Writing Through the Tough Times

There comes a time in every writer’s life – and often several times – that the words don’t flow. When the act of writing is almost physically painful. Maybe it’s because of things happening in our lives that make concentration and writing difficult--one of those “tough times”, as in the illness of a family member, the loss of a family member, or the breakup of a family. Or maybe we just temporarily lose the desire to write. There are also countless other reasons in between. Whatever the cause, we become frozen in our writing, unable to proceed or sometimes even care.

Learning to write through these times and find a way to bring back the spark that led us to writing is an individual thing. One method may work for one writer, but won’t work for another. There are times when we may have to try several methods before we stumble upon what works for each of us. Some of us simply give up and patiently wait until an idea strikes and we find sitting at the keyboard pleasurable again.

If you are a published author with a few, several, or many books to your credit, you may not have the luxury of writing only when the muse is kind and the words are flowing. Deadlines will loom at the worst possible times. In these instances, the writer has no choice but to find a way to write.

But even those working toward their first sale should learn to find a way to write when the desire isn’t there. The day may only be a phone call away when, like those who have sold before have learned, there isn’t an option.

Here are a few suggestions gathered from my own experience and others who have shared theirs for different methods to write through the tough times, whatever they may be.

  • Forget about the work in progress (wip) for a day or two. Find something to take your mind off of it. Read a book, watch a movie, go shopping or even window shopping if funds are low. Do anything that will get your mind off your story. If you have a non-writing friend, go to lunch and try not to talk about writing.

  • Brainstorm with other writers, if possible. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a good brainstorming session, even if it’s for someone else’s book! But what if all your writer friends are online and live far away? Try a chat room or instant messaging. A phone call, if possible, is even better.

  • Don't worry about perfect writing. You can do revisions later. Put a mark where your story takes a different turn than you'd planned (MS Word has a little highlighter that I adore for this!) and keep going. Make a note of what you might need to change in previous pages, but don't make those changes now. Unless you're the type of writer who revises as you write or reading over yesterday's writing and "fixing" before going on), don't go back and read through what you've already written. Just keep going and don't look back, at least for now.

  • If you're stuck, play the "what if" game. Let your mind free-write. Can you think of 5 different things that could happen? How about 10? 20? Make a list, then go through and see which ideas are usable. Give those few a thought and try them out.

  • Consider changing POV or staying in the same one instead of changing. Sometimes we're coming to our story from the wrong character.

  • Try interviewing your characters. If you've never done this, it can feel strange at first, but once you get into it, you'll discover a lot of things that may take your story in a new and interesting direction. An interview can be done verbally and with a tape recorder, if you feel comfortable doing it that way. Or it can be done on the computer. Either way, ask/type the question, then answer/type the question from the character. Start with easy questions and slowly dig a little deeper. As you ask and answer more question, you’ll think of even more to ask. You need to be "in the character's head" for this to work best.

  • Write something completely different. Write a letter to a friend about something other than writing. Journal, if it makes you feel better. Or maybe write that murder scene? More internal editors have been vanquished in this way.

Whatever you do, don't quit!! Keep trying different methods until you find one that works for you. You may also find that, although you’ve found a method once, it may not work the next time, and you may have to go through the list more than once. Remember that if you quit, you'll never know if that next submission would have been The One.

In the past almost ten years since I received The Call, I've been through a divorce, moved four times in the first two years, dealt with the loss of my best writing friend's husband (who was also a close friend) and my mother's death a year later. My daughters have blessed me with five grandchildren in the past 8 years, the last having just had open heart surgery at the age of four weeks. The majority of those times I've been on deadlines. I'm living proof it can be done. It also may be the reason for my ditziness. :)

While life changing events are a definite reason to give writing a short rest, be sure not to make it a permanent one. If you're writing on deadline--whether self-imposed or contractual--make a schedule, either with a daily page goal or set chapter goals. If you can get ahead of your schedule, time off can easily be taken. Remember to be kind to yourself. Rest, exercise, and healthy eating can go a long way to help combat the stress, whatever the cause, that keeps you from writing.


Joan Vincent said...

A post full of great ideas, Rox! I had thought of some of the ways to gain a fresh prospective but not all. I'm adding the new-to-me ones to my repertoire of things to try.
Your last two sentences are extremely important. You have to take care of yourself to do your best at anything.

Rox Delaney said...

Joan, I have to admit that I should often take my own advice, especially regarding those last two sentences!

I've learned to make myself write, even when it's the last thing I want to do. It's that JUST DO IT thing. The words written might be dreck, but just the act of writing them is forward motion. Once that motion is begun, it's much easier to keep going, no matter what's going on.

Reese Mobley said...

Great post, Roxann. Very motivating. I know from experience that the longer you're away from writing the harder it is to get back into it. Positive attitudes and positive feedback really makes a difference. Thanks.

Jeannie said...

Very though provoking, Rox. I'm a great believer in the idea that consistency brings success, but it's a philosophy I have a great deal of trouble following.

Sometimes I think I'm like the little guy in the comic strip Li'l Abner. The one who had the storm cloud over his head that followed him around and ruined his luck. I think I can't get a break.

Your post has given me some ideas to try to keep the writing going. Some days I actually think about quitting. But I don't know if I can do that because I'm impelled to write about something.

Does anybody have any tips for writing when you're dealing with chronic pain? Some days I hurt so bad that I can put two coherent sentences together. Those are the days that really stink for me.

snwriter52 said...

Rox I like your motivation techinques. If writing is a real desire, I believe a writer will find a way to keep wrtiing. As I've said so many times, bringing characters, places and a believeable story to life is my passion. No way will I give up. Where would those characters in my head go? They would be lost. :)

Penny Rader said...

Rox, your post really spoke to me. Writing has been a tremendous struggle for me over the past few years. And, I must confess, I have been stressing myself out re: the writing that I'm not getting done. I've considered giving it up, but it never completely goes away, even though I'm not getting words on paper. Confessing that is probably career suicide. Probably would be smarter to have made this an anonymous post, huh.

Rox Delaney said...

Don't worry, Penny. Everyone goes through it at one time or another. Sometimes giving up seems like the best thing to do. It isn't. Continuing through tough stuff means sitting down to write and focusing on that. I know, it's hard to do. But once you get into your story, everything else disappears, at least for a while. And that can be the saving grace for sanity. :)