What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

Many people are on the go 24/7. Overworked, overcommitted, and overstimulated seems to be the norm these days. It’s harder than ever to slow down long enough to connect with ourselves and find the solutions we need.

I’m a writer. Years ago, I had a wonderful literary agent representing my novel. It was actually the third book I’d completed, but the first for which I had representation. She was a well-respected agent; I was even friends with one of her clients. Long story short, I discovered she was wrong for me. I worked for long and hard to get an agent, but now it was a mess.

What was I going to do?

Write it Out

Journal to problem-solve.

Okay, okay, I hear the groans, but stay with me. I’m not talking New-Agey mumbo-jumbo here. You don’t have to keep a daily diary. I’m talking about writing to find solutions.

Write in order to make your world right.

Writing is an excellent tool for finding solutions because it incorporates both our left and right sides of the brain. I’ve been using this process for 18 years.

Here’s what you do.

Write on Fire

1. Butt in chair – Enough said.

2. Pick Your Poison – Either write by hand, or type at the computer. If you’re hand writing, don’t use a pretty, little journal. They’re expensive and you feel compelled to only write pretty, little thoughts. You need space to gripe and groan, mumble and moan. I use either a legal pad, or a thick, multi-subject notebooks like from high school.

For computers, you can use the word processor available in your program. I’ve also heard good things about The Journal software. I’m told it lets you write, add images and is password protected. It costs $49.95, but there’s a free 45-day trial.

3. Write on Fire – Once you’ve chosen your method, write out the question/situation troubling you. Next, write as fast as you can without stopping, editing, or criticizing. Don’t censor your thoughts. This is for your eyes only. Turn your brain off and your hands on. Write anything to get started, like: I don’t what to say. This is stupid. I hate this. It’s not working.

Eventually, your brain will tire of your whining and start to focus on the problem. List all your negative feelings about the situation: How unfair it is. How angry you are. The sadness it brings up. Get everything out on paper. The more you write, the more the process is working.

4. Hello, Fear. I’ve Been Expecting You – It may take pages and pages to vent all your anger, but underneath that rage, don’t be surprised to find good ol’ fashioned Fear. That’s Fear with a capital ‘F.’ Fear of failure. Fear of success. That’s Fear’s job. To keep us small and in our place. Status quo. To not let make positive changes. Write through the Fear.

5. How to Get Unstuck – At some point, you’ll want to quit before you’ve reached a resolution. When you want to stop that’s GOOD! It means you’ve struck a nerve and are onto something important for yourself…a possible solution, maybe an idea, or perhaps a change in attitude. When you keep writing even when you don’t want to, you blast through the gripes and groans, then start to discover the answers you need.

6. Write Until The End – This isn’t a timed exercise. I wish I could tell you how long it takes to find your answers, but life isn’t that simple. It may take 20 minutes, or it may take you all afternoon. The key is to stick with it until you start to form an action plan.

What if I Hate to Write?

Forget that grumpy English teacher who tortured you in the classroom growing up. This isn’t writing for a grade, or publication. It doesn’t matter about bad grammar, poor spelling, or cuss words. Your resistance to writing may very well be Fear in disguise (read #4 again).

For me, it took plenty of time, pages and patience. I learned that despite my agent’s impressive resume, I had to part ways with her and did so. Soon after, I also got the idea for my next novel. It’s my strongest book to date and I found the right agent for me.

Was it easy? No.

Did it take time? Yes.

Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Nobody has a perfect life, but this is what I always do when I don’t know what to do. Good luck.

What do you think about this process? Have you ever journaled to help you find solutions? Please share a comment with me.

Photo by Lara Cores

Marcy McKay

Marcy McKay is the “Energizer Bunny of Writers.” She believes writing is delicious and messy and hard and important. If you’ve ever struggled with your writing, you can download her brand new and totally FREE eBook, Writing Naked: One Writer Dares to Bare All. Find her on Facebook!

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38 Comments

  1. I’ve journaled a lot and I use The Journal software, I have for years. It has helped me sort out my thoughts, even through mental static like depression and anxiety, it has the strangest ability to come up with solutions

    Reply
    • Hey Josh – I’m so glad to talk to someone who’s used The Journal, and likes it. Mental static is such an accurate description of what plays through our minds. I appreciate your comment, and wish you all the best on your journey.

      Reply
  2. Thank you for such a good article, I journal a lot and find it really helps focus on issues and solutions. I have started using the website Penzu after a recommendation in the Times (UK newspaper), the basic journalling service is free and there is also a subscription service with more features.

    Reply
    • Penzu — cool, never heard of it, but thanks for sharing Kirsten. I will check it out. I LOVE that there are so many of us on similar pathways. NOBODY has a perfect, and we’re all doing the best we can. Journalling has definitely helped me find solutions to life’s struggles.

      Reply
  3. Marcy. Thanks for sharing! I had a therapist that told me to start writing to help what issues I had. Now I blog about my profession (IT Professional) but I also write about how my health issues got me unstuck and I use it to help others. I agree, writing is definitely the way to go!

    Reply
    • Wow, Dan. Sounds like you’ve really come a long way baby. I love that not only did writing help you personally, but now you’re sharing that knowledge with others. Congratulations, and keep up the good work.

