Are You Up for Nothing?

One of my favorite things to do is nothing.

The problem is I don’t do enough of nothing.

I’m working, running errands, writing, playing on my mobile ─ you get the picture.

CaptureBut when I do nothing, I feel better. People who know me often don’t believe me when I tell the I am doing nothing. But it is the greatest gift you can give yourself because it gives you time to recharge, to ponder, to be.

I now have a better way to define what it is I am doing. The Dutch have a word for it, niksen. I learned about it in an article in The New York Times, The Case for Doing Nothing” by Olga Mecking.

She wrote, “The idea of niksen is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless.”

One of the best ways for me to practice niksen is when I gaze out a window at birds at the feeder. I become mesmerized by the variety of species as I watch them flit to and fro. Before long, I am barely aware of the birds and am simply staring into space. It’s a wonderful feeling for as long as it lasts.

Even before I knew of niksen, I tried to follow the advice of Lillian Hellman, who said, “You do too much. Go and do nothing for a while. Nothing.”

Sage advice.

Are you up for nothing?

Overcoming Writer’s Block

Most writers at some point struggle with writer’s block. Overcoming the block can take many forms.

For screenwriter Ramona Taylor, writer’s block is a sign that she doesn’t have a strong enough story. For Mary Burton, writer’s block means she has a problem with her character.


Don’t let cupcakes distract you from writing. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Fortunately for these writers and Greer McAllister, they have developed ways to overcome writer’s block, and they shared their tips at a James River Writers’ Writing Show.

Burton, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling suspense author, said every book “hits a stage where the authors thinks she can’t write and is a fraud.” Burton’s approach is to not focus on the first draft, which she called her “sloppy copy.” The real story, she said, happens in the editing.

McAllister’s novel The Magician — a USA Today bestseller, Indie Next pick, and Target Book Club selection — has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain. She finds it helpful to write a synopsis first. “I discover what the heck is going on in my book,” she said.

Taylor, whose films have screened in festivals across the country, said she visualizes her screenplay and writes the bullet points. As she is writing, she places asterisks where she is stuck and needs to come back and rewrite. By leaving the writing for a bit, she said she will be inspired later and is able to clean up the bad spots.

All the authors stressed that research is not writing. “Research is fun,” Burton said, “But research is not writing!”

Added McAllister, “Research and writing can really be frenemies.”

When they are truly stuck, she said she will write the copy for the back cover, write social media posts or write to other authors. Her writing continues but not on the book.

Burton recommended creating something or exercising to reset the brain.

One author noted, “You can tell how the writing is going by the number of cupcakes on the counter!”

If all else fails, Burton recommended a “plot nap.”

Write Start 21-Day Challenge

Sometimes you need a push to get started.

Fortunately, I found the encouragement I needed with Javacia Harris Bowser, whom I met at an NFPW conference in Alabama. She recently led the “Write Start 21-Day Challenge,” which was designed to help participants uncover confidence, commitment and creativity to develop a daily writing habit.

I confess that there were a few days in which I did not get to the challenge on the day it happened. I would catch up the next day. And that’s okay because sometimes things don’t work as planned. The key is to keep moving forward.


I generated plenty of ideas following Javacia’s writing prompts. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Javacia encouraged us to create a morning ritual that would include writing. That didn’t work for me because I already have a morning routine that helps me set my intentions for the day. I elected to complete her challenges in the evening.

I had always thought that writing at the end of a full work day would not be possible. Instead, I discovered the time was ideal for me. I did more writing in the 21 days than I had in the previous three months. And I’m still writing! (This post was written in the evening.)

Writing requires a commitment and, if it’s important, Javacia said, “You have to make the time to do it.” In a blog post Why Writers Should Write Every Day she offers reasons to write every day.

She also stressed that being a professional writer means writing even when you don’t feel like it. I set daily and weekly writing goals. I also appreciated Javacia pointing out that we can’t wait for inspiration to hit us. She cited early American author Jack London, who said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

As a result of the Write Start 21-Day Challenge I

  • Developed a habit of writing daily.
  • Created a long list of potential topics.
  • Identified prompts to inspire me.

I know this was a lot of work on Javacia’s part. Thank you Javacia for the inspiration, the creativity and the confidence!