Today, I'm thrilled to have Esther Jones over for some demon hunting... or tenth dimensional physics. Whatever she's in the mood for. Esther is part of the writing duo Frog and Esther Jones. Along with their Gift of Grace books (Grace Under Fire and Coup de Grace), they also run the Friday Indie Review. Check all of it out, and check out Esther's tips for getting out of those nasty creativity droughts.
Voss asked me for a guest post on writing a while back, and since this is something I’ve struggled with recently, I thought it would be a good topic to talk about while it’s still fresh.
As writers, we’ve all had the weeks (or months, sadly sometimes years) where we just don’t feel those creative ideas percolating like they used to. Personally, I’ve been fighting with a creative dry spell on and off for what feels like, oh let’s say, the last millennia or so.
Now, I know that’s not factually true, because (for example) I’ve had short stories and a novel come out in the interim.
But while standing in the middle of my own personal creative famine— where no new ideas for stories are showing themselves— it can be really difficult to remember the times when a story just walked up and walloped me behind the eyes without warning.
Here’s a secret: Every writer goes through periods of feast or famine like this. It’s what you do to drag yourself out of the famine and keep writing that makes the difference. Or at least that’s how it goes in my (admittedly somewhat limited) experience.
Unfortunately, I am not one of the characters I write, and there is no summons or plot device that will make the ideas instantly come flocking back—like simply swiping blood across a rune. But there are things I can do to go back to my roots and remember what inspires me.
To drag myself out of the hole, I need to remember what I love about writing, and what I am trying to do by telling stories to myself and others.
Now that last paragraph sounds pretty great in theory. But what does it mean?
I’m getting to that, I promise.
First off there are some very simple questions I need to ask myself.
11) What inspires me and urges me write in the first place?
For me, it’s always about an idea, and the characters that spring up in my head as a result of that idea… Which means if an idea isn’t coming, then I’m pretty stuck, right? Well, not necessarily.
22) Is the reason I’m having trouble writing due to something in my environment? Is it something I can fix? If it isn’t, what can I do to lessen the impact it’s having on my creative psyche?
Sometimes when I’m having trouble writing, it really is because something in my vicinity is disrupting my focus. It doesn’t have to be something big either. It can be subtle.
For instance, I usually listen to music as I write. Occasionally, I’ve found my music clashed with the thought those wily and secretive creative-imps were trying put together in my head. As soon as I turned the music off, the scene actually started behaving and flowing naturally.
If you’ve eliminated all the distractions, and you’re still staring at a blank screen, continue on to the next question.
33) Am I just having general focus/self-confidence issues? If so, maybe it’s time to go get some love from people who enjoy reading my work. Frog and I have often talked about how it’s necessary to have someone with a critical eye look at your work. But sometimes it’s just as important to take the time to remember that you don’t suck. There has to be balance.
44) What do I love reading? What do I love writing?
It can also be important to remember what I relish about books. Sometimes, I’m a little embarrassed to admit my true tastes. They’re not always highbrow, or deep, or as literary as I think they should be. Am I holding myself back from an idea, because I think other people wouldn’t like it, even though I (secretly) think it’s pretty cool?
Maybe it’s time to get down with writing some pure popcorn fiction, or just allow myself to write something crazy that I don’t think anyone else would ever want to read. Those are usually the times where I surprise myself.
Finally, if I still feel like I’m struggling, dehydrated and devoid of hope in the event horizon of a blackhole that (once upon a time) used to be a desert, I ask myself one more question:
55) Where can I go or who can I enlist who will be willing to creatively engage with me?
Don’t forget the resource you have in your fellow writers and friends. No writer is an island; we all stand on the shoulders of the writers who came before us, and the hand-in -hand with the writers we read and interact with. If I can’t figure out what I should be doing on my own, it’s time to go looking for advice and other authors who have been there and clawed their way out.
Or I might even just immerse myself in the energy that comes along with being at a writer’s retreat or gathering. Sometimes it ok to stop freaking out about being in the dry spell and just enjoy my friends and the craft of writing.
It’s always ok to step back and recharge. Once you’ve done that, go back and start again—at question 1, if you need to. Hopefully you won’t need to.
You can do it. You can make it out of a creative dry spell, no matter how dire it seems. But you can’t give up, and then you can’t give up some more. Like everything else in writing, overcoming a slump or lack of ideas relies on your own persistence and will to keep trying to move forward.