Stop me if this sounds familiar: After months of enjoying writing, you wake up one day and just… don’t care. The characters who once excited you seem uninspiring. The ideas that used to flow freely have hit a dead end. You hope things will feel differently tomorrow. But, alas, the next day you feel the same way. This goes on for days. Weeks. Months. You’ve officially hit a writing slump, and you don’t know how to get over it.
Entire books have been written about writing slumps and blocks. Why they happen, how to get past them. But over the years, I’ve found that writing slumps usually come down to one basic problem: You’re bored. It could be because you’ve been following the “rules” instead of writing in your own way, because you’ve created an uninteresting plot, because you can’t relate to your characters.
Whatever the reason, you’re no longer interested in your WIP, or even in writing in general. That’s why my advice for getting over a writing block is to figure out why you’re bored, take your boredom seriously, and find ways to make your writing exciting again. Let’s look at each step in turn.
Step #1: Figure out why you’re bored with your writing
This could take time. I suggest that writers who are bored with their writing ask themselves the following questions:
- When was the last time you were interested in writing, or in your WIP? What was different then?
- Have you been writing as you think you “should,” rather than as you really want to?
- Are you just burned out and need to take a break?
- What made you excited about this writing project to begin with? Have you gotten too far away from that initial vision?
Here’s an example from my own writing: I recently found myself in a slump with my WIP. After pondering the situation, I realized that I’d gotten bored because I was writing a scene because I thought it had to be in the story (following the “rules”). I didn’t think the scene was cool or interesting at all! I was doing it out of some misguided sense of obligation or duty. So I thought back to the last scene that I’d actually enjoyed writing, figured out why that scene was more engaging, and rewrote the new scene in a way that better captured my attention.
Step #2: Take your boredom seriously
There’s a lot of buckle-down, boot-strap writing advice out there that would have you believe that writing is Hard Work. It’s a Struggle. You’re Not Always Going to Enjoy It, and if you expect to have fun all the time, you’ll never be a Serious/Published/Professional/Paid Writer.
While there’s some truth in the ol’ writing-is-hard-work adage, this advice can lead writers to conclude that if they’re bored with their writing they should just… get over it. Push through the pain. And if you don’t, or can’t? Well, then you’re lazy and you’ll never be a Real Writer.
I call bullshit on that. Here’s why: If you’re bored with your writing, your readers are going to be, too. And even if that’s not true, even readers end up loving something that bored you to death to write, what’s the point? Are you really going to be satisfied with yourself or your writing when you have fans who are in love with something that you aren’t? Is that going to be fulfilling? I don’t think so.
To that end, I encourage you to make having a good relationship with your writing a top priority. Make it a bigger priority than doing it “right.” Make it a bigger priority than readers happy, or getting published, or being the next hot bestseller. Decide that not giving a shit about your writing is a problem worth solving.
Step #3: Make writing fun again
So you’ve realized you’re bored with your writing, and you’re ready to do something different. How do you reinvigorate your WIP so it draws you in again, or come up with a new idea that gives you that special tingly feeling? Here are a few tips.
Retrace your steps. When was the last time you enjoyed writing, or working on your WIP? Maybe it was chapter four. Or that free verse poem you were scribbling down three months ago. Go back to the fun part. Or try to tap into what made that fun, and rework your current project until it has that same spark. This could involve making scary cuts, trying out unfamiliar techniques, or heading in a whole new direction.
Throw out the rules. Are you writing what you think you “should” write instead of what you actually want to write? Changing directions may force you to confront your fears about writing on topics or with styles that aren’t popular. But if you’re forcing yourself stylistically, plot-wise, or any other way because you think that’s how you’re “supposed to” write, you’re at risk of turning writing into something you dread instead of enjoy.
Go deep. Especially if you’re writing a novel, make sure the story you’re telling has enough of an emotional hook to keep you engaged in the long term. Is the thematic core of your story a fleeting interest, or a lifelong obsession? Going deeper can help you find topics that will hold your interest for the months or even years it will take to finish your story.
Go wild. Maybe you do have an idea that lights your fire, but you’re scared to try it out. It might be an unusual story, a nonlinear narrative, a fairy tale from the perspective of a pumpkin. Whatever it is, it seems a bit… out there. My advice: Do it. Go there. Even if you don’t finish your crazy idea, letting yourself go nuts can help you loosen up the fears and inhibitions that are holding you back. And who knows, you might write the next Ulysses.
Slash words, waste time. Sometimes, writers can sense that they need to take a story in a new direction, or do heavy revisions, in order to bring back the juice. But they’re understandably resistant to cutting scenes, changing course, or starting over, because it feels like a waste of time and effort. But I’ve found that the more you’re willing to let creativity be an inefficient, messy, “time-wasting” process, the easier it will be to make the changes necessary to get your mojo back.
Take a break. Maybe you’re bored because you’re tired, or you’ve been working on this WIP too hard or too long. After some time away from your story (a day, a week, or even a month), your interest might return.
Lastly, I offer you this: Sometimes you’re just tired. That’s okay, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the wrong track. At the same time, I hereby give you permission to write only what completely, endlessly fascinates you–even if it’s not mainstream, even if it breaks writing “rules,” even if everyone but you hates it.
I can’t guarantee that this strategy will lead to fame, money, publication, or a wide readership. But it will help you get over a writing slump, and actually enjoy yourself in the process.
Hope this helps!