Saturday, June 22, 2013

How do you keep going when the spark is gone?

A reader and fellow writer sent me a message on Facebook asking for a little professional advice.  I thought I'd turn my answer into a blog since the question has larger ramifications than just writing and I thought it would also help others who might have this problem.  

The reader's question was (and I'm paraphrasing):

During the past year, I've struggled to focus on my writing.  Life has intruded into my work, forcing me to push it to the back burner while I deal with other issues.  Unfortunately when I do find the time to write, I find myself becoming bored or easily distracted.  I'm close to calling it quits, but I want to write.  Do you have any advice?

I have had this problem before.  The world is creeping in and I'm busy trying to balance family problems, job, finding a new job, paying bills, the car is breaking down, my love life is in shambles, my health is fading, and on and on and on.  You get to be so busy putting out fires and shoring up your life that there's nothing left of you when you find five minutes to sit down behind a computer and write.  But I don't think it's time to call it quits....  If I had, there never would have been a Dark Days series, let alone an Asylum Tales series.

Puppy Max playing tennis
The first thing that you may need to do is take care of yourself.  The stress has stretched you.  If you can't relax behind the keyboard, you're not going to be able to flip on your imagination and write.  All those stresses are going to be running through your head rather than your characters.  Get away from the keyboard.  You have my permission to take a break (even if it has been several months since you last wrote).  You're not on a deadline, right?  There isn't some sword hanging over your head demanding that you write?  Good.  Walk away (briefly).  Go do something fun.  Preferably something active to get the blood flowing.  Go to the zoo or an amusement park.  Go to a museum.  Go to a park and walk around.  Stretch out on a large blanket and read a book you've been wanting to read but haven't found the time.  Go for a walk.  The key is, take some time for yourself.  Why?

  1. The reduction of stress will get your imagination pumping again.
  2. Being out and moving opens you up to new experiences, which in turn gets your imagination pumping.
  3. Relaxing helps to recharge your batteries and put a smile on your face
So what do you do if you're relaxed, but you're still bored with what you're working on.  Well, that could be a second problem entirely.  That could be the project you're working on has either:
  1. Lost its initial direction and gone astray
  2. Isn't as strong as you initially thought
If you're more interested in just getting the writing flowing again, my advice is to put that project aside for now.  Give it a break.  Your stress in life has now leaked into your current project and you now stress about being able to write every time you pick it up.  Stress does not create words.

You need to open up a blank page and work on something else for a time.  Drag out something you abandoned years ago or play with something completely new.  Tell yourself: "This is just for fun.  No one is going to ever see this.  This is just for me."  Create a world and play.  Write some fan fiction if that's what floats your boat.  Play in a genre you've never worked in before.  The key is to get some words on the page.  That will break through the stress of not writing and you'll be proud of your accomplishment. 

Sometimes the key is just breaking through the dam to get the words flowing again.  When I'm feeling stressed about a project and can't get anything to start flowing, I pull out a side project and play with it.  After a few days, I'm usually eager to jump back into the original project because I have a new idea.

And that's the key: a new idea.  Don't jump back to the original because you feel like you have to but because you've got a new idea that you're dying to try out on the page. 

If you don't have a new idea and are still bored with the original project, but are determined to complete it, then we're going to have to triage the story and complete a little surgery to find the underlying problem.  However, this post has gone on long enough, so I'll save that section for Monday.


Jessica@a GREAT read said...

Very nice words Jocelynn! I suffer from the same problems at times and these words just make me feel better! My mind is always working on ideas though, just gotta get myself to the computer.

But yes, very much appreciate these words as well!

Jocelynn Drake said...

Thanks! I'm hoping to dive into the second half of this blog post this week. I'm trying to play catch-up a little bit while on vacation. :)