The other night, a friend sent me a text. She was having a crisis familiar to anyone who’s ever dabbled in art: “I end up hating whatever I write and I’m so sick of it.” I did my best to assure her that it’s not a rare feeling; in fact, it’s one that I struggle with pretty often. But then she hit me with the next question: “How do you keep going anyway?” It really challenged me. When your brain turns against you and becomes a chorus of hecklers, how do you keep going anyway?
Here are some of the ways that I’ve managed to do just that:
1. Take a step back
The prevailing piece of advice in writing right now is, write anyway. I agree with that for the most part. Turning writing into a habit instead of something done on a whim is a great thing to work toward. However, there’s a point where it becomes useless to keep hitting your head against a brick wall. When you’re starting to get dizzy and concussed, it’s probably best to stop — you’re not getting any stronger by continuing, and it’s clear that your approach to breaking through isn’t working. When your brain gets overloaded with self-loathing in addition to the internal pressure of all the write anyway advice, it can start to short-circuit.
If you’ve been sitting at your computer for an hour without writing anything, it’s a good time to take a step back. Those hecklers in your brain aren’t going to go away the longer you sit there. It’s OK to preserve yourself. Walk away and practice some self-care: do something that distracts you and makes you feel good. Play a game on your phone. Watch a movie. Cuddle your SO or your pet. When the crowd of hecklers has started to thin and quiet down, then you can try again. But there’s no point in forcing yourself to keep going in front of a crowd that only wants to throw tomatoes at you. They’re not going to respect you any more for enduring it, so why not take away their entertainment?
Don’t let writing turn into something you associate with torture. Don’t let writing become something you have to endure. If it’s making you truly miserable, walk away for a while. It will be there when you get back.
2. Talk to a friend
In the last writing post I did, I talked about the importance of beta readers. They’re going to come up again here. There is no one better to talk you through a writing slump than a trusted beta reader.
My beta readers have been in the trenches with me. They’ve seen my work at its earliest and latest stages and given invaluable feedback. When they tell me I don’t suck, I trust them. Oftentimes they’re able to pull out examples and evidence of when and where you weren’t a crappy writer, or help you see the big picture of your story when you’re stuck on a plot detail that’s making you lose your mind. It’s especially validating if your beta reader happens to be a writer as well.
It is essential to get out of your own head once in awhile. We’re writers, and almost all our work is done in there, but it’s an echo chamber. Fear bounces off the walls and becomes loud and infinite. Let someone else’s voice in there to help dampen it.
3. Find your inspiration again
I love making mood boards for my characters. It’s relaxing to scroll through WeHeartIt and Pinterest looking at pretty pictures and finding images that evoke my characters. It helps me feel close to them even when I’m not writing them, and it’s a great way to pass the time until your brain calms down a bit and stops screaming at you. Here’s a mood board I made for Laura:
Some people like making Pinterest boards or playlists, or drawing pictures of their setting, or designing fake book covers. Find a creative way to explore the world you’re writing without actually writing. It’s a great brain break, and often an opportunity to rediscover what inspired you in the first place.
4. Work on your outline
There have been countless times that I’ve been ready to throw in the towel over something stupid, like a piece of dialogue that doesn’t fit, or a transition that I don’t know how to write. What I’ve found is that many times this comes from a problem with the plot, not with the writing. I never stick to my original outline throughout an entire project — characters tend to do what they want, and the plot changes with them. Take another look at your outline, if you have one, and see if things are still going the direction you want them to. Identify the plot’s weaknesses and often you’ll map your way out of a slump.
Don’t have an outline? This is a great spot to make one. Mapping out where you want the story to go will help you figure out what to write now.
5. Write something else
One of the main reasons I started this blog was to have something else to write. Blogging is in an entirely different brain space than novel-writing is for me, but it allows me to take a break without feeling unproductive and beating myself up even more. And, it reminds me of one very important thing: that I love to write. Take a break from the project that’s making you crazy to work on something that does that for you, whether it’s a poem, a short story, or a stream of consciousness.
Writing, like any other art, is work. It takes practice and perseverance, and it’s not always fun. But just because it’s not always fun and perfect doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing, or that you’re not good at it. Take it from this cute little pig:
You’re not a failure because you get frustrated. You’re not a failure because you’re learning. Keep going anyway.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.