      Reply
  4. I agree, writing about an issue you’re facing does help. I’ve been doing this for years. I find it also helps that I can go back and re-read about previous issues I’ve faced and how I dealt with them. You can also start to see patterns in your life that may need to be addressed more thoroughly.
    Great post!

    Reply
    • Oh, Carissa! You bring up an EXCELLENT point — the patterns. If we don’t identify them and address them, we’re destined to repeat the same unhealthy patterns over and over (the definition of insanity). Keep on writing!

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  5. Thanks Marcy

    When I start writing with the intent of getting to what I really feel, think, and would like to say (if I could) it comes. Sometimes it comes as love that I didn’t know was there, sometimes it comes with profanity, hatred, hurt, and anger that I didn’t know was there. Sometimes it comes from a page or two, sometimes it’s buried deeper, and it takes a spiral notebook. Every time – the truth is uncovered and allowed to be – I am cleansed, and more wise than before.

    Reply
    • Wow, Mike. What a powerful message for us all. That’s so true — sometimes, when I’m crazy angry, I almost “vomit on the page”. Excuse the graphic analogy, but that’s what I need to do to free myself from my rage, disappointment, etc. Thank you for your courage to share your experience.

      Reply
  6. I love this method and use it myself! (And often purchase stacks of plain ol’ spiral bound notebooks you can buy at the grocery store for a couple of bucks). Journaling out your problems (or journaling my way through a story idea) can often lead to solutions or at least peace (when there is no immediate solution to a problem).

    Reply
    • I buy the same kind of notebooks and just spill my guts out on them. The answers to the questions in our lives are always inside us. We just need the grace and the space (and courage) to find them. Thanks for stopping by the Change Blog.

      Reply
  7. I totally agree writing about your feelings helps to un ravel all the thoughts and emotions that would otherwise remain trapped inside.It allowed me the time and space to express my deepest feelings. Safe in the knowledge I won’t be judged for having those feelings… Sometimes I feel I can’t find the right person to share my innermost insecurities with. Writing allows me to do that without feeling vunerable… I totally agree with this blogg .I like it and its good thereapy.

    Reply
    • You know, Eninka, in addition to not always have the right people to share my innermost thoughts — sometimes my closest friends and family get TIRED of me whining about the same thing over and over. My journal never does and is always there for me, day or night. Keep writing!

      Reply
  8. Although I am a visual artist, I was told I had a knack for writing while in college. It is an activity which I still enjoy, and for me, writing by hand is the most enjoyable- it is also very therapeutic to get my thoughts out, down on paper. “I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” ~Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977

    Reply
    • How lucky are you that you’re artistically gifted in so many ways, Chas. I hope this post helped you, and appreciate your comment (especially the beautiful quote — thank you).

      Reply
  9. You’re right, writing does help. It seems to prove a method of allowing us to naturally process our thoughts and unearth what’s really going on. Thanks for the post.

    Reply
    • I LOVE that, Peter. “Allowing us to naturally process our thoughts and unearth what’s really going on.” Beautifully said. Thanks for stopping the Change Blog and best of luck on your journey.

      Reply
  10. I’m a therapist and often tell my clients to write as a way to express thoughts and feelings in between sessions. They often tell me it helped them get more clarity. I know it does for me. Thanks for the post!

    Reply
    • Yay! A comment from a professional. I’m not just making up this stuff. Yes, clarity, but I’ve learned I also grow TIRED of my own whining and become ready to take action to make the situation better (even if it’s just acceptance). Thanks, Holly.

      Reply
  11. Good morning Marcy!
    This post completely resonates with me, because I’ve done exactly what you mentioned, beginning with “I don’t know what to write…” when I’ve faced certain obstacles. I’m also a writer, and yet have had plenty of days where I’ve felt sidelined or unsuccessful for one reason or another.

    Because of my particular spiritual leanings, I believe that writing (or journaling) as you describe is a way that we allow our own “inner power” if you will – our “subconscious mind” take hold of the problem and guide us to a solution that we can’t quite grasp consciously at the moment (usually because we’re too wrapped up in thinking about the problem).

    A few years ago, I was a practicing career and life development coach, and my clientele ranged from seasoned professionals looking to change careers after 20 years in the same profession to high school students trying to figure out what to do after graduating. I also worked with people whose aim was to become self-sufficient after living on government assistance programs.

    One of the exercises I always enjoyed seeing them do was to picture how they wanted to see themselves, and – if they were able – to write out how they wanted to see themselves. I’d say, “Don’t be so concerned with HOW you’re going to get there, but just start by writing out your vision of how you would LIKE to see yourself.” Then, I would say, “Now, get everything off your chest in your notebook – everything that you feel is wrong, and the questions you have about getting out of the situation in which you find yourself.”

    If they would hesitate because of fear (you’re right in that it’s almost always fear lurking in the shadows) – fear of what I might say, fear that someone would see their writings, etc – I would tell them exactly what you mentioned: There is no one here to judge, and I’m not even going to look at it.

