I grew up as a Cubs fan so I know all about the June Swoon. It’s something my father would say with a sigh as we watched the Cubbies chalk up another loss. Just when we thought they were on their way, in came the slump. My own June Swoon actually started in May, and I’m still trying to weasel out of its grasp.
This is my writing desk, newly painted. I figured since I haven’t been using it, it’d be a fine time to repaint it.
I realized, that when I had spent more time at the desk peeling the old paint off of it, than writing, it was time to take a break. The paint-peeling worked as a distraction from the glaring blank screen, but then the ugly desk became a distraction from the writing (at least, that’s what I told myself). I could talk about how peeling the layers of paint was like peeling back the layers of a scene or a character, or blah, blah, blah, but really, sometimes peeling paint is just that: peeling paint. It was also a sign that I need to step away for a little while. So that’s what I’ve done.
Yesterday, as I got caught up with some podcasts, I scraped, sanded, and painted. And it felt good. It’s still in the garage with its new-desk smell and will eventually be hauled back upstairs. I’ll let it sit pretty for a little while as I work on peeling back my own layers and seeing what’s underneath. (Sorry, I had to do it.)
And it all started with a killer sunset . . .
Do you ever feel the need to step away from a project? How do you deal with a writing slump?
There’s a wall there, you just can’t see it. Apparently, my sister wasn’t in the mood to smile. I tried to help, but there was no getting through that wall. Blocked. That’s how I felt for a while because I had been struggling with what to write next. I’m not a big fan of the term writers’ block and I think we give it more power than it deserves. Maybe that’s why I’m so big on writing prompts—they can get you going when you’re stalled in the writing process.
Look, the muse doesn’t give a shit if you’re staring at your computer screen, fingers poised on the keyboard, asking nicely for some inspiration. In fact, I’m convinced muses revel in watching us suffer, which is why youhave to take charge. If you’re struggling with a scene in your WIP, get away from it. Distance can be the exactly what you need in order to come back with a fresh mind. Over at The Writing Bug, I recently wrote about using pencil and paper to get out all my thoughts—every possibility, every angle, every idea, and it worked; it got me my new novel idea. I also recently picked up The Amazing Story Generatorthat creates thousands of story ideas. This book combines random settings, characters, and conflicts; the rest is up to you. That’s how I feel about writers’ block—it’s up to you. You’re the only one who can get yourself past a lull in your writing, so don’t count on being struck over the head with an idea while you’re binge watching on Netflix. That can happen, but, again, don’t count on it. You’re a writer; so write. No matter how crappy it is, it’s writing—and it will lead somewhere.
How do you get going again when you’re stalled in your writing?
According several studies, including this onefrom researchers at the University of Chicago, booze creates big ideas and caffeine makes them happen. Crap. That means as a writer, I could be screwed. You see, I gave up caffeine back in February (hello, sleep!) and 37 days ago, I had my last glass of wine (goodbye, social life)! When I had to finish up Folsom’s 93 and get it to the publisher, I took a break from booze and enjoyed a month with less brain fog (imagine that). Once the book was out of my hands, however, I practically leaped off the wagon with a box of wine under each arm.
Now, my creativity red light is flashing and it’s time for a refill. Is it really from the lack of my favorite Malbec? Do I take a cue from the famous drunk writer Ernest Hemingway who said, “When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run in a different plane like whisky?” I don’t know. I’m not entirely convinced that alcohol made me more creative (as evidenced by previous blog posts) so I’m not going to race to the liquor store (where everyone knows my name), but I will try—what some writers may call—the less fun approach: paper and pencil. A little help from my friends doesn’t hurt either. Write Away: A Year of Musing and Motivations for Writers by Kerrie Flanagan and Jenny Sundstedt is a great book filled with ideas and advice for writers who need to refill their creativity tank. Kerrie’s excellent writing advice and Jenny’s wit is the perfect combination for getting sober writers like me to “stay drunk on writing,” as Ray Bradbury advises. Even though I can practically hear Edgar Allen Poe and Truman Capote guffawing at my teetotaler ways, I’m going to stick with being the designated driver for a while. Besides, someone has to recount (and retell) the events from the night before, which always has the potential to become the script for Hangover 3.