Dealing With a Creative Slump
I’m finding myself in a bit of a creative slump at the moment. And I know this happens to everyone, but the more I dwell on it and the more I try to force something out, the less it feels like I’m ever going to be able to get out of my uninspired little hole.
When famous writers are asked about how they overcome writer’s block, they always say the same thing: write through the pain and the rest will follow. Don’t fold your hands and wait for inspiration to strike, because you’ll never produce anything. They’re right, of course, and intellectually, I know that, but it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t always force myself through my block. Trying to write when I’m that frustrated often just exacerbates the problem, making me more agitated than I was when I first sat down.
What I have to understand is this – I’m not blocked because I don’t have the ability to create something, I’m blocked because I’m thinking too much about what I haven’t already accomplished. I need to get back to a point where I can enjoy what I’m doing without putting ridiculous amounts of pressure on myself.
These are my strategies for getting there:
Take a break
I’m not going to call this procrastination, because I don’t think that’s very helpful psychologically – it just makes me feel guilty about not working, and then I get all anxious again.
It’s not easy to stop when it’s all you want to do, especially when you have limited free time and you really have to impose deadlines on yourself, but sometimes you need to remove yourself from all thoughts of writing. Get out of the house and do something mindless, like shop or go to the movies or catch up with friends.
There’s a great article on Brain Pickings about the stages of creativity, and how important it is to unconsciously process ideas before you can reach your ‘a-ha!’ moment. Sidetracking myself with other activities will, hopefully, recharge my creative batteries.
Don’t think about what other people are doing
I find this very difficult sometimes, especially when people around me are accomplishing great things like winning prizes and publishing first novels, but the more I compare myself to other writers, the more resentful I become, and that’s not fair on them or on me. At the end of the day it’s not going to help me finish anything. I have my own story to tell, and I need to tell it.
In her tips for writers over on Aerogramme Studio, Cate Kennedy emphasises the need to forget about “marketability, prizemoney, fame, fortune, or who’s going to play you in the miniseries” because none of these trappings will actually allow you to write a better story. My first step will be reducing the time I spend on social media, where it’s far too easy to be preoccupied by others people’s successes.
Enough with the ‘I must get published before I turn 30’ crap
For the longest time, I thought I would be a failure if I didn’t get my first novel published before I turned 30. It’s only now, as I enter my late twenties, that I realise this is insanely unrealistic for me. Why should I rush this, when it can only benefit me to gain more life experience, more publishing credentials, more writing fodder?
That’s not to say there aren’t people out there who can’t achieve this – look at Steph Bowe, who published her first YA novel when she was 16, or Hannah Kent, who earned her seven figure book deal for Burial Rites when she was 27 – but I can’t measure my self-worth according to whether or not I’m some authorial prodigy.
The best thing about writing is that you can never be too old for it. The average age of a first-time author is 36 (or so sayeth this random study), but many famous authors, including Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie), Annie Proulx (Postcards), Richard Adams (Watership Down) and Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) didn’t start until they were over 50. There is never a right age or a right time to publish your first novel, and if you think there is you’re going to find it impossible to live up to your own expectations.
Work on something completely unrelated
Funnily enough, writing this short article has helped quite a lot, because I feel happy that I’ve finished something, even if it wasn’t what I set out to do today.
I’m burning myself out struggling to perfect one piece of fiction. I think it’s helpful to write something unassociated with this mental turmoil, even if it’s just for me – like a journal entry, my reactions to a TV show or a short scene I’ve had kicking around in my head – so I can revel in the pleasure of writing without worrying about an end purpose.
Because that’s my problem. I need to get myself back into a frame of mind where I’m writing for myself and not other people. This is what I love, and the inspiration will eventually emerge from there.