-Original post published June of 2015-
I’ve always written when I’ve felt upset. When I was younger, I turned to my diary. As I grow older, I turn to fiction more and more, and while I’ve always been a writer, it’s when I’m most upset that I seek solace in writing. Which is why it was so strange to me that recently, when I experienced an extremely stressful situation, I took 2 and ½ weeks off of writing instead of channeling my feelings into my work.
I gave myself the time. I didn’t push myself, but I knew that I would have to return to writing someday. But… I also knew that once I got back into writing, I would feel better, which of course made me more stressed. I had to get out of my writing slump, and now, 2 and ½ weeks later, I feel like I’m finally back on the horse.
I know that this is sure to happen to me again (life gets stressful, friends), so this post is as much a reminder to future Sarah as it is a guide for you.
What to do when you’re in a writing slump
1. Don’t stress yourself out.
If you’re like me, writing is a daily occurrence and days gone without writing lead to some serious stress. Because of this, my 2 and ½ week hiatus caused me intense stress, especially since I’m working with a writing deadline. (Deathless fans, I will get you that 3rd book by the end of summer!) I’m also a teacher, so summer break kicked off my hiatus, which of course led me to stress that I was wasting my free time. Ugh, I am such a worrier.
This all, obviously, did not help me get back to writing. Instead of actually focusing on my work, I would sit in front of the computer, stare at the page, check Facebook, stare at the page, check Tumblr, stare at the page some more, check Pinterest, and then repeat the whole procrastination cycle. Of course I couldn’t focus on my work, because I was too focused on the causes of my stress.
People need time to heal, recuperate, relax. Allow yourself that time without guilt or stress. Your writing will get done. You will do what you need to do. In the meantime, treat yo’ self with some Netflix marathoning and lunch dates with your friends. The writing will return to you with time.
Nothing gets your writing muscles warmed up like a good book. You get to stretch your imagination in someone else’s world, so it’s a low stakes and easy way to get back to the writer mindset. Besides, reading is awesome. Do it even if you’re not in a writer’s slump.
I don’t know about you, but stress and anxiety keep me up at night. During my recent writer’s slump, I was averaging maybe 5 hours a night. That might fly with your body, but with mine, I became a zombie. Obviously I couldn’t think, because I wasn’t allowing my mind and body to rest properly.
I finally got my sleeping schedule back on track, and now that I’m not wasting half of my day trying to wake up, I can get to work on my writing as early as possible, maximizing my time.
4. Create a routine and follow it. Even if you’re not doing a whole lot of writing yet.
The first few days of summer break were killer, mostly because I lost the routine that I had going for the entire school year. Because I was in my slump, I didn’t work too hard to change this or establish a new routine at first, but after a week or so, I created a new routine for myself. I wasn’t writing much. Again, I was mostly just staring at the screen and checking out my social media, but it still helped to have my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keys. Eventually, my butt was in the chair for longer periods of time, and my fingers moved across the keys to type my story.
5. Work on a different writing project or scene than the one you left off on.
Sometimes your slump can be cured by working on a scene you’re more interested in than the one that you left off on. Sometimes your slump can be cured by working on something else entirely. You never know until you try.
For me, working on a short story for my book of short stories about The Deathless Trilogy’s secondary characters helped a lot. It got me into a different character’s perspective, into a 3rd person point of view, and into a different time and place in the world I’ve created. This change helped me to look back at my other writing with fresh eyes, and become excited for it all over again.
6. Create a playlist to get you in the writing mood.
As some of you know, music is a huge inspiration for me, so if that’s true for you as well, all you may need are some songs that get you in the mood for your story. I found some songs that fit with the theme of my current work in progress, made a Youtube playlist for them, and listened to them over and over while I stared at the computer screen unproductively. It took me a couple of days, but eventually my brain began making connections between the music and my story, as it normally does when I’m listening to music that inspires me. Little by little, I wrote a scene in my book, and now that I’ve pushed past that hurdle, I’m writing normally again.
Check out maxkirin‘s blog for awesome playlists!
