Here’s the fourteenth episode of the Writing Talk Podcast.
In this episode, we’re looking at ways to break you out of a slump and get you writing again.
Plus this week’s writers’ toolbox tip and some listener feedback. There’s also a quick review of my news.
Hope you enjoy listening.
NB: You can support the show by subscribing from the links above. Please also consider sharing the show with your writer friends.
I’ve been part of a sci-fi and fantasy promotion on the self-publishing round table website along with several other authors. Part of the promotion was a giveaway organised using raffle copter, and it was interesting to see what options other writers had used when allowing people to enter the giveaway. I used the mailing list signup option and received several new mailing list subscribers as a result, and that was very pleasing. But I noticed that quite a few writers used this opportunity to ask people to visit their Facebook page or follow them on twitter. Perhaps these writers didn’t have mailing lists, but I would regard this as a missed opportunity. If you delve into the world of social media management, you’ll soon find that the number of followers on Twitter and number of page likes on Facebook are widely regarded as vanity metrics. That is to say, it doesn’t matter how many thousands of people follow you on Twitter if none of them are listening to you. It doesn’t matter how many people have liked your page if they are unlikely to engage with the content on your page. The key takeaway message here is to understand that there is a vast difference between having followers and having a following. A small but active following, i.e. group of people who eagerly await your next tweet or Facebook post, is a wonderful thing to have, and it must be grown purposefully and nurtured. These people are part of your tribe, they are your fans, they are your support network. This is very different to the vast army of people who click on pretty much everything just for the sake of it.
In other news, the publisher of some of my books, Booktrope, suddenly announced that it was closing its doors at the end of this month. Apparently the business wasn’t making enough money to continue, and it simply folded. This has caused all its authors a great deal of stress and anxiety this week, as they struggle to come to terms with a whole new set of problems. Fortunately, the publisher has announced that it is returning all rights to the authors, and that is something of a blessing. But since Booktrope worked on a team publishing model where designers, editors and others were paid on a royalty split from book sales, a lot of good people have been left in the lurch.
Dealing with this has been a significant distraction for my writing this week, but I’ve tried to keep going as much as possible. And that takes me very naturally into this week’s main topic, which is keeping writing when times are rough.
One thing is for certain, you write for long enough, the rough patches will come and get you. Maybe they’ll be linked to your home life or your personal life. Maybe they’ll show themselves in the form of a chapter you can’t quite finish, and edit that seems to take forever, or a plot that refuses to resolve the matter which way you rearrange it. Or perhaps you’re simply trying to get back into your writing after a lengthy break and finding it difficult.
But whatever the cause, the feeling of hitting a wall can be hard to take. Some people call this writer’s block, but this isn’t a fair or useful term. When struggling with your writing, you haven’t got a disease or a dreadful condition, you are just frustrated and stymied. Giving this feeling a label will only reinforce it.
So what will help?
Here are some suggestions in no particular order, but first let me say this: writing is a curious compulsion. To the writer, it feels like an integral part of their identity. Writing time often has to be fought for amid a series of other obligations. But, sometimes, the other things must come first. Look after your loved ones, nurture your relationships. Take care of your home and your health. Try not to get sacked from your day job if you have one.
All these things will pay you back.
The idea that you have to be riddled with angst to make your art, is absolute nonsense. Stress is the enemy of creativity. You need a healthy, happy life outside of your writing – it’s the foundation for your work and the bedrock of your creativity. Try, if you possibly can, to get your priorities right.
That said, let’s dive into some ways that you can get your writing Mojo working again.
Change your setting
Try writing in a different room. If you normally at home, try somewhere like your local library or a coffee shop. I don’t recommend writing in your bedroom or other sleeping space, because that is bad sleep hygiene, i.e. if your bedroom becomes a workplace, it can be hard to relax when you’re trying to get to sleep. But for a short space of time, it can be nice to put your feet up on the bed, prop yourself up with a couple of pillows, and scribble on a pad. It also makes a nice change to try writing outside, if the weather allows.
Alternatively, you might prefer to keep to your usual workspace, but change the environment.
I often change my mind about listening to music while I work. If I do use music, I often prefer soothing instrumentals for example film scores or jazz. At other times, I need an energy boost and I put on some fast-paced, lively music. I’ve had quite a lot of success with ambient sound e.g. the website asoftmurmur.com can play a variety of soothing noises such as waves, wind, and rainfall. It even has a setting called meander that allows the sound to gently drift from one to the other.
Whatever I’m listening to, I use comfortable headphones. I can’t work with music coming through speakers but headphones are ideal because they are great at cutting out background sound and help to create that feeling of isolation that allows your mind to focus on your writing. Music and ambient sound can be very useful in stopping your mind from wandering too far.
If your current playlist isn’t working for you, try a new one, or try working in silence. Whatever you’re used to, change it.
You could also experiment with different lighting. A darkened room with a single desk lamp can be a nice way to create that isolated bubble of creativity you need.
It can also be useful to adjust your chair, have a tidy up of your workspace, and rearrange your desk.
But don’t carry out any of the above adjustments endlessly. Don’t use them as an excuse to procrastinate. It’s too easy for an hour to become a day, and the day to become a week. Instead, make a change – just one – and try it for a while. Keep the changes you like, and ditch the rest.
So, that’s your setting an environment fixed – what else can we do to keep the flame alive?
Try working on a different part of the writing process. By now you must know that I like to think of the processes such as planning, editing, drafting et cetera as separate. But it can be overwhelming to get stuck in any one of these processes for too long. It might seem productive to stick to one process until you get to the end, e.g. drafting an entire novel before you begin to edit, but that will leave you to cope with a mountain of editing all at once. It might work better for you, to mix it up a little, especially if you’re having a bad day. For example, take a break from drafting to edit an earlier part of your work. Or you could set aside time from editing to jot down plans for your next novel. It’s a bit like keeping lots of plates spinning all at once, but variety is the spice of life after all.
Similarly, working out of sequence can help to break you out of an unproductive cycle. Jump ahead and work on a later chapter, or go back and put in some foreshadowing. Sometimes, the fact that you’re finding a piece of writing difficult is a clue that something somewhere isn’t working. Some part of your mind is telling you that it just doesn’t believe the story you’re telling. In this case, it’s a bit like dealing with a tangle of string fishing line, the only way to tackle it is to tease it out gently, picking at the knots until they loosen.
In a full-length work, going back over an earlier piece may reveal the part that sticking in your craw and breaking your flow. It’s amazing how it’s possible to work on something so intently that you lose some of the sense of what has gone before. I’ve often looked back at earlier chapters and discovered to my surprise that I haven’t written what I thought I’d written. It’s a bit like an artist taking a step back from a huge canvas or an enormous sculpture in order to see the work taking shape.
Don’t be afraid to play around with your work. Your frustration might mean that you’re taking it too seriously. Ask yourself, “what if?” Change of character, for example switch their age or gender. Swap the villain, just for fun. Make the hero fall down a hole. It’s only typing. You can always delete it or transfer it to a document called blooper reel. And who knows, your comical detours may lead to some wonderful new insights into your story and characters. And if not, they might make some interesting material to share with your fans.
So that’s the manuscript dealt with, now let’s think about you.
Physical exercise is a great way of recharging your batteries, especially if you can get some fresh air at the same time. But if gyms are your thing, try that. The great thing about a brisk walk is that it need only take 15 minutes, needs no special equipment, and can be done in most weather conditions. It’s hard to find an excuse not to walk, whereas a trip to the gym or swimming pool is easy to put off for a whole raft of reasons.
Check your posture. This may seem unrelated, but if you’re putting strain on your body, it’s no wonder you’re struggling to write. Poor posture can lead to headaches and other aches and pains that make it very difficult to concentrate. There are plenty of places to look online for posture advice, so I won’t try to deal with it here. But put this on your mental checklist.
Here’s something else that you may not have thought about. If you talk to a few writers online or in person, it won’t be long before someone mentions using coffee to keep them going. This is something to be wary of. Well a certain level of caffeine may be beneficial, it can quite quickly get to the level where it actually reduces the flow of blood to the brain, and that’s the last thing you want. Similarly, while a small amount of your favourite alcoholic drink might seem to lubricate your writing muscles, it’s not a good idea for your health to rely on it too heavily.
And that takes me to the listener feedback part of the show, because I’m wondering what tips you have that could help your fellow writers to break out of a slump. So please comment with any tips or tricks that you’ve used to get your writing going, especially the ones that worked on the days where you really didn’t feel like writing. Please leave your comments below this post and you may get a mention in the show and a link back to your site in the show notes.
Last week I asked for feedback on the subject of using dictation software to write your novel, author of the popular thriller, The Anonymous Source said:
I love Dragon Dictation. Wrote a couple key scenes of The Anonymous Source on it while sitting around waiting for the kids. It doesn’t transcribe perfectly, but well enough to get a rough draft done. I can talk much faster than I can type, so I can get 500 first draft words done in around 10 minutes.
Writer’s toolbox tip
This part of the show is very short today, it’s really just a thought to keep in mind. Tough days and creative setbacks come with the territory. What I’d like you to keep reminding yourself, is that as territories go, writing is a pretty damn good one.
Enjoy the territory, and while you may not enjoy single part of the scenery, always try to enjoy the journey.
Advice on posture – how to sit correctly: The NHS website
Keep a note of ways that help you to break out of a rough patch – it will be a very helpful reference. And if you have a great tip, don’t forget to post it in the comments and you could get a mention and a link in next week’s show.
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