with writing puts me in good company.

  • Patricia Holbrook

    And I thought I was alone! I love the simple insight this article gave. I will try to remember it the next time I get stuck on that first sentence, which is bound to happen in just a moment when I start preparing for an upcoming speaking engagement :) Thanks, Michael!

  • Abe S.

    Yep, this is a challenge. Writing now.. :)

  • Darlene Pawlik

    This is an encouraging post. I can go days without actually writing, but then I must. In between I Tweet and FB post, encouraging people as I go. I wish I didn’t have to work as much at my job. I often think of great prose and forget it or mangle it by the time I can sit down to set it to the screen. Ebb and flow, right?

  • James Michael Taylor

    I stopped writing so I could read this…


    You’re right on with your two cure-alls, sir. I can sit down and start pouring out gibberish and randomness and vulgarity, and within two minutes, I’m on topic and the words come.

    If they don’t, I need to walk away – literally, go for a walk or bike ride or change my scenery from my office to the coffeeshop to the park.

    (Writing to you today from Mildfire Coffee in San Antonio!)

  • Chris Lawson

    I thought I was the only one. :)