Sometimes I forget that I got into this whole writing gig because I love writing.
No, not just love it. Need it, like an addict needs his fix. I’m not happy if I’m not writing.
And yet, lately, I’m not happy when I am, either.
I blame a few things:
- My never-ending agent search, which brings me fresh, usually bland-and-devoid-of-meaning rejections every few days
- My “other job” workload, which keeps me from concentrating on my writing as much as I’d like to
- My current slog through the third novel in a trilogy, after having taken a wrong turn somewhere in the story
So it’s time for a re-set. I thought I’d share the things I do to find the joy again, when writing has become a dull, maddening, rote exercise.
Change Your Routine: Sometimes we get too settled into our regular writing habits. We always write at 2 PM in the coffee shop down the street, on the same laptop we’ve been using for five years, drinking a mocha latte. So why not shake it up? Try writing at home at 3 AM in your underwear when you get up to go pee. Take your phone to the park, and write a scene in an email on your phone and send it to yourself. or write something on a napkin while you’re enjoying the better part of a bag of Oreos in your kitchen. It’s not about changing your habits for the rest of your life. You’re just pulling your writer brain out of its rut and giving it a new process to explore.
Write Freeform: This is a great exercise, and can also be really helpful if you’re blocked in a particular project. Just sit down wherever you normally work, set a timer for five or ten minutes, and just write whatever comes out of your head. Stream of consciousness gibberish. Shopping lists. A hundred words starting with “q.” Observations on last night’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. The only rule is that you can’t stop writing until the timer goes off. This kind of free-flowing expression helps free you from your inner critic – what’s there to ctiticize? And it works your writing muscles too.
Take a Writing Sabbatical: If you’re like me, you need to write. But sometimes your writer brain starts overheating, and that’s not fun for either of you.Just like anything else, we often push ourselves too hard to write when our mind requires a little relaxation or diversion. So take a three day writing break. Play a video game, eat some ice cream, and lay in the hammock (if you have one) under a shady tree in the afternoon heat. Let your unconscious mind work on what’s not right, and when you go back to writing again, you’ll be better equipped to fix it.
Read a Book or Watch a Film: Writer brains are great at taking in information and filing it away in your head, ready to spit out onto the page in new combinations. But you need to feed that brain. Find a good book in your genre, or a movie that fires you up. As you’re reading/watching, think about what makes the story work for you, or what doesn’t, and let your brain soak up the ideas like a squirrel storing nuts for a cold winter.
Switch Gears: If you’re not feeling the writing love for your current WIP, set it aside and work on something completely different. I often use this time to write a short story that’s in a whole different genre than my WIP. It gives me something new to sink my teeth into, and leaves me fresh to return to my original story when I’m done.
Remind Yourself Why You Love This Story: When we start a new book, we’re in the honeymoon period. We picture ourselves happy together, exchange love letters, and pretend the future will never bring us sadness. Then somewhere in the the muddy middle, we sink into depression as our inner critics do their work. When this becomes debilitating, it’s often worth rereading your WIP from the start to help you remember how much you loved it then. What the magic was that made it light up for you. Sometimes you’ll even discover where it went off track, and set off in a brand new direction.
Writing isn’t always fun–if it was, everyone would do it. Sometimes we do have to just power through, especially through the muddy middle.
But it shouldn’t always be hard or joyless either. it’s those writing highs that we all live for, after all, when it all clicks and the writing just flows.
So when you’re feeling down, try something new to shake things up a bit and find a way back to your writing joy.
That’s what it’s all about, right?
To my writer friends, how do you rediscover your writing joy when you’re down in the doldrums?