Every writer inevitably finds themselves stuck in a writing rut. Sometimes the writing rut is particularly painful and prolonged and your journey to a finished work in progress resembles a family of raccoons excavating your backyard, digging their way to the inner core of the Earth.
What causes these ‘rutty’ moments? Here are a few examples that may sound familiar to you; those times when it all seems too hard and the lure of the couch and the latest Netflix fad seems much more appealing than replacing the thousands of usages of “was” in your manuscript, thinking of new ways to describe a beating heart, and re-re-reworking your chapter breakdown.
You Feel Like Crap
For more than the first three months of my pregnancy, I had no motivation or energy to do anything at all, whatsoever. Socialising? Forget it. Exercise? Don’t make me laugh. Working full time was a struggle. I was going to bed at 8.00pm every night, exhausted. My writing time normally starts at 8.00pm. But mentally, creatively and physically, I had nothing to give. Those three months were a write-off (not a write-on) where I achieved nothing. Thankfully, from Week 16 of my pregnancy I started to get some energy back.
Aside from the symptoms of pregnancy (which is a happy reason to feel sick and tired) writers (like anyone else) may be suffering from any number of conditions that cause them pain or to feel ill. From the common cold to much more serious illnesses such as chronic and/or mental illness, writers may struggle to function in their day-to-day lives let alone keep up a writing habit.
Health