Writer…Uninterrupted – getting out of a slump

Recently, I experienced a slump in my writing. The ideas were there, but I couldn’t find the energy or the motivation to write them down. I still might have been a writer without actively writing, but I wasn’t a fulfilled writer.

Life interrupted my writing.

I was still getting up at my usual godforsaken hour of 4am, yet my mind was clogged and burdened from the day before, from tasks I had yet to complete.  The laundry I hadn’t finished. The bills I hadn’t paid. The Christmas decorations that were still up.

What do writers do when non-writing responsibilities hijack the muse, or whatever we want to call our creative center?

First of all, it’s important to understand why this happens. In all my experience of being a writer, trying to fit the craft into random spaces day to day, one lesson I learned is that fear is a muse’s mortal enemy. Fear, like a chameleon, can disguise itself depending on certain conditions. It can show up as self-doubt, a bad cold, procrastination, etc.

One of the most common masks worn by fear is “Interrupting Life.”

This makes me think of one of my son’s favorite knock-knock jokes:

KNOCK-KNOCK

Who’s there?

INTERRUPTING COW.

Interrupting C–

MOOOOOO!

 

Every time my life gets in the way of my writing, that joke comes to mind for some reason. Probably because I see a solution in that joke. If speaker B didn’t ask who is knocking at the door, the interruption can’t be fulfilled.

Life interrupts my writing because I allow it.

Are you in a writing slump? Read this post about how to take cack your creativity and move forward by Kate Johnston | Author and Story Coach

Sure, there are some circumstances you can’t avoid. And you have to pick apart the tasks or issues that can wait until your writing block is over from the tasks or issues that must be tended to immediately.

The key phrase here is WRITING BLOCK.

You’ll have a much easier time committing to your writing if you schedule it in its own block–whatever that might look like for you. My block is generally 4:00-5:30 am, or longer if it’s a non-school day.

Once you establish a block of time, you are on your way to making a habit of writing every day (Time Warrior preference), or on a regular basis.

But my problem went deeper than not sitting down during my block to write. My problem had more to do with lack of passion, lack of creative energy. I was in a writing slump, where my creativity flowed like sludge clinging to pipes.

Why was I doing all of this, which seemed to be getting me nowhere fast. What was the point? Why bother getting up at 4am to work on fiction that wasn’t generating interest by any literary agent or publisher?

Why was I writer?

It was a big question, and one that reaches back to when I was about eight years old and wrote a story about a good wolf. Back then, being a writer was easy. Nowadays, there was more at stake. It cost me a lot more. I wasn’t sure it was worth it.

Are you in a writing slump? Read this post to learn how to take cack your creativity and move forward with your writing by Kate Johnston | Author and Story Coach

 

JOURNAL IT OUT.

I use this phrase with my clients and students. Anytime they hit a block, I tell them to journal it out. Even if it means switching from the draft in a notebook to a hardcover, sparkly journal–take a few minutes and journal out everything they know and don’t know about the offending moment that is acting like a thorn in the side.

I took my own advice and journaled out why I was a writer. Pretty overwhelming, but truths that had lain dark and quiet rose into the light of awareness. This was why, I remembered. I’d answered a calling (a yanking), and I can’t back out now.

Touching base with my purpose was like my reset button. My writing journey is in my hands. Moving forward is up to me. And I needed to go back to base camp and make sure everything was in place for my next steps.

BACK TO THE BASICS.

This idea may seem trivial, but trust me, a tidy habitat with working equipment sets you up for success. Picking the best time of day to write falls under this category; sometimes we self-sabotage by picking a time of day where we’re most likely to be interrupted. Like I’d said earlier, that wasn’t my problem, so I tended to other areas of my writing habitat.

My desk was cluttered with other factors of life, like bills, grocery lists, school notices.

I was trying to write with my emails and the web open.

Stacks of books crowded the floor.

I tackled my study with gusto, clearing my desk, putting reference books within easy reach, filling out short- and long-term goal worksheets, taping the structure of my WIP on my wall. I created a habitat that fostered creativity and productivity, and I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment.

From there, I designed a writing ritual to help prime me for my writing block. By running through a series of short but meaningful activities before I sit down to write, I am warming up the muse, cluing her in to the fact we are going to be working soon.

