Apathy. Depression. Writer’s block. The death knell of the creative process.
All writers, at some point or another, hit that brick wall. It becomes a self-propogating cycle, too, because the less you write, the more upset and depressed you get about it, which means you write even less, until the well dries up. In some cases it can even prove fatal, though suicide, heart attack or the ever-popular and often mysterious “natural causes” are what goes on the death certificate.
In the interests of providing at least some protection against such fates, I offer you some of the things I’ve found helped me at various points; hopefully they can help someone else.
1. Write Something You Hate
Almost every writer has some other book, series, story or whatever out there that they despise. I’m willing to bet every one of you has, at some point, glared at something and said “Ugh. I could do better.” Then did nothing. The reasons are almost uncountable; not your genre, don’t want to “lower” yourself to writing that sort of thing, assume you’ll take heat if anyone learns you’re writing the same thing you flame constantly… Doesn’t matter.
What does matter is giving it a shot. Pull a Brian Griffin. Sit down and set out to create your version of that thing you despise. Not necessarily in an attempt to make a billion dollars like the aforementioned cartoon dog, but as a writing exercise. You’re blocked and depressed, anyway; what does it matter if you damage your pride a bit? Plus it can give you an experience in trying something different, which may be all you need to open the floodgates. Give it a shot.
2. Write Something Just For You
Some of us may find ourselves all wrapped up in the idea of “What will my fans/family/friends think?” We start – consciously or not – editing our work in our head before it goes on the paper, censoring ourselves or replotting things in an attempt to make sure those people who supposedly hang on our every word will be pleased.
When you do that, you ruin the magic of it. It becomes a stilted, artificial thing, shoehorned into a shape you believe has commerical, ethical or moral viability instead of just being the story you wanted to tell.
The cure? Write something, say “screw you” to everyone else. It doesn’t matter if you plan to publish it, or if it’s going to languish on your hard drive until you remember it years later and throw it in a bonfire, saying “What was I thinking?” Just do it. You might be surprised where it takes you.
3. Try a Different Genre
Normally you write about middle-aged women finding love? Try writing about a serial killer. Normally write about beasties under the bed? Write about a child and their dog. Usually setting your stories in the deep reaches of space? Try the deserts of Utah, circa 1850.
Change things up. Try something different. You might surprise yourself. The key here is do not stop, even if it’s bad, or hard. Of course it is; it’s not in your comfort zone. That’s the bloody point of the thing, now isn’t it?
4. Change your Point of View
This is similar to #3, but has more to do with style than substance. Normally write staccato-burst third person, ala Elmore Leonard? Try embracing your inner Hemingway or Joyce and go for long, erudite sentences, or crawl out of the omniscient god-brain that represents you and switch to a first-person perspective, force yourself to experience (and thus tell) the story from a single character’s direct point of view. Tone down your word choices (check the Hemingway app, online or $5 for desktop) and use its suggestions to lower the target reading level, or hit a thesaurus or dictionary site to bring it up a notch or two. Different perspectives and voices might make you remember why you use the one you normally do, and bring it back… Or they might turn out to suit you. In either case, it gets you scribbling again, right?
That’s not just “Stop writing.” Because, in all likelihood, you’ve already done that. It means stop worrying about that you’ve stopped writing. Stop trying to force it. Stop belittling yourself and any work that came before. Sit down, take a chill pill. Take a walk. Go somewhere new for a coffee and leave the legal pads, iPads and laptops at home. Play a game of “Let’s Pretend I don’t think I’m an author” for a little while.
Why? Because one of two things will happen. Either you’ll reach a point of peace, where you say “Well… I guess I said all I have to say” and can move along with your life. Or your inner author is going to sit there, processing these (hopefully) new experiences and looking for a way to use them in a story, then surge to the front saying “What the hell is this shit, buddy? We’re writers, damnit! Let’s write!”
There you have it. The things I’ve tried, that have had at least some measure of success at different times. Hopefully at least one person out there finds at least one of those things useful.
What about you folks? Have a secret trick or bit of advice for when you’re down in the dumps and the words aren’t coming? Share ’em down below!