Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Getting Out of a Rut

Getting started writing again after the long Christmas break has been difficult; moving past all the admin I need to catch up with, organising the family, the gray weather and a general feeling of malaise and being unfocussed. I haven't been able to attend a writing group in ages because of illness, cancellation, house guests. All just excuses, however legitimate they may be.

It's easier to edit, to submit to magazines, to write this blog, to do organisational work. It all needs to be done, but for my own writing mental health I need to be putting new words on a blank page. I have the time, a new notebook waiting for me, two poems I need to finish, but I have no new ideas and no motivation.

What is your motivation? It's not always clear. Some writers require a goal to aim for: the next project, a deadline, a collection to finish. I have those. Some are pushed from behind: a need to say something, a character that demands to be heard, a poem ready to be born. This is how I ususally work, but I'm not feeling the pressure at the moment. So I need to step out of my normal routine to shake something new loose.

How do you find motivation when it's lacking? Writer's block is the grand, scary term often used. It can be a problem for some writers. Sometimes when you finish a piece, it's hard to get going again. I find that after I finish a draft of a novel, I've run out of energy to start something new. I do need some time to relax and reset my mind. I've reached that point with my poetry. I've basically completed all the poems I had planned, so am scrabbling around for new ideas. 

Even mid-project when the writing has been flowing well you can just stall. It can be your brain sabotaging your work by being overly self-critical or just anxious about what you're trying to say. Then you just need to ignore the voice of your internal critic and just keep writing. 

Sometimes the piece you're trying to write just isn't working and you need to take a step back to evaluate. You can let it simmer unheeded for a bit and work on something different, but if you leave it for too long it can be very difficult to get started again. You can also try turning it upside down and approaching it from a totally different angle. 

There are lots of writing exercises to help push past being stuck or writer's block, but it starts with putting those first words down. They can be gobblygook to begin with, just to grease the engine a bit. Scribble them on a piece of scrap so you can immediately throw them out so you're not burdened with the idea of them having to be perfect or even readable.

Write lists if you're not ready for full sentences yet. List your character's favourite places or their favourite music and then the next day pick one of those to write a simple scene with. Take that list of 'what I want to write' and bluntly write the synopsis for each one, five or ten sentences as if you were telling a friend what your next poem or story is going to be about.

Write about why you can't write. What's holding you back? Rant about the Blue Monday, gray January weather. Go off on the fact that you have a mountain of ironing to do or you haven't translated yet another medical report from Finnish. Tell how you've painted your character into a corner, that their actions aren't believable, that you've fallen out of love with them. Try and find solutions, even ones that are implausible and fun just to get you out of the rut. Have an angel pull your character from their conundrum and take them on a 'this is your life' type adventure. Write your suddenly boring character as if they've just arrived on the scene; someone exotic and mysterious. Get to know her again from scratch.

Play with words: write down ten verbs connected with one occupation (like mountain climbing: scramble, hoist, perch) and ten nouns connected with another (DIY: paint, hammer, drywall) and 10 adjectives from another (cooking: moist, rising, fried) put them together in grammatically corrected but crazy sentences and then try and turn them into a poem. Find 10 new words from a dictionary and use them in a writing practice.

Rewrite a poem or scene where you're stuck from a different character's point of view. Describe the event from the end first. Rewrite a poem by replacing every verb and adjective with its opposite.

Give yourself deadlines or word limits: a poem a week, 1500 new words by next writing group. Arrange writing dates with a friend to write new material and to share it afterwards. Schedule yourself strict writing time, no screens, no answering the phone. Pen and paper and an hour to write. Go someplace unusual and write as if you were taking snapshots of the place.

Think about what pushes or pulls your writing along. Sometimes revisiting old techniques work, other times you need to discover new ones. 

Good luck and wish me some too. Tomorrow I have scheduled writing time and will take one of my prompts books with me to see if I can reignite the spark. 

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