Part of my ritual includes freshly brewed coffee, soft fairy lights, and my personalized writing soundtrack in the background. By this point, the conditions of my environment are perfect for writing, and I am eager and ready for the challenge.

Getting out of a slump requires a combination strategy of inner and outer tool adjustments. Sometimes, our usual writing practice isn’t effective enough to withstand a particular project, season of year, or Life demands. Tweak and refine to find your best writing strategy that can propel you to the page on a regular basis.

 

Have you ever suffered a writing slump? What did you do?

Have a writerly day!

0 thoughts on “Writer…Uninterrupted – getting out of a slump”

  1. Getting back to the basics is such a sound idea… I think you also have to establish your own routine that works for you, so going back to your own personal basics is crucial! great post, thanks, it’s inspired me!

    • Hi Lois,

      Yes, absolutely. We all approach writing differently, so we each have to figure it for ourselves. My ideas won’t necessarily suit everyone, but it’s helpful to know that we can get through these writing slumps. We just have to get a little creative.

      Thanks for swinging by. 🙂

  2. Some excellent tips and tricks here, Kate. I find freewriting dangerous for me, though. I did that one day and ended up writing 5k but not on anything I’m currently woking on!! Maybe I’ll use it some day, and it obviously needed to come out, but I sure would have liked 5k on the WIP. 😉

  3. I always like reminders like yours to keep me focused. Free writing as a warm up is a good idea. The only problem is I would have to write about my current chapter, otherwise I might find myself sidetracked into writing about Dalmatian twins guarding a gold carriage … 🙂 Making a writing nest is a good idea too. Glad to hear you’re enjoying your writing.

    • Yes, freewriting can lure us into unchartered waters. There are days that I don’t need it, and when I’m really in the zone I can go for months without freewriting. Knowing what works best and when is always an invaluable tool for us, so it’s good to evaluate our progress regularly.

      Thanks for swinging by. 🙂

  4. Sound advice, Kate!

    My workspace has been driving me nuts lately, because it’s cluttered with the day-to-day: bills, lists, even my Yoga books and homework reminding me of another thing I should be getting done. I’m going to clear this desk out after work today.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Hey Britt,

      I always run into problems with desk clutter. And it really does distract me from my writing. Whenever I clean it off, I am amazed at how relaxed I suddenly feel. And my muse gets really giddy about it, too. 🙂

    • Oh, Neeks, I know that feeling and it’s horrible. Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves and that will affect our enjoyment. I hope that you can figure out how to get it back though. 🙂 I’ll be wishing that for ya!

    • Hey Dennis,

      I’m a slow writer, and I often get off to false starts. So, the warmup period helps me get into the writing groove. I usually come up with a good little nugget too, probably because I’m not trying as hard. Thanks for swinging by.

  5. Wise words. I would add, however, that sometimes you just have to be kind to yourself. I have simply not been in the emotional space to do anything very well, forget about writing, but time and kindness will eventually bring my words back, I hope.

  6. Wonderful Reminders!!!
    Thank you for the bullet point format, too. It really helps me visually. I need to print this out and tape it to my forehead -or maybe my desk-.
    My writing has taken a backseat to ….. and….. Sigh.

    • Hey Denise,

      I’m glad you found this post useful. And I don’t usually write in such a format because it reminds me too much of school, haha! But truth be told, that’s the way the info presented itself to me, so I went with it.

      Good luck getting your writing back to where you want it. 🙂

  7. First and foremost, congratulations on cracking your own whip, Kate! That takes a dedication worthy of cheers and pom-poms! 😀

    For the more wide-reaching part of your post, you hit on a lot of solid points, here. Many of them can be applied not only to writing, but to any work that requires concentration, especially the one about the work space. As a side note, just the act of re-organizing my work space can help me focus, so there is something to the idea of environment affecting our output.

    I like your suggestions to free write, and switching gears with sketches and drawings. I often find that one creative outlet can help feed another. As some other comments mention, free writing can be a bit of a balancing act. Perhaps those of us who need a more concentrated focus in order to stay on track can consider free writing for the same universe as our main work in progress, but tell a side story, back story, or a scene from another character’s point of view? That way, we’re not completely veering off our main effort, but we are giving ourselves some breathing room.

