Digging Out of a Writing Slump

I wanted to talk a little bit about pulling yourself out of a writing slump. Sometimes as a writer, I find myself feeling really creative. Words spin out of me with barely any effort at all, and writing feels good. I’m entranced by every word I’ve written. I’m proud of what I’ve done. And then as with all creative processes, the inevitable strikes. I hit a little wall of writer’s block and fall into a slump.

I wish I could say this was something that didn’t happen often. Or at all. But it happens too often. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past year as a writer, and one thing I can say for certain is that while I’m still running headlong into writing slumps constantly, I’ve gotten better at managing them.

Most recently, I needed about a two week break from the book I’m currently working on. I set myself the goal of finishing that book by the end of November as part of NaNoWriMo. And then there were some big changes at my workplace that I don’t want to get into here, but it really left me feeling like all of my confidence had gone sailing out the window. I also took a writing workshop that was amazing, but someone mentioned in there that you can’t ‘pants’ a whole novel. And since this is kind of what I’ve been doing, I really thought, maybe what I’m doing isn’t working. Maybe I can’t keep going.

So, I took a break because I didn’t want to just disregard the 60,000 words or so that I already written on this novel. I wrote some poetry. I read through some old short stories and thought about how I might tackle editing them. I came up with an idea for a completely new book and jotted it down, hoping that I can get working on it next year. During all of this, I felt enormous guilt for not continuing to write the novel I had been working on the past few months.

But I continued to let it lie. And while two weeks isn’t really a long time, it felt like forever. Finally, one night, I was sitting next to my son’s bed, holding his hand while he tried to get to sleep because he asked me to. I began ruminating through my story in the dark, and thought, you know what? I wouldn’t want him to give up on something just because he faced a setback. And weirdly, putting myself in the shoes of the man my son might become someday, helped. But so did the break. The not writing my book. The exploration of poetry and new forms of writing that I don’t spend as much time on as I’d like to. All of this helped settle the worry that had plagued me.

And here’s the thing. While I didn’t get as far as I might have liked to on my book this month, I did write a lot of other things which was exciting. I know a lot of writers who struggle with writing slumps. Or long stretches of writer’s block where they just don’t know what to write next. That’s part of the reason I started sharing writing prompts on my blog. I find them so helpful, even as exercises to get your mind going.

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”

Lawrence Block

I thought I would just share some tips for pulling yourself out of a writing slump. These work for me. They don’t always work for me, but they often do, and I think that the practice of writing every day can really help once you figure out a way to do it.

  1. Explore new forms of writing, whether it be poetry, essays, scripts, short fiction, or even long fiction.
  2. Go for a walk. I can’t describe how much just taking a short hike with my son every day helps clear my mind. I live for these walks. I don’t know how many stories would be lost without this time to find them.
  3. Sit down at your desk, on your couch, at your kitchen table, in your bed- wherever it is you write and write. Sit there. Don’t get up until you’ve written words. Shut your phone off. Close your internet browsers. Force it. Sometimes you have to force it, but even if it’s terrible there might be one good line that can spawn something new.
  4. Make a weekly writing schedule or daily writing goal. For me, this started as four days a week with 1,000 words in each sitting. Now I often don’t want to skip a day of writing because I love it so much. When I’m really feeling the writing blues, I write 500 instead. But I try to get near the goal I set because I feel so much better when I do, even if I end up scrapping it all the next day.
  5. If you really can’t think of anything to write, find prompts online! There are thousands of them all over the internet. I share some here too and will continue to do so. It is really important to let your mind just freely explore without the preconceived notion that the pages your writing needs to be read by anyone but you. And that kind of takes me into my next one:
  6. Write for yourself. Most writers want to be published, but that doesn’t mean you should write for anyone but you. It’s great to try and write with a particular market in mind, but it’s also not going to do you any favors if what you’re writing doesn’t speak to you. I can’t write about things I don’t love to some extent, and that’s why certain settings slip into a lot of my stories. The more you write and enjoy it, the easier it will become. I really believe that!

Lastly, don’t give up. It’s so easy to throw in the towel on writing. Every time I do, I’m suddenly like, “Wow, now I have so much more time to read books or watch this television show everyone has been talking about.” But then, I miss it, and I wonder what stories I might have created had I kept at it. Writing isn’t meant to be easy, but it is meant to be enjoyable. Love what you write, and the rest will follow. And be gentle on yourself. Know that breaks are just as important as productivity but challenge yourself to write something else during those breaks to allow yourself to keep creating. It will be worth it.

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