    Sometimes, after they would write out the stuff that was holding them back and depending on the client, we would have a little “ceremony” where we’d go outside, and burn the “problems” in a metal bucket.

    The changes I saw in the lives of people who took these assignments seriously were sometimes remarkable. It’s also very rewarding to see how empowered people can become when they start to face their situations instead of hiding from them or blaming someone else. And, it almost always seems that the writing exercises are the start of their turning point.

    I hope a lot of people see your post and try it, and I especially hope that anyone out there who hasn’t tried it because they don’t feel like they are “a writer” will do it anyway. Because it has nothing to do with being able to “write” as it does with being able to just bring the situation into the light of day, which is the first step towards finding a solution.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment, but thanks for the opportunity to contribute to the conversation. Have a great day!
    Kath

    Reply
  12. Yes – this!! I’ve been writing for years on 750words.com (or 3 pages) as a way to clear my mind, get stuff out of my head and find a way to work through a problem. You can only vent and rant. Pretty soon you finally start to get some useful clarity into whatever you’re trying to work through right?

    Reply
    • Awesome, awesome, totally awesome, Kathy. I agreed with everything you said 100%, but want to repeat what spoke most to me:

      “I especially hope that anyone out there who hasn’t tried it because they don’t feel like they are “a writer” will do it anyway. Because it has nothing to do with being able to “write” as it does with being able to just bring the situation into the light of day, which is the first step towards finding a solution.”

      Brilliant. Thanks for sharing your wisdom~

      Reply
  13. I never thought of writing as a way to calm down, but if it works to write everytime when you’re too emotional it’s very possible to bring alive an interesting blog about “what I think when I’m silent”.

    Reply
  14. I hope you’ll give it a try, Ion. As you can see for me and many others commenting here, writing is an EXCELLENT way to problem solve, calm down, find insights. Good luck!

    Reply
  15. Marcy,

    Thanks for the encouragement to just write. Don’t critique it yet, just write. That makes it fun!

    Susan

    Reply
    • Hi, Susan. Yes, definitely NO CRITIQUING. That’s not the purpose of the writing. It’s get the messiness of all your emotions onto paper, so you feel calmer and can find more clarity in the situation. Identify patterns and see solutions. I hope you try this exercise. It really does work.

      Reply
      • I tried it today. Wonderful!

        Susan

        Reply
        • You made my day, Susan. This exercise has saved so many times over the years, I’ve lost count. I hope you’ll implement it into your life to help you find the answers you need.

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  16. This was awesome Marcy!! I’ve been writing all my life but have to say my most favorite writing of all is the “truth letters”! For anyone who has never heard of them, you gotta try it! Mad at someone, something or a horrible situation? Grab your pad and pen and furiously write down every single nasty venomous evil hatefilled thought you have about it. Get it all out!! When you’re done, read it back, take a deep breath and go aaaaaah…:-). THEN immediately burn it!!!..lol…It’s a great stress reliever. :)

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  17. After reading your first paragraph, I got interested right away because I know that type of life. I think it’s a good idea to stop for a while and write every single thought on the paper. Later, you can see them all for making the final decision. I sometimes journal. When I prefer to be alone after a hard day, I sit and write it all down. I come to some interesting solutions that might get lost during standard thinking in the head. I’m glad that there are more people who do this!

    Reply
    • Truth Letters! I love that title, Iva. I’ve written them countless times, but had never heard that term before. Thanks so much for broadening my horizons.

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  18. Great article Marcy!
    I’ve never thought about writing, but after reading your article I’d love to give it a go. I had to laugh at point 2 – I’ve had pretty stationary and been barely able to write a word because Ididn’t want to mess it up! :-) I think having a “messy book” and scribbling in it could be the answer to find out what’s really going on in your head!

    Reply
    • You’ve definitely got to try this SJ, and YES, messy notebooks are the only way to go. Pardon my graphic description, but you need to feel okay to “vomit” onto the page. Just let ‘er rip. Save the lovely stationery for thank you notes, use the messy notebooks to get real and find answers in your life. Good luck!

      Reply
  19. Thanks for sharing this Marcy!

    One of the reasons why I went into blogging is because of the negative feelings I’ve been feeling. I almost reached the point where I wanted to give up on the struggles that doesn’t seem to end but then I read motivational blogs and started writing my own. Writing has been a big help. It has been therapeutic and it has helped me channel my frustrations more productively. I’m not yet into journaling but I’m getting there.

    Keep up the good work!

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  20. AWESOME, Noel. I LOVE that you took something negative and turned it into a positive — and not just for you, but for others. I’ hope you’ll try to journal. I think it’ll give you focus and clarity in all areas of your life, including blogging.

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  21. This post helps me. I feel so down, sad, and dunno what to do. Thanks a lot Marcy

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  22. Very rarely do I comment on any article, blog, post, whatever media has us posting or sharing out there. But this post deserves a thumbs up for inspirational! My brain knows that I should write more but my heart isn’t ready for the emotional turmoil that it may cause so I set it aside until I feel brave enough to confront my fears, with a capital F. Your suggestions are spot on, including the discipline to write until the end… at least for me anyway, that’s what I needed to hear. Thank you!

    Reply

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