    As always, thanks for sharing the writerly love!

    • Hey Mayumi,

      Well, if I don’t crack the whip no one else is going to! It took me longer than I wanted, about 2 1/2 months long, but I won’t focus on that aspect. It’s not helpful anyway.

      As I mentioned above, I never used to like freewriting because I thought it interfered with my “real” writing. But my mind was just getting dumped on by everything and everyone around me. I needed an outlet, a creative outlet, and that’s what helped. Sometimes, the least likely paths turn out to be the most helpful. Doing the one thing I resisted for years was what broke through the barriers. A psychologist would have fun with this, wouldn’t she? 😉

      I like your suggestions about how freewriting can work for those of us who don’t find it to be successful. There is no reason why freewriting can’t be related to an element or a character in our WIPs.

      Thanks for commenting!

  8. Great advice Kate. I’m at one of those points with my wip where it’s done, except something feels like it’s missing. Of course, I don’t know what it is! I’m debating whether i just need to get input, set it aside and work on something else, or free write from the character’s perspective. But you’re tip on keeping it a habit, is significant. Have to keep on doing it! Hope you have a happy, productive week. 🙂

    • Hi Coleen,

      Yes, I know that feeling.

      You could try to get feedback on it while you’re working on something else. That way you’re still getting something done on it, but also giving yourself that much-needed break from it.

      It is really hard to know what the next step should be, but by giving some of your ideas a chance to see what you need to do, you’ll be able to figure out when you hit the nail on the head.

      Good luck!

  9. Great reminders, Kate, that I need to implement. 😉 I really should try the free writing as a warmup. Sometimes I think I try to hard to start work on a manuscript when, in fact, I’m not ready to. Maybe free writing would be a way to ease into the current story.

    • Hey there, JM,

      Freewriting can be helpful. If you’re struggling over a particular character or scene or plot twist, you could freewrite about those things. This way you’re not straying from your ms (some commenters have mentioned this is the reason they don’t like freewriting), but you’re also opening up all the channels for your muse.

      I know it’s really easy to get stuck in a rut from having written ourselves down the wrong road. Following a plan that might have been wrong in the first place. That’s where freewriting can help us loosen up and feel a little bit more relaxed about what we’re doing.

      If you ever do try it, I’d be interested to hear how it goes for you. 🙂

  10. Great post, Kate.

    I used to write best first thing in the morning. Now my routine is more last thing at night. I do write with everything you mention on the go though: email, Twitter and my blog all at the ready.

    I didn’t know about the 21 days to make or break a habit, but I certainly feel like a few weeks away from writing makes it REALLY difficult to get back into the swing of things.

    Good to hear you’ve headed back to basics and that you’re enjoying your writing again. That’s the best feeling isn’t it?

    Happy writing. 🙂

    • Hey Pete,

      I used to write like that with everything running and I realized I was keeping myself from dealing with problematic characters or plot lines by checking my emails or my blog. However, I know that a lot of writers can multi-task without a problem, so I hope it’s a system that works well for you. 🙂

      Yes, the 21 days rule is a good one to go by if you’re trying to change habits. Although, I’m such a creature of habit that I am usually affected within 3-5 days. That’s why vacations are tough on my muse. I have to be dutiful about journaling or doing something with my creative energy.

      I’m miserable if I’m not enjoying the writing. I can’t just go through the motions. So, yes, it is THE best feeling! Thanks, Pete.

    • It is, it is, loony! And I know that I was doing it to avoid my writing. I didn’t want to face that mess of a story, so I blogged and tweeted, and chatted.

      I’m grateful that I realized the error of my ways. 😉 It is tough not to check my emails first thing in the morning, but I always feel so much better when I don’t because it means I got a great run of writing in.

      Thanks for swinging by!

  11. Excellent post, Kate. My biggest detractor is blogging. It is time taken away directly from my WIP. I only started it to establish a social media presence, as they all tell you to do. But it is very difficult to let it go, now that it is started. I’ve tried, but it’s hard to watch hundreds of e-mails pile up that I know I will either have to deal with later, or delete. If folks are reading my posts, I feel an obligation to read theirs. Anyway, I’m glad I read this one–it’s inspiring, and the nudge I need back into a more productive routine.

