By Ali Shaw, Executive Editor
So frequently these days, I hear from clients and writer friends that they feel stuck. The book they were happily working on for the past few years got put on hold in March or April, like so much of our lives did at the beginning of the pandemic, and now it has transformed into a cement block, binding their hands and weighing them down.
Some people are binge-watching sitcoms instead. Some people are staring out their windows. Some are wiling away the time on social media or news sites. No matter how they’re spending their time, their minds are running on a loop: “I should be writing.”
Yet most people I’ve talked to who are experiencing this have given it a good, hard try. They blocked out time on their calendars. They sat down to write. They may have even bought a new notebook or laptop as incentive. But overwhelmingly, from what I hear, their ideas are far away, through a fog, one word each on a distant mountaintop, and the work to retrieve them while carrying a cement block is just too monumental.
If you’re experiencing this too, first, know that this is not you. It’s not your fault. It’s not some inherent flaw in you. Just as fatigue, illness, and anxiety can make even walking around the block difficult, so can these ailments affect our creativity, our focus, our articulation. And many, many writers are experiencing it.
Say it out loud to yourself: “It’s not me. It’s not my fault. I’m not alone.”
Second, try these tips to help you get back to the craft a little at a time:
1. Lower the Bar: I’ve heard often that writers are blocking out an hour each day to sit down to write. Or weeklong retreats. Or some other chunk of time that might have been a treat before COVID and has now become unbearable pressure. But times have changed. I recommend lowering the bar waaaay down. No, lower. Really.
Block out just 8 minutes per day to write. Set an alarm so you’re doing it at the same time every day, and set another alarm for 8 minutes later. I promise you, this is plenty.
During your 8 minutes, write if you feel the words coming. Maybe it’s one sentence. Maybe it’s a whole page. Think about your project even if you don’t have words to put on the page. When the second alarm goes off, you get to decide if you want to keep going or if you’re all done for the day. Either way is a win.
2. Do Spin-Off Projects: There are so many writing-adjacent activities that can help your writing practice and book. If the words are spread out across mountaintops that you just can’t reach right now, that’s okay. Make sketches related to your book. Draw out a plot arc or a character map. Doodle a comic strip in which readers ask you questions about your book topic and you answer their questions with ease. Do you see what I’m getting at here?
It’s time to play!
Nobody ever has to see these pieces, unless you want them to, but if you allow yourself to play, after a few days, you’ll be surprised how much closer those coveted words will be.
3. Just Say Yes: In improv (or improvisational comedy), there’s a rule to always say yes. Whatever the situation on the stage is, you play into it. There is a place for this in your writing practice too! I often see writers chafe against this idea, because what if following a harebrained idea for the day leads to a long detour that doesn’t even fit in their book?
Ah, but remember that right now, the goal is not necessarily to map out the most direct route from A (the book idea) to B (the finished book). The goal is to get in touch with your writer’s intuition again.
Plus, I’ve seen a lot of those detour pieces become the start of new books down the road, or spin-off magazine articles or stories that can work to promote the book during the publicity campaign.
So where is your muse trying to take you? Say yes!
Do you have other tips to add to the list? We’d love to hear them on our site or social media.
Ali Shaw is currently writing two books, two stories, and one video series. At each writing session, she asks her writer’s intuition which project is drawing her most for the day, and that’s the one she focuses on, little by little. Anne Lamott encourages us to take it “bird by bird,” and Ali just might be nurturing a jungle full of birds, with all projects coming to fruition at relatively the same time, but she’s decided that’s okay.