7. Take a walk.
Sometimes you just need a change of pace, a new environment, and some exercise. If you’re not into hitting the gym, a walk is a great way to get all three in one. Besides, when I took a walk, I saw a ton of flowers that feature in The Deathless Trilogy, which inspired me to get back to writing. I even Instagram’d the moment!
8. Talk about why you’re in a slump with someone. There may be more to it.
Like I wrote earlier, I wasn’t in a slump just because I was stuck on a particular scene. I was in a slump because I was super stressed and going through a major change in my life (a new job, and therefore a big career move). I didn’t really understand why I was so upset about it, because I should have been over the moon about my new opportunity. I talked to my husband about it nearly every day, but I couldn’t quite place why I was so stressed until a couple of nights ago.
As we were talking about my writing slump yet again, I finally realized why the new job was stressing me out so badly: Because I like to know exactly what’s going on, and with any new job, there will be new things to learn and you won’t know exactly what’s going on until you’re doing it. Realizing this helped me overcome some of that stress and get back to writing.
The point is, talking to people you trust really helps. It may take you a few conversations, but eventually you’ll get there. Realizing what your roadblocks are helps you drive past them and get back to where you really want to be.
9. Organize and clean your writing space.
An organized and clean writing space invites creativity. At least, for me. I don’t know what it is, but I have a hard time writing when there are dishes in the sink and when there’s a mess around me. For whatever reason, I really like writing in the kitchen at our dining table with the window open, but if the kitchen is dirty, I can’t concentrate (and I can’t open the window).
An organized space encourages an organized mind.
10. Allow yourself to write complete and utter garbage.
After a writing slump, you will probably be at least a little bit rusty. Allow yourself to write crap, it’s okay. You can edit once you’re back in the right mindset. What’s important now is that you’re trying without pressuring yourself, and that will likely mean that you are writing garbage. That’s okay. At least you’re writing something.
11. Return to the inspiration that got you writing in the first place.
In this last writing slump, I felt so lost. I began to question all my projects, published and unpublished, and doubt myself. But as I was staring unproductively at my computer screen, I went to my Pinterest page and looked through my Writer’s Life inspiration board. I scrolled through the hundreds of pins and read all the inspirational messages and quotes I’ve pinned over the years. They reminded me why I’m a writer in the first place: Because I have stories inside me I want to share, because I love my characters, and because writing is how I find solace in this crazy world. I reminded myself of all my goals I’d like to accomplish as a writer, and I realized that I wouldn’t reach them unless I tried. I stopped scrolling and started writing.
12. Get excited for something.
I would have started writing anyway, but finding out that #SFFpit, the fantasy and science fiction pitch day on Twitter, was later that 2nd week really pushed me to get back to writing. I wanted to participate so I started by writing 140 character pitches for my book (which is way harder than you might think), and then wrote the query letter, and then worked on edits.
I was already excited about writing again, but now I was excited about the publishing industry as well, which, let’s be honest, can be pretty disheartening at times. It helped a lot to have a short-term goal in mind that I could be excited for.
13. Try your best to stay off of social media, unless it’s your author pages.
Just… try to do this. It’s hard. I’ve already admitted to doing it more than once in this post, and I’ve checked my social media more than once while writing this post. However, if you can limit yourself to your author page on Facebook, your author Instagram, your author Twitter, your website, etc. then at least you can be on social media while building your brand. (Right? Right….)
14. Write an affirmation for yourself.
Maybe self-confidence has become an issue leading to your slump. It happens, especially in this crazy competitive industry. Write down a positive message, an affirmation, for yourself and keep it somewhere. I already have an affirmation that I like to read, but it’s with my supplies for work, so I wrote it in my notebook: I am a writer, writing is my art.
Write it. Read it. Believe it.
15. Talk through your plot with someone.
If you’re stuck, this trusted friend with whom you share your plot can help you unstick yourself.
If you’re not feeling too hot about writing, talking about your books with someone may help to reignite your passion. You are used to hearing about your characters and your plot, it belongs to you. It will be exciting and engaging to someone else, and their questions and responses to your plot might just help you realize how incredible the book you’re creating is. How incredible it can be if you just finish it.
Writing is hard work, some days more so than others. But at the end of the day, you are a writer. You will write. Have faith in yourself and in your ability to un-slump yourself.