    • Hi Naomi,

      Yes, I have to figure out a better blogging system, too. It has created a huge problem in my time management. But like you, I blog to establish a platform, and it’s necessary if I want to be a published author. And again, like you, I want to visit folks who are visiting me. I have been better about taking the time to read the ones I want to read and simply liking the posts that don’t impact me as much. But there is only so much time in a day, and I still miss great posts.

      Aw, thanks. I’m glad you stopped by to read it, too. Especially if it inspired you. 🙂 Good luck!

  12. Except for Mondays when I post and answer comments, I now work on my novel BEFORE opening any social media. It’s been working great. I get in 1500-3000 words first (which is easier to do since I thoroughly outline). Then late morning I start with the social media. Some days I cheat, but for the most part it’s worked out well. Then again, I’m currently taking time off from the real job. Were I not, then who knows when I’d get it done? Probably at night like I used to, and I’d have to forego the social media.

    • Hi Carrie,

      Once I realized what I was doing wrong, it was like a breath of fresh air. Of course, I’m sure, on a subconscious level, I was doing it to avoid the writing. I was starting a new book and it was intimidating me.

      The social media can be really time consuming, but it’s something we have to do if we want to establish or maintain our platforms. I find that I change my social media routine from week to week because there isn’t just one time of day where it works out well, consistently.

      Your word count is enviable, Carrie. 🙂 That’s awesome. Sounds like you have found your rhythm.

    • Hi Char,

      I never used to need to clear out my head. A couple of years ago I could get up at 4 and dive right into my novel. A combo of a busier life and starting a new project was what made it so hard to do that. Plus, I never used to like freewriting. I thought it was a waste of time.

      Isn’t it funny how the things we’re so sure don’t work end up being the answer? I wonder what your sweet, adorable missionary from Eyes of Light would say about that? 🙂

      • Yeah, I had a professor in college tell us over and over again…”That which is hardest for you to believe is that which you think you already believe.” It took weeks of mulling that over before I understood what he was trying to tell us. Sometimes, we get so set in our ways that we don’t see answers right in front of us because we think we already know the answers.

  13. One of my biggest reasons for keeping up on reading the posts I subscribe to is to keep the reading/writing habit going. I also post every day, so I am writing and thinking. I haven’t worked on a story just yet, but am ahead of the publisher for the moment and for other reasons have slowed there. It will pick back up. Friday Fictioneers helps in that process, too. I highly recommend that one to keep creativity flowing.
    Scott

    • Hi Scott,

      Yes, blogging and writing challenges can help a great deal with the writing and creative thinking. I used to participate in a challenge similar to Friday Fictioneers, but I had to give it up temporarily in order to make time for writing blog posts and my novel.

      Writing challenges offer the same benefit as freewriting — exercising that muse, loosening up those creative muscles. We all have to assess our own strengths, weaknesses, routines, etc, in order to figure out which strategies work best for us. It’s great to know all the different options out there so we feel less stuck, less alone.

      Thanks for chiming in. 🙂

  14. Slump, slump, slump, slump. Blech!
    I have 45,000 words to write to finish the novel I started in NOVEMBER. Took a December vacation. Apparently, it’s still December. I MUST start again tomorrow. If I don’t, I’ll have over 3000 words to write PER DAY to finish by Mar. 15. Good grief!

    • Oh boy, I know what you’re feeling. I was kind of blaming my slump on the time of year, and while I’m sure the winter blahs contribute to my listlessness, I have to own the rest of the reasons.

      Ugh, 3,000 words a day is enough to send me to the bars. All of the bars. I hope that you can find the energy and the desire to finish your novel in the time that you want. But even if you can’t, there’s nothing wrong with extending your deadline.

      Good luck!

    • Yup, Robin, same here. I didn’t really have writer’s block, either. The ideas were there, I knew where the plot was going, I liked my characters. But I was too drained from everything I had to do once my 1.5 hour writing session was over. My to-do list was practically glaring at me from the desk! 🙂

      I hope you’re able to get back on the writing track, Robin. Everyone needs to read your book, my dear.

  15. Yeah!!!!! We’re just so happy to have been able to get back on your blog. We’ve had some problems getting thru. We spoke to our Editor who told us it might be traffic or the times we’re trying to, so let’s hope this works in the future. Excellent advice Kate. We just recently had another networking friend who was going thru the same thing and like you posted it. It’s good for other writers to hear that they’re not the only ones who go thru this. For writers “life” and it’s follies so often get in the way which makes it hard to balance. By the way, Inion and I have nominated you for “The Reality Blog Award” just head over to our blog for the details and congrats my friend!

    • My goodness, I had no idea you were having trouble getting on the blog. I don’t think my site is any busier than anyone else’s…but let’s pretend high traffic was the reason. That’s a flattering idea. 😉

      Anyway, so glad you’re here and commenting again! I think all writers experience ruts or blues at one time or another. If they don’t, then I take that to mean the writing doesn’t mean that much to them. I love visiting other sites and reading about how other writers approach their craft, in good weather and bad weather. While we all have to find our own strategies and routines, it’s helpful to hear other ideas.

      Wow, you did? That’s a lovely award. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it. Have a great day, ladies!

  16. To be honest, the only writing I’m doing at the moment is blog writing. And illustrating the books I’ve already written. I’m nervous about the thought of how I will incorporate regular writing into my routine… I agree with you that opening email / Twitter etc. before you write is a killer, and a tidy environment helps. All I can say is, I’m not going to quit – and I’m so glad for you that you’ve been able to get back to basics and carry on.

    • Hi Alarna –

      I’m so glad you aren’t going to quit. And to just say it outright gives us that much more power. I know it’s difficult to get the writing back in, and sometimes we just need that break. Once you’re ready, you’ll know it, and I’m sure it won’t be difficult once you decide to go back full-swing. Good luck!

  17. Gosh, I wish I could get up at 4 am to focus only on writing. Alas, my metabolism goes on strike at the mere thought. It’s afternoons or evenings for me, and then after working at my job. You can imagine how full my brain is by then, not to mention how tired. It takes commitment for sure. I like the reminder about fee writing to clear my head–I used to do it and dropped it. Think I’ll pick it up again–who knows in 21 days, it may be a habit.

    • Hey Jagoda –

      It is really difficult to fit in writing when we have full-time jobs and kids and extra-curricular activities going on. Now that I’ve got the writing back, I need to figure out where to fit in regular exercise! It’s a juggling act no matter what we’re trying to accomplish.

      I would love to know if the 21 day commitment helps make the free writing a habit for you. If you decide to try it, let me know how it goes! 🙂

  18. Well done, Kate! I’ve been out of sorts lately because I’m trying to move a house (yes – an actual house!) I also get up at 4am, but my best writing time comes after 10pm so I’m totally out of whack at the moment 🙁

    I love “Eris” – that’s the name of the 10th planet and in my story The Everything Theory”! 😀

    • Hi Dianne,

      I knew about your house, and I think that’s a feat in and of itself. And very unusual! I did not know, however, that you also get up at 4am. Even though you don’t do it to write, getting up at that hour takes a lot of determination. Or insanity. Take your pick. 😉

      Really? Eris is in your story? Good! Another reason to move your book up in my To-Read list. 🙂

  19. I go through stages of blogging too much and writing too little. It’s that trouble with platform vs project. That is where the thrill of my own novel left me even when I have an acquisitions editor who is waiting for my manuscript. He said I have one shot and that kicked me in the rear to get going. So I set the blog aside and just focused on my novel.

    Night time has been better than the morning because my girls get up between 5-730 and I just don’t trust myself to get up early enough to write!

    I wish I had the special 4am power, but that’s just not in me Kate! Keep writing!

    • Yesyesyesyes! Blogging has really put a dent into my writing. Even though I do my writing at 4, I used to also do it anytime the kids were at school and I had the house to myself. Even if it was just 30 minutes. No longer, because of the blogging.

      Oh, well, having an editor hand out that kind of warning would be enough for any writer serious about his work to get on the ball. That was a smart move to set aside the blog, Bob.

      Haha, ‘the special 4am power’. Hmm, is it so? Do I have a superpower I was unaware of?

      Good luck with your book, Bob!!

  20. I’m glad to hear you’ve gotten back into it! I might have to start getting up at 4 am too. In answer to your question about what writers do when they can’t write, I’d have to say we go a little crazy but then we were probably already crazy anyway. 🙂

    • Hey Sheila,
      I love my 4am ritual, but I am naturally a morning person and that’s why it works for me. I say try it if you love hearing the birds singing and watching the world awaken. It’s truly the most peaceful time of day.

      Yes, we are crazy. It’s just part of our makeup. 🙂

    • Hi Amy,

      I know, I have seriously thought about getting another computer solely for writing, and not getting any Internet services on it, period. This would be helpful for toting it around with me, too, as I’d get a smaller laptop. Work on my stuff while I’m sitting in the parking lot waiting for the kids to get out of school, or anything that requires sitting and waiting.

      Good luck to you and your writing Amy!

  21. Terrific post Kathryn. I really think setting up a time and a place that works is key. And not being overly optimistic when setting expectations. When working full time, it’s great to pound out 1k words every day, but I found 500 words a day was my max 4 days a week. That still matters and counts. So I adjusted expectations and met a realistic goal rather than continually missing the mark and feeling bad about myself.

    • That’s where I get into trouble, too — the high expectations. I used to write so much more when the kids were littler. Now that I’m busier, there is less time and energy to write and write well.

      Quality over quantity. That’s key. Very good point, Kourtney. Thanks for adding to my list! 🙂

  22. As Maya Angelou supposedly said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I absolutely hate those days when I’m brimming with ideas and I can’t do a damn thing with them–not even sitting down and writing them. Makes me want to scream. And I always have those days when I can’t sit down to write anything. I never have a day when I cannot write, and I feel that I have nothing to write. Never happens. Frustrating doesn’t even cover it.

    • Hey Steven,

      We definitely get ourselves tangled up with this writing business, don’t we. On one hand, it’s great that it matters so much because we know we’ll try our hardest. On the other hand, it sucks that it matters so much because we know we’ll try our hardest. 😉

      I think Maya Angelou was onto something there. And we really do need to find our own personal strategies to keep writing.

      Thanks for swinging by.

  23. I’ve been in a writing slump for months, but I’m not worried, I’ve been down this road before. I’ve been a promotion kick recently, and when I’m heavily promoting, my writing suffers. Also it’s winter, and I’m just not in the mood, LOL!

    • Hey Nancy,

      Wintertime makes it difficult for me too. Even though I take my vitamin D I am still lethargic and blue. This ultimately affects my writing, but I’m tired of being tired!

      Good luck with your promotional work. Spring will be here soon!

  24. Lots of good advice here! I’m glad you’re back to writing and enjoying it again 🙂 I probably should clear my desk a bit. It’s always a bit messy (and I have been finding it difficult to write these past few days). For today I’ll probably (and finally) write a post and be done. Feels like the flu is coming and I need to rest for a while so I can get back in the writing game soon!

    • Hi Fredrik,

      Yes, clear off your desk so that you can focus on your writing. Drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. You need to be in tip-top shape so you can get back to your writing! 🙂

  25. Maybe it’s just a seasonal disorder for writers from the Northeast, but I JUST wrote something for the first time in two weeks. It didn’t start out as a sabbatical, but it became one. And now I feel refreshed. Minty, almost.
    Great thoughts and observations, 4am, as per usual. I’m glad you’re back doing what you do so well.

    • Yes, I’d been wondering where you’ve been hiding, Cayman. I’m glad to see you up and at ’em. Minty is always good. Always.

      Hey, thanks, that’s appreciated. I’m glad youah glad that I’m back because I’ll be ’round fer a while. That’s the kickah with us New Englandahs. We don’t stay down fer long.

  26. In the end, it is persistence that distinguishes the wannabe writer from the author. Writing everyday is a habit not many people can stick to, but those who do are rewarded. Which reminds me, haven’t written anything fiction in the last week. Must change that.

    –Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2013!

    • Hi Damyanti,

      For some reason, your comment went into my spam folder!! So, I apologize for the delay in replying to you.

      I think you are right, that writers are rewarded when they stick to the habit daily. I know that I have improved and grown because I have kept at it, even when I didn’t want to.

      Thanks so much for commenting. 🙂

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