Updated: Feb 21, 2020
How do you cope with writer's block? What do you do when you start to lose momentum in a story? Give up? Plow ahead?
I see this question a lot within the writing community, so I thought I'd jot down my suggestions here.
First of all, it's important to recognize why you're feeling burnt out. There are usually two reasons for the Inspiration Rut: 1) a downward dip in creative energy and self-motivation, and 2) self-doubt and perfectionism.
So let's start with numero uno.
Tips to get those juices flowing:
Take a break. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a hiatus. Step back, take a breather, tackle life, and before long, you'll start to miss your manuscript. You'll miss storytelling and the joy it brings you, and when you sit back down at the computer, you'll be eager to get those words out of your head.
Get outdoors. Nature can be an incredible source of inspiration! New sights. New smells. New sounds. Take the time to empty your mind and rid yourself of those daily stressors. Take a hike, go for a swim -- get a little exercise in to stimulate that Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). And bring a notepad, just in case.
Consume other media. Watch some new television shows and read some new books within (and outside) your genre. Keep an eye out for storytelling techniques, body language, and character development. Take note of what works -- and what doesn't. Maybe even sprinkle in a few bad apples just to boost your own ego. By the time you return to your book, you'll have a renewed love for your own story and characters, as well as a slew of ideas to incorporate -- or cut out.
Produce other media. This can be other story ideas or a completely different artistic medium. I have about 20 ongoing writing projects, with 4 or 5 that claim most of my attention. Whenever I get bored with a story or hit a plot wall, I can switch to a different story. It keeps the creativity flowing, and sometimes, I'm able to merge story ideas together. (I also create video edits on YouTube, draw my characters, create animatics of my characters, write some fanfic every now and again, and play around with the piano. These different hobbies exercise different parts of my brain, and when writer's block hits, they keep me from feeling totally nonproductive).
REWRITE. This one is HUGE. Create a document off to the side that allows you to preserve your original manuscript (so it doesn't feel like you're massacring all your hard work). Then retrace your steps to when the story started feeling stale, and try something new. It’s amazing what deletion can cultivate. Most of my biggest breakthroughs have come from “starting over” at certain points in my story. And gradually, as I rework through my books, I can steal back portions of what I originally wrote and incorporate it into my new plotline.
And now, the biggest hurdle: the feeling of inadequacy and imperfection.
I've seen a lot of writers express their desire to give up when writing gets tough. They feel like they'll never be good enough, and they keep comparing themselves to published authors, or even their fellow peers. They start to adopt a perfectionist's mentality: achieve a perfect score, or don't even bother trying.
I know; I've lived with this mentality most of my life.
But we've all been there at some point. As we grow as writers, it becomes an even more prevalent feeling because we keep raising the bar for ourselves. What I constantly have to remind myself is that I’m not writing for anyone else - I write for me. It’s what I love to do. It’s a part of who I am. So when I start to lose the love and inspiration to write, I have to step back and reevaluate why I’m doing this. Then I remember how much happiness storytelling gives me, and how much work and sweat I’ve put into my books, and I dive back in. For myself.
Besides. We’re always learning and growing - I don’t believe creativity HAS a ceiling. If it did, we’d all plateau at some point, and writing would no longer be a fulfilling challenge. Writers would no longer deserve the admiration and respect for embarking on the journey that is writing.
There is no ceiling. So don’t measure how close you are to the top. Instead, look down and see how far you’ve come.