Monday, November 11, 2013

When Your Story Takes a Vacation - 5 Ways to Cope

This is probably not the time to talk about this subject, especially while so many people are busy working on NaNoWriMo projects, but we have to face it: sometimes, the writing won’t come.

There are some writing experts that will tell you to write through this moment to get back to the story. I’m not really a fan of that suggestion because it can lead to a lot of frustration and negative feelings when/if the story continues to stall.

Writing is mental; it’s also physical, emotional, psychological, and for many people, spiritual. When problems arise in one or more of these cogs, writing can stall.

Sure, you can push your way through and perhaps suffer agitation, frustration, and anxiety over the lack of writing.

However, you can also tell yourself, IT’S OK, and work in other areas to keep your creative juices flowing and ready for when your story returns.

So, what can you do when the story packs its bags and flees?

Here are a few suggestions.

Play with your characters. In my last BRP piece, I talk about dating your antagonist. You do know you can date all your characters, right? And no one will think you’re fast and loose if you do. Take them outside of the story and share a drink and a talk with them. Make them your friends. Perhaps in doing so, they will want to come along and finish your story with you. You can also take your characters and place them in a location they’ve never been before, a place totally outside the realm of your story. How do they interact with the setting, the locals? Tapping into a new facet of your characters might spark you to return to your story. Play psychiatrist and invite your characters to a group counseling session. How do they interact when in a room with people they love, like, hate? What questions might you ask that can ignite tension, laughter, romance among the characters? Sometimes, it’s not about forcing yourself to plow through the writing; it’s about having some fun in different ways with your characters so that you feel good enough to jump back into the story.

Entertain another creative outlet. Writers are creative creatures, and often, writing is just one of the creative endeavors that they do well. Are you a painter? Do you crochet? Do you enjoy taking pictures? Do you enjoy web designing or creating graphics? Though I’m not great at it, I love taking pictures, whether on my phone or with my camera. It’s amazing how looking through that lens allows you to focus on the most minute, exquisite things that others might fail to see. Taking pictures and seeing the stories within them sparked me to start SNAPS: 1000 Words, a place where I and others write short fiction and non-fiction based off pictures. When the story stalls, it’s important to stay creative in some capacity. Keeping your creative muscles warm may help bring your story back quicker than expected. It might also help you in creating new story ideas.

Move! No, not to a new home. That’s a bit extreme. I’m talking about moving your BODY. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to take the focus off the writing and the creativity and get back to YOU. When we exercise, these lovely little things called endorphins can “ trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as "euphoric." That feeling, known as a "runner's high," can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life” (“Exercise and Depression,” WebMD). Five months ago, I took up walking, and now, I do it every day. There are many benefits of the “while walking” time, to include space to think, to see, to feel, to be in your surroundings and experience that, but there are big benefits to the after effects. Usually, for a few hours after a good walk (or other form of workout), the body is nice and warm and thrums on the endorphins, the mind is clearer, you feel good for taking some time out for your well-being, and these things can lead to the flow of good story energy, too. Earlier, I talked about those mental, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual cogs within us. Exercise can help to elevate their levels, and the good vibes you feel from a good workout can spark new ideas and perhaps even help you get back into your story.

Practice different forms of writing. Do you typically write novels? Perhaps try your hand at some flash fiction. Write poetry. Write an essay or commentary. How might your story look as a ten-minute play? A short script? Sometimes, the jolt that occurs from trying a different writing form can be enough to push you back into your story. Keeping a journal is another form of writing than can help, too. Currently, I have four active journals: exercise/health, WANT to-dos, scriptures/faith, and good things. A couple of them I write in every day, but all of them receive some love at least once a week. Even though you’re not writing your story, you are writing, which is sometimes the key to getting back into your story. Often, especially when I’m working in my faith journal, I will come across a scripture I have to write in my journal, but it also gives me much food for thought, which moves me back into at least thinking about a story of mine to work on. Like the “creative outlet” suggestion above, this suggestion keeps the creative muscles warm and ready for a storytelling return.

Read. Can you ever go wrong with reading? If you can, I don’t want to know about it. A good story immerses you into setting, character, tension, action in ways that will push all the reasons you can’t seem to write out of your mind. There have to be some “creative endorphins” that are released when you exercise your mind with reading a good story, and those good feelings can be used to spark you into returning to YOUR story.

How do you keep your creative juices flowing when a story stalls?



Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both academically and creatively while also interviewing women writers on her popular blog, ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. She's the author of mysteries, Death at the Double Inkwell and its sequel, Into the Web, the short story "I Wanna Get Off Here" (in the short story collection, The Corner Cafe), and the romantic dramedy novella, Saying No to the Big O. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her Website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University ... and trying to find the time to WRITE.

24 comments :

  1. All good suggestions,Shon. I agree with you on the idea of writing through a dry spell. A lot of times I have a chapter beyond where I am in the story and write that. If not, I'll go on to something else. I've taken up crocheting again, for something to relax my mind, and use my talents in a different way.
    Poetry is another writing exercise that I like to go to when other things aren't working.
    Time is really the cure. That and not letting it bug you when the dry spell comes on. It's telling you you do need a break of some sort.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comments, Lorelei. You are right about working to not let it bug you when the dry spell comes. I've had writer friends who allowed these dry spells to drive them crazy.

      Delete
  2. I tell myself there are so many other 'tasks' that are part of the writing business, as long as I'm doing something writerly, it's OK. Write a blog post. Do a critique for a partner. Go back and fill in all the placeholders in the WIP. Research something you'll need for the book.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those are good suggestions, too, Terry. If you're doing something writerly, it's OK. I like that.

      Delete
  3. I find that reading a really good book inspires me to keep writing. I also make jewelry or do other craft projects to get the creative mojo back. Sometimes you just need a little distance. It's really hard to unplug and just be alone with your thoughts these days, but that is where inspiration usually strikes for me: while driving in the car, sitting in a waiting room, taking a bath. The characters are usually hovering nearby ready to make an appearance when you give them a chance to be heard.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Reading your comments, Diana, made me think about the whole losing keys scenario where you look all over the place for them, going insane when you can't find them and the minute you take a breath and stop being frantic, you find them: right in front of your face. I think that's important: taking a breath, not being frantic, focusing on something else, and being surprised at how fast the characters and story can come back to you.

      Delete
  4. What a terrific post and just what I needed as I struggle with creative writing just now. I do love the thought of releasing "creative endorphins" by reading. That is what I have always felt when reading a really well-written book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comments, Maryann. I feel the same way about reading. It often sparks me with new ideas and thoughts that put me back onto the writing lane.

      Delete
  5. A full stop in your writing often means that your subconscious knows that you've made a misstep and until you figure out what it is you'll not be able to move forward.

    I look at my original notes to see if I've strayed from my vision of the novel or the structure.

    I also will start at the beginning and read until the stalled point to spot problems and rebuild my momentum.

    ReplyDelete
  6. All great advice. We all have to find what works for us, and sometimes different things work at different times. Often, for me, it's getting outside and taking a walk or going to sit and drink in nature. Sometimes it's writing out of sequence--skip to a scene ahead of the one you're stuck on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Heidi! Getting outside is definitely one that I enjoyed. I always find myself smiling and taking in EVERYTHING, and it helps.

      Delete
  7. I walk. I've also got into the car and drove. Either method works for me, although the former is better for the environment! I've also found resolutely *not* thinking about it forces the solution to pop into my head. When my writing takes a vacation it usually means I've lost my map.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now that's true about the resolutely *not* thinking about it.

      Delete
  8. I either exercise (walking is especially good) or doing something else creative as you suggest. Knitting, drawing, anything that gets me into a "zone" that's not so conscious. (I don't mean getting plastered and passing out!) You didn't mention meditation, but for those who practice it, that kind of time-out is very helpful too. Good post, Shon.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Cleaning - especially washing the dishes sometimes helps! I always think of Agatha Christie plotting murder while she's up to her elbows in suds. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm surprised I didn't mention cleaning because that is SO one that I do when I need a break. Often get some good ideas while doing it, too!

      Delete
  10. 'My story is on vacation' sounds soooo much better than 'I'm too lazy to write' ... thank you Shon!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I added a photo because that exercise in nature option just hit it for me. Also I'm still using those Leslie Sansone YouTube videos you mentioned - when it's too windy and cold outside.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have a bunch of practical ideas for when you get stuck not mentioned here—will write a post with them and link back to this one! Great topic, Shon. Of the options you listed here, I'm a huge fan of asking my characters what the problem is and how to solve it, journaling in their voices, then walking to stir the creative juices.

    ReplyDelete
  13. My story is taking a vacation, mainly because I can't seem to concentrate when my house is in chaos, with painting, carpeting, and long overdue fix-ups happening!

    Morgan Mandel

    ReplyDelete
  14. All great suggestions, Shon. Might I also suggest that editing someone else's manuscript can be an incentive to get back to one's own?

    ReplyDelete
  15. These are great suggestions! I've used some of these myself, and it's great when the words start flowing again. :)

    ReplyDelete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...