No Time to Write?

by Arlene Mandell

Guest Author

You want to write. You love to write. BUT you’re too busy to write right now. And when you finally clear a space, you find yourself staring at a blank screen with nothing urgent to say.

Here are ten ways to keep creative ideas flourishing:

Arlene Mandell

Arlene Mandell

1. When you don’t have time to write a “proper” journal entry, jot down a description, for example, of the tiny fawn faltering as she tries to cross the road. Use an index card or a sticky note. Date it and toss it into a shoe box reserved for that purpose.

2. Grab a book from your stack of unread books. Open to the first page; read the first sentence. For example, from the introduction to Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach: “I write this sitting in my cozy kitchen on a wintry morning, my old cat dozing beside me on the warm, hissing radiator.”

3. Pick a quotation at random from Bartlett’s or another anthology. Here’s one of my favorites from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Poetry As Insurgent Art: “Poetry is the truth that reveals all lies, the face without mascara.”

4. Visit an art museum on-line and wander through a current exhibit. As a former New Yorker, I often drop in at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the U.S. I select the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron, for example, one of the greatest portraitists in the history of photography, and learn that she was forty-eight when she received her first camera.

imgres-15. Copy this quote by poet Ellen Bass and pin it to your bulletin board: “You should know something at the end of the piece that you didn’t know at the beginning.” When you have a moment, read the last line of your latest poem, story, or essay.

6. Even if you’re wearing baggy jeans and a faded sweatshirt, wrap yourself in the glamorous shawl that’s too good to use. Add a squirt of French perfume. Dream of faraway places . . . then write a few lines from Tangiers or Tahiti. Time to pick up the children from school? Toss your notes into your shoe box.

7. Open any book of poems. Riffle through the pages till you come upon one you like and read it aloud. Here’s Mary Oliver from “For I Will Consider My Dog Percy.” Read it aloud, then repeat the last stanza: “For often I see his shape in the clouds and this is a continual blessing.” Let the words and sentiment linger.

8. Visit your local bookstore. Yes, this can prove expensive, so set a limit, say $20
and buy one new thing, a book (obviously) or a scented candle or a box of beautiful note cards. If the store has a café, sip a cappuccino and write a note to yourself from a beloved teacher or a boyfriend from long ago.

9. Before chopping vegetables for dinner, dig through your CDs for something you haven’t heard in a long, long time. Put down the knife, close your eyes and remember.

10. Find your oldest journal. Turn the pages till something explodes and demands an immediate update.

* * *

I could go on and on, but by now you should have enough material to get you through some rainy days and dark nights. When you’ve completed all your grownup chores and double-locked the doors, take pen in hand. . . .


Arlene L. Mandell, a retired English professor who lives in Santa Rosa, CA, was formerly on the staff of Good Housekeeping magazine. She has published more than 500 poems, essays and short stories in newspapers and literary journals, and in 24 anthologies.. Her echapbook, Scenes from My Life on Hemlock Street: A Brooklyn Memoir, is available free at

3 thoughts on “No Time to Write?

  1. Thanks for being a guest blogger on Turtle House Ink, Arlene. This morning I pulled out one of my writer notebooks and wrote for a good hour. I did an entry based on my mother’s journals. She left me dozens! The one I read and wrote about this morning was from 1995. More about this in a later blog.

  2. Great suggestions from Arlene. Now if she could just suggest some ways to make life less complicated and busy!!! Yeah, I know. Turn off the phone, don’t check email, (don’t go to class???oooo yeah…..)

    • Good to hear from you, Janet. Thanks for checking out Arlene’s suggestions. I also need help with the question: “And why am I doing this?” Writing–that is. I wish I could put it at the top of my priority list and things like “cook dinner, vacuum the house” at the bottom.

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