Writing slumps. They are massive stinking piles, blocking our pathway to writing.
Trying to get over a writing slump is like trying to wade through a bog. You dip a toe in and it sucks you down into nothingness. So you don’t bother. It’s so much easier to recline on the sofa, caning a box set than to allow the stinky slump to claim you.
The problem is, my friend, you’re already in the thick of it. You are drowning in quicksand and the only way out is to figure what is holding you down. When you know what is keeping you in the slump, then you can begin to crawl your way out of it.
Some Reasons for the Writing Slump
We all get tired. Sometimes it’s just a little need some more kip type of thing. Other times it can be the type that makes you so weary you’re dragging your body around.
I’m not going to give you advice on how to alleviate tiredness. The internet is full of it. Sleep is of course the most important thing. If I don’t get enough of it, I’m a grouchy, grumpy mess. I can’t concentrate and writing seems like a Herculean task, even writing a few words.
Give yourself a break, literally. Writing will be there after you’ve slept. You may panic about missing writing time but writing when exhausted is wasted time anyway. How many times have you read back the gibberish you spewed out when you were done in?
A little bit of extra sleep and you and your writing will be a little fresher.
Illness range from the minor to the major. Chronic illness is hard-going and I admire those of you who have it and manage daily tasks, let alone writing. I will not patronise you by giving advice.
Illnesses such as grotty colds, the flu, and the like can stop you in your tracks.
We make jokes about man flu but a cold can be a nasty bugger when it takes hold. I’ve had two in a row recently and writing has been impossible. My head felt like it was gluey and full of snot. Poor me.
In all seriousness though, don’t buy into the man up/woman up bull. If you feel crap, you need to rein it in a bit and not feel guilty for it.
Conserve your energy because just doing the routine stuff is hard enough when your head feels like an Iron Maiden concert is taking place in your brain and your nose is flowing faster than the Nile.
I could write so many words on how mental illness has affected my writing output. I have in the past and will continue to do so.
If you have a mental illness the prime lesson to learn, and one of the hardest, is to be kind to yourself.
We have a tendency to listen to the voice of our illness that tells us we’re failing because we can’t do things sometimes. Mental illnesses are chatty, nasty bitches.
Do whatever you can, when you can, to turn that voice down and raise the volume on the part inside yourself that cares about you.
You didn’t write today because anxiety had you in its boa constrictor grip and now you can barely function? High five to you for making it through. No shame for not writing. You are a warrior.
Not a single word was written because suicidal thoughts invaded your mind? I am pleased you’re still here. Others will be too.
I don’t have easy answers. I know this is a tough battle because I fight it every day. I have recovered from depression but each bout has taken more from me.
I can’t focus or write for hours like I used to. Initially I was upset and felt useless. Now I am thankful for the good days when I get work done.
I am learning more and more to get in tune with my inner barometer that signals when I’m ‘full’ for my writing capacity today. It’s always a work in progress.
Personal Life Problems and Events
There’s nothing like life throwing a few curveballs to stall your writing.
An argument with your partner, a sick pet, a misbehaving child, death, grieving, job loss, starting a new job, weddings, separation, divorce, moving home… The list is endless.
As the famous line says, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’
Life isn’t a plotter. It’s a pantser extraordinaire.
Sometimes writing has to take a back seat while life does its thing.
Sometimes writing slides into the slump while we’re waiting. Just remember to put your goggles and flippers on to swim your way back out of it.
Rejection is tough in any part of life. Writers face them constantly when they are submitting for competitions and to publishers.
No matter how you want to dress it up, a rejection isn’t pleasant.
Some days it’s hard to adopt the positive philosophies behind rejection. You know the ones: every rejection is one step closer to acceptance, keep all your rejections in one place to show you how hard you’ve tried, keep going because your acceptance is out there…
I’ve had many rejections since I’ve started submitting my novel to traditional publishers. At the beginning it was crushing and I felt like never writing again.
I didn’t start with the ubiquitous thick skin we’re all supposed to have. My skin was so thin I could feel the arrow tips of rejection jabbing at my innards.
The more rejections you get the more you ride a rollercoaster. I alternate between laughing it off, forgetting about it, seeing it as inevitable, feeling crushed, wondering why I bother, and getting back to it. I won’t give up.
Sometimes rejections don’t just jab, they slice right through you.
You wonder why you bother writing. You consider you might just be fooling yourself that you can write. You dive head first into the writing slump.
Then you wipe all the crap off, pull yourself out, and crack on again.
Writers are most certainly masochists.
When I began writing I had ridiculous expectations of myself. The perfectionist in me was unleashed and expected every piece of writing to be Pulitzer Prize standard.
I’d nervously read my work to my husband and cringe as I did so, trying to look for any tells that he hated it. He never did, by the way.
I shared my work with a few trusted friends and read their comments, focusing only on the constructive criticism. I took that as purely negative and a sign I was a rubbish writer.
I didn’t start writing until I was 40. I felt so much pressure to get it right straight away because of life running out.
I thought I had to be perfect because I’d told all my friends and family that I was now a writer and they would expect great things.
High expectations can sometimes terrify you so much that you freeze.
I was so scared of getting it wrong that I couldn’t write for a while. I’d written my first novel. I made the mistake of reading it back too soon and finding it was mainly drivel.
I decided I was a crap writer and so I melted away into the slurry of the writing slump.
Thank the gods of writing that I’m a stubborn cow. I decided I wasn’t going to let it beat me.
I wrote some more. I wrote blog posts and got a positive reception. I wrote short stories and felt good about them.
Then I wrote another novel and loved it. I swallowed my pride and terror to let beta readers at it. The response was great. I used the critique for improvement rather than a self-beating stick.
High expectations can only be overcome by putting yourself in the tornado of terror. You have to do what is contrary to your feelings and put yourself and your writing out there. High expectations need to be knocked down.
That doesn’t mean you’re settling for less than you deserve. It means you’re giving your best to your writing without it having a nagging parent, wearing it down.
Drafting and Editing
I love first drafts. The freedom to write what you want and make billions of mistakes is liberating. This surprised my inner perfectionist but I’ve always been a rebel at heart.
I have a love/hate relationship with drafting.
The second draft always seems a huge task before I start it. Many mini writing slumps have been entered at this stage. My excitement at getting back to my novel usually helps me spring back though.
Remaining drafts are always a hit and miss process. I can either be flying high, skirting around,with the flies above the stinking slump heap, or drowning in it.
Drafting is hard and often tedious.
When you’ve read your novel many times in its entirety you can hate it. If you read it once more you feel like you’ll tip over the edge.
This is when you play the avoidance game. You’ll do anything but drafting: housework, ironing, cleaning the grouting between the tiles, giving the cat an enema, gouging out your eyeballs…anything but drafting.
If you believe in your novel you’ll always find your way back to the next draft. Somehow.
The house will be cleaner, the cat shit-free, and you’ll be using speech programmes because of your self-inflicted blindness.
Editing is a bitch. I am currently writing this blog post because I can’t face editing my novel. I know it’s got to be done. I’ve lined up beta readers. Can I do it? Can I hell.
You Don’t Like What You’re Writing
Sometimes we have fabulous writing ideas. We’re full of excitement and raring to write.
Then we write.
And it’s just complete and utter horse crap.
Sometimes we can rectify this by sorting out the first draft. But what if the first draft is so hard-going and clunky you feel like you’re wearing concrete gloves as you type?
Have a word with yourself, my friend.
Is this idea good enough?
Do you need to plot some more?
Did you just get wrapped up in a new shiny project for the sake of it?
Is this YOUR story or does it belong in someone else’s hands?
This may be hard to accept but not every idea should see the light of a writing day.
Wanting to Start Something New
Shiny new project syndrome.
I didn’t think I suffered from this until recently. Maybe it’s got something to do with the editing block but I currently have three other books crying for attention at the moment. They are like sirens, trying to lure my current novel into the murky waters of the Sea of Unfinished Novels.
New exciting things have sexier voices than the older, more sedate versions.
Sexy New Ideas (SNI) dress themselves up all fancy and whisper breathily in your ear to do them, have a dabble, take me on.
The Older Ideas (OI) meanwhile, sit back on the sofa, sipping tea, and hoping you’ll not forget them in their old age.
Chose the wisdom of the OIs. They have been around longer and gained more experience.
Your OIs are nearing the end of this stage of their lives. Honour their memory by finishing them (not finishing them off).
Resist the SNIs and their flighty ways. By all means given them the eye, maybe flirt a little, but remain true to your current partner, the OI. There will be room for them both eventually.
Nothing kills your writing more than comparing yourself to other writers. We all do it, even those who insist they don’t.
We look at the other writers who began around the same time as us and, although we wish them well, we envy their output. They’re churning out novels and publishing them.
We look at other writers’ social media and envy their organised writing spaces, the sharing of positive reviews, and how they just keep on keeping on
‘Comparison is the thief of joy’.
Envy and wishful thinking sap the pleasure out of writing. We make ourselves victims for the writing slump. What’s the point, after all, if every other writer is doing so well? What contribution can you make?
The answer is there is no other writer like you. No one else has your imagination, skills, ideas, and writing style.
You are uniquely you.
Oh, and remember people often post their curated lives on social media. We don’t usually see writers’ tear-stained faces after their hundredth rejection or the sharing of a scathing review.
Do your thing. You’re the best candidate for the job.
You Don’t Like Writing
I know this sounds horrific. If it does, it probably doesn’t apply to you. However, some people discover, after dabbling with writing, that it’s not for them.
Be careful. Not every writing slump is a product of hating writing. We all have days when we would gladly throw all our writing tools out the window.
Give writing a go. Try it out and see if it likes you and vice versa.
If you don’t like it, don’t do it. The world will not end. There are other things you could be doing that you will love.
Writing is a tough gig. Don’t put yourself through it if you consistently don’t like it.
I truly believe you have to love writing to be successful with it. By ‘success’ I mean producing work you’re proud of, not selling billions of novels.
It is the love of writing that gets us through the writing slumps.
Each of these sections could have been answered by ‘For the love of writing’ but I’m a wordy woman and I need a distraction from editing.
May your slumps be small.
Over to You
What things do you find attribute to your writing slumps?
What have you tried to pull out of writing slumps and did they work?