Sometimes I find myself in a writing rut. The rut can happen for any number of reasons – maybe I’ve just finished something and haven’t yet started on something new or maybe I’m deep in the middle of something and I can’t see where I’m supposed to go next. Or maybe I can see where I’m supposed to go next and that terrifies me.
Whatever the reason, if you’re in a writing rut today, or this week, or this month, one of these tips might just help you climb your way out…
- Have a routine
For me unstructured time can be hard – especially when it comes to writing. The idea of a whole day stretching out ahead – or God forbid a whole week – can be daunting so I need to break it down, to get small. A routine helps me with this. Right now, working on my new novel, my routine involves getting to Brooklyn to begin work (I live in the Upper West Side of Manhattan). I’m not sure why I need to be in Brooklyn to write, but it doesn’t matter, my job right now is to trust this instinct and follow it. And having this routine helps a lot because on the days when I wake up with nothing to write about, the days when I’d rather clean the bathroom grouting than write, I don’t need to write straight away, I only need to do the next right thing: Get on the subway. Read my book. Get to my coffee shop. Open my laptop. And if I can get myself right there, in that spot with the laptop open, I’m more than halfway towards getting something down on the page.
- Break it
Routines are made to be broken. Or is that rules? Either way, the point is that sometimes when I’ve had the same routine for a while, to get out of my rut I might need to change it up. For me, breaking my routine is an invitation to get imaginative about where and when and how I write. Going on a journey somewhere inspires me, I love writing on trains or jotting down notes while staring out a bus window. It doesn’t have to be a Greyhound bus across America, it can be taking the DART all the way to the end of the line, getting out and wandering around. Being somewhere new helps me to see things in a different way, to notice things. It helps me pay attention. Which brings me to my next point.
- Be where your feet are
When I am writing, I am trying to create a scene and a situation and a moment that the reader is so present in, it becomes more present than the moment they are actually in. To have any hope of doing this, I need first to be present to myself. To free my mind and my imagination, I have to first be grounded. I work on this aspect of my writing in lots of ways but the most successful is probably my daily meditation practice. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t sit cross legged statue still for hours. But I do take five minutes before I leave the house every day to meditate. And on the days where I can’t spare even five minutes, I know those are the days when I need to take ten.
We are taught to think big, to have great vision for our work and this is important. But so too are the small goals, the ones that get us to the end of a page, to the end of a paragraph, to the end of a sentence. For a long time when I was working on my first novel I didn’t call it a novel. That seemed too scary, too big – who was I to write a novel? In writing classes I muttered about the “long short story” I was working on, eventually admitting it might be “a longer piece of fiction” than that.
Even today, three novels later, sitting down to start a new book is intimidating and my way in is to set small goals – to write a short scene or a conversation between two characters or to answer three questions about my story. If I set myself a goal to write 500 words I might double that, but that’s not the point. The point is that when it’s just me and my computer screen the goal needs to feel achievable. It needs to feel that even on my worst day, I have a chance of meeting it.
So, those are my tips for this week, why not try them on and see if any work for you? And just in case you find yourself in a rut next Monday again, pop back here to writing.ie where I’ll be sharing four more.
(c) Yvonne Cassidy