By Daniel Ford
What a difference a week makes.
Last week, I was in the depths of a writing slump. This week, thanks to advice from the Writer’s Bone crew and the purchase of a new Moleskin notebook, I’m back to furiously writing notes and brainstorming ideas for new stories.
To stay completely in the zone, I reached out to a few of our favorite writers to see if they had any tips for combating creative lulls. Like our staff, they didn’t disappoint.
With me it’s always reading, especially re-reading. When I'm feeling low I re-visit the books I love most, and it's just amazing watching a book work like a clock. It gets me juiced every time. For instance, I recently re-read Don DeLillo's Point Omega, and read it in a slow, single sitting, maybe three hours, and knowing what should happen allowed me to see the artistry there in a way I can't on a first read, how the three parts work together like an inverted thriller. Gets me psyched.
My solution for this is to do something, anything, else. The best way for me to continue to struggle with creativity is to keep prodding myself, "Come on, be creative." If instead I take my mind off of the issue by doing other things, like focusing on work—I teach high school English—or hitting the gym or cooking a new recipe, I find that eventually creativity returns. Sometimes you have to give the conscious part of creativity a rest, since so much of imagination comes from the unconscious.
I write more. If I can’t think up what to write in my work-in-process, I write in my blog post, journal, secondary project, emails to people. I don’t believe in “writer’s block” any more than I believe in “bricklayer’s block.” Like any profession, we do go through slumps and we deal with them the same way they do in sports: keep going.
When the juices do not want to flow, and you are staring at a blank scene, go no more than three or four days without writing. Then write. If you don't have a story, write letters to, or from, your favorite, or least favorite, characters. Whatever you do, do not not write something. Stalemate writing is a hard habit to break.
You need more inspiration after that? Fine, here are tips some of our past interviews had for up-and-coming writers:
Stick with it. That's number one. Believe in the editing process. Don't fall in love with your first draft. Take chances.
Sit your butt in the chair and start writing. Do it every day. You don't have to write full time—an hour or so seven days a week and you'll be amazed at what you can turn out. Even if your output is only two pages a day, at the end of a month you'll have 60 pages. Writing is like any other muscle; it gets stronger when you exercise.
Stop if you can. Sing if you must.
Finish your work and show it to people. Sitting on an unfinished book or script is as bad as not writing it at all—actually worse, since you’ve spent time doing stuff for no reason unless you consider yourself the only important audience or do it for therapeutic reasons.
Be critical of your own work, but don’t strive for perfection, since it’s unattainable. I limit the amount of time I allow myself to revise my books and scripts or else I would tweak them forever (and consequently, write a fraction as much material). Set limits and deadlines and stick to them. Sometimes it helps to tell other people what your deadlines are so that you can’t alter them.
Although it's important to develop your own voice, it's just as important to come to your work in the spirit of service: How can I be a useful part of the conversation I'm either starting or diving into? Give yourself time to think before you start to type. Oh, and outline! I still do it, with Roman numerals, capital letters and everything.
Write a certain amount of words every day, and once you hit that mark, continue a bit until you can stop in the middle of an exciting scene or thought. That way, you can’t wait to get up in the morning and begin again.
A lot of very mundane things. Read and write a lot. Work hard. Do not wait around for inspiration—inspiration comes more often when you’re working than when you’re waiting. If you find yourself stuck or blocked, allow yourself to write lines of nonsense, to invent ridiculous scenarios, to write something very, very bad. Lower your standards to get yourself moving, and then raise them again in editing and revision. Find writers you can share your work with and share honest critiques with.
Humble yourself to the challenge of revision and seek feedback from others. Also, give feedback to other writers. I participate in writers’ groups and that has always been part of my process.
For posts from The Boneyard, check out our full archive.