beerriI experience long periods of time without any desire to write. As a full-time freelance writer, that’s very inconvenient, especially when I have a deadline to hit. And it’s not that I don’t have any desire to write. It’s more like, I don’t have the urge to write about anything particular. I don’t have any ideas. I don’t know where to start. I’d rather watch YouTube videos.
To get through these periods, I have developed many different tricks, techniques and idiosyncratic processes to get myself writing, even when I don’t feel like it. I think every writer eventually discovers their own practice and develops their own habits. Otherwise, they’re at the mercy of fate. Waiting until you feel like writing is okay. Knowing when to back off and give yourself a break is great. But developing a practice where it’s your choice is better (I think) than not.
I’m talking especially about when ‘not feeling’ like writing is an internal obstacle. There are times when I feel like writing or don’t feel like writing, and it’s moot, because external factors prevent me from getting to my keyboard. There’s nothing I can do about it. But it feels like a wasted opportunity when I have a full day in front of me, and I want to write, but something holds me back (no ideas, don’t know where to start, these YouTube videos are so interesting).
Of all the processes and techniques I use to start writing when I don’t feel like it, the one I use most consistently is the word bank. I call my word bank The Word Bank to End All Word Banks because it’s such an important writing tool.
Setting Up My Word Bank to Write
A word bank is literally just a list of words. I started my list a few years ago with zero words. Today, it has 12,682 words. I add to it every so often, but not on a regular schedule. I’ll add to it with words I find in whatever book I’m reading. I’ll add words from Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day (and then I’ll add all the synonyms and antyonyms). Or I’ll just sit down and brainstorm words. I’ll add as many as I can to the list.
I keep my list in an Excel spreadsheet, so I can sort and randomize the list easily. My spreadsheet is two columns. Column A is my list of words. Column B is the Random Function in every cell.
Whenever I sit to write, I’ll start by sorting Column A alphabetically. Then I’ll sort Column B. You only have to sort Column B once, and it will randomize the list of words in Column A. For some reason, maybe superstition, I click on the sort button about 50 times.
Now I have a randomized list of words. I’ll copy a chunk of words and drop them in my word processor. This is my raw material.
How I Use a Word Bank to Write
What do I do with my raw material? It depends. If I really don’t feel like writing, I’ll just pair words from the list I copied into different combinations. Or I’ll use the words to practice a sentence-writing exercise, as in “use this word in a sentence.”
Sometimes I’ll take a word and practice alliteration by writing a sentence in which every word starts with the same consonant. Or I’ll pick a word and write all the words I can think of that rhyme with that word. Or I’ll write a bunch of lines in iambs or some other metrical foot, using my raw material.
These are almost mechanical processes that always help me bridge the distance from ‘not wanting to write’ to ‘am writing.’ If the raw material is not inspiring me, that’s no problem. I delete it and copy a different chunk of words from the randomized word list in my spreadsheet.
The other benefit to this method is that there are a lot of words in my word bank whose definitions I don’t remember, so it’s also a good way to organically increase my vocabulary.
How to Make Your Own Word Bank for Writing
Step One: Open a spreadsheet. Give it a name. Save it. My spreadsheet is in Excel, but you could also use Google Sheets, and the process is basically the same.
Step Two: In Column A, add words to your word bank. To start, add the first 100 words you can think of. There are no restrictions on words you can add. Why would there be? it’s your word bank. Lately, I’ve been adding more names of places, people, brands, book titles, book characters, bands, TV shows, movies and so on.
Step Three: Add the Random Function to Column B. In Excel, you do this by going to FORMULAS > INSERT FUNCTION > RAND. Once you do this for one cell, you can copy and paste the function into the rest of the cells. Every word in Column A should have a RAND function next to it in Column B.
Step Four: To randomize your word bank, click on any cell in Column B. Then, go to DATA in the menu bar. Click on the button that says AZ↓. You only hve to click on that button once to randomize your word bank, but I like to do it about 36 to 50 times myself.
That’s it! You’re ready to write.