Climbing the Wall of Creative Slumping
Folks, I have been slumping… hard. The first quarter of this year was really creatively productive for me. I finished a full revision, plotted out a new book, and slammed through 15K of that new manuscript before SPLAT! I hit a wall.
This wall, to be specific:
Looks nice, right? Picturesque. I should have seen it coming, but I thought I was just trotting out in the countryside, and that this wall (fence, maybe? I digress…) would, oh, disappear, or move, maybe.
WRONG. This is the Wall of Creative Slumping. When creative types, such as myself, run into this wall, all productivity ceases. The Wall of Creative Slumping uses, as its energy force, the will/desire/motivation of (in my case) writers. If it didn’t have people continually running into it, it would just fall down.
I’ve run into the wall periodically over my years of writing and landed in creative slumps that have lasted for various periods of time. What I’ve found is that I can trace the signs that indicate I’m about to run right into the Wall. I think these are probably different for everybody, but my big “WARNING! WALL OF CREATIVE SLUMPING AHEAD!” signs are these…
1. Right Project, Wrong Time.
This is my most recent sign that I missed. Well, partially missed. To give myself some credit, I felt that this might be the case. April was going to be a busy, busy month, and in those last few weeks of March when I was gearing up for Camp NaNoWriMo, I wasn’t feeling it. It’s not that I didn’t want to write the manuscript — the project is TOTALLY right for my next novel. But the timing… not so much.
2. Burn Out
I love writing, but if all I do in my spare time is write, write, write, I get really burned out on it. I just don’t want to do it anymore. Our brains get tired of repetitive action, even if that action we’re repeating is something we enjoy. As much as I believe in the “write every day” advice in theory, I think it doesn’t work for everybody. It certainly doesn’t work for me 365 days a year. Some weeks it’s great, others it’s the worst thing.
3. Shaken Confidence
Undeniably the most emotional of my three reasons for hitting that creative slump, this is also the one I fall subject to most often. All it takes is one incident to convince me this dream of mine is crazy, that getting published is too hard/unlikely/impossible, that I am a bad writer, that writing is impractical… the list goes on.
So what now? We’ve run into the Wall of Creative Slumping. We’re sitting there at the base of it, crying or laughing or hugging ourselves or staring at the sky and pondering existence. Or all of those. Next?
Now, all I can do is share with you my methods for climbing that Wall of Creative Slumping. Your methods might be entirely different. I think it’s crucially important that each writer develop a game plan for what to do when we hit these periods. It’s natural to get into these phases of low motivation and productivity, but we’ve got to pull ourselves out of them.
1. Rekindle Motivation
Easier said than done, right? Trust me, I get it. But take some time and really think about why you want to be a writer. I think about how important books were to me growing up, how they shaped me as a person, and how I really want to be a part of that same cycle for generations to come. Tricky part is that can’t really happen without me actually writing…
One of my go-to ways to get my motivation back is to read interviews with my favorite authors. Hearing other people talk about their passion for writing reminds me that I have that passion, too. Sure, I’m not published yet, but it’s a slog we all face. Plus, nothing like a NYT Best Selling author telling you that you can do it to feel like maybe you can do it.
2. Change Your Routine
I think creative slumps can also come as a result of boredom. So change it up! Write in the morning instead of the evening. Write by hand instead of typing. Churn out some short stories instead of working on the novel, or draft some poems. Get those creative juices flowing in a new context and see what happens!
Even though I am not a strict follower of the “write every day” regime, I will say that routine among creatives is important. I just buck against the typical routine of sit down, write every day. Come up with your own routine, whatever works for you, and stick to it, but don’t let the input of others sway you. If you know that writing every day works for you, do it. If not, do something else. I brainstorm, scribble in my journal, talk to my characters in my head, etc., every day. It’s not writing, but it’s in that vein.
3. Rid Yourself of Negative Influences
If you’re like me and emotions can put you in a slump, as much as you possibly can, get rid of those negative influences. This could be social media, familial advice, writer frenemies, or a whole host of other things. GET RID OF THEM! Surround yourself with positive voices and forces, because this path we’ve chosen is incredibly difficult and disheartening. We need all the encouragement we can get.
4. Take a Break
Wait… what? But isn’t the creative slump a break? To me, it’s not. It’s more of a Pit of Despair in which I Question Everything and Don’t Get Anything Done. What I mean by “take a break” is literally do something else. Read. If you’re reading already, pick something outside of your genre. Give in to that Netflix binge compulsion. Take a walk. Bake a cake. Use your free time to do something that isn’t your creative goal. And don’t feel guilty about doing that!
I always say (and will repeat this until I die) that writers are not machines. Anyone approaching the activity of writing with that mindset is making a huge mistake. We are not programmable — there is no series of buttons you can push to optimize productivity and creativity and ensure success. This also means that you can’t just work without ceasing and always get desirable results.
Writers are human beings, so treat yourself like one! Don’t let yourself feel bad for not using every single spare moment for writing, because the writing process is ever-occurring. The writing process is also impossible without experiences that have nothing to do with writing. So get out there and bake a souffle! Paint a landscape! Garden! Take a karate class! Go spelunking! And never apologize for it.
Oof. You knew it had to come to this point, right? You really can’t fully get over the Wall of Creative Slumping without getting back into the act of writing. Look whatever project sent you into the Wall right in the eye, and tackle it again. You. Can. Do. It.
I think the hallmark of a true writer is not that he or she never gets into creative slumps, but that he or she always gets out of them. You’re not less of a writer because you have moments of zero motivation or inspiration. You’re only less of a writer if you let those moments rule your creative life and stop you forever.
I’m heading into Step 5 right now. I’m hoping to get over the Wall and see this:
I know what you’re thinking… we were just in the countryside and now we’re on a beach? Hey, it’s a fantasy world.
Copyright © Teresa Morse 2015