As a writer, one of the hardest things to do is push yourself into writing when you’re behind. When the muse isn’t sitting on your shoulder, pushing you onwards, it can be really stressful trying to push yourself to produce the next Mona Lisa. Well, Mona Lisa of writing.
Here are the strategies I’ve developed. Note that they won’t work for everyone, and sometimes don’t even work for me.
Make sure you’re comfortable: Some people work best pen-to-paper, some prefer the clackclackclack of the keyboard. Some people like to edit onscreen, while some need to print out their writing to edit it properly. And even if you’re working in the right medium, the circumstances of your writing position can dull your writing instincts.
For example, when shifting over to a laptop, it took me months to get comfortable with a shallow keyboard. Everything about it was inconvenient at first: my timing was off, and raising my wrists to almost be flat with my fingers felt hopelessly awkward. But now, my hands are used to the way this laptop works, and my typing speed has reached the point where there’s almost no loss of speed between laptop and desktop. For another example, I recently realised that I was pretty sensitive to how high or low my laptop was on a table. At certain desks, I work at maximum potential, while a lot of other places slow me down.
Consider the medium you’re using (notebook, laptop, desktop, chalkboard…), where and how you’re positioned, the light level, the level of mess around you, the amount of noise you prefer. Also, make sure you’re physically comfortable, whether that’s with a full stomach, or hungry and snacking as you go, whether your clothes are ill-fitting, etc. All of this depends on how sensitive you are, but on a bad day, switching to pajama pants could be the thing that removes your writers block.
Talk to other writers: Having friends who are writers on hand is one of the best ways to get your creative juices flowing. Even if it’s just a ‘here’s how my project’s going, how is yours?’, sometimes that’s all you need. If it’s a writer you regularly collaborate with, even better, as your brain should naturally open up when you talk to them. Find people who are genuinely interested in your projects and their development.
Find the right stimulus: Sometimes, you need a kick in the pants to get you going. For some people, that’s a good night’s sleep. For some, like a handful of Hollywood showrunners, that stimulus is cocaine. (Not recommended.) For me, though I don’t necessarily recommend it to everyone, the best stimulus is setting aside time for an all-nighter and downing an energy drink. The big dose of caffeine kicks my creativity into overdrive, and helps me get over any smaller discomforts that are distracting me. After a dry spell, one all-nighter can get me through an entire draft, if I’m in the right conditions to make full use of it.
Of course, some stimuli are less dangerous than others. I’ve found things like browsing Twitter, watching TV/movies and blogging also work to rejuvenate my creativity, to some degree. And one of the best is listening to music, particularly while looking out the window of a moving vehicle.
Have backup projects on hand: This one is a weird, weird rule I’ve found to be true almost every time it happens: the moment I have a deadline on one project, I’m suddenly creatively recharged on something I’d given up on months ago. By focusing all of my pressure and stress onto the project with the actual due date, I’m no longer stressed out and blocked by, say, the project that’s priority #6. I wrote about this phenomenon before, and it’s deeply frustrating… even as it’s, unknowingly, wonderfully freeing.
If this happens to you, you might be able to artificially force the issue. Make a list of projects, and give one or two arbitrary, tight deadlines. If this is how your brain works, you might see a sudden bloom in interest in those projects you haven’t assigned a deadline to, and then you can let the ‘deadline’ pass without penalty. And suddenly you’ve got much more work done than you thought possible.
Give yourself space: Start on a project as early as possible, so that you have space to survive a real, unbreakable dry spell. It’s a lot easier to write 60 pages over 10 weeks than it is to write it over three days. Procrastination can kill a project, whether the guillotine is a hard deadline or simply loss of interest from waiting too long.
Don’t waste time on weak projects: If you don’t have the drive to do a project, and you can easily drop it, do so. You won’t perform at your best, and you might wreck potentially succeeding with it when you are ready to write it. Don’t put every project off, but be in tune with the viability of, and your passion for, every project you undertake. Keep an eye on whether it feels fun, or like work.
Don’t beat yourself up: Ultimately, writing is about feeling for a wave and riding it. That wave is your own voice and inspiration, and stress, guilt and self-blaming are often the route to quashing your own confidence. Remember: it’s just a script. Nobody dies if this doesn’t rock the world. Even if it’s the gateway to an amazing opportunity… it’s up to you to make it shine, and you can’t do it if you’re breaking yourself down. You might not be able to help it, in which case, try to find ways to minimise your frustrations and boost your positive feelings and ego.
These are just a few of the strategies I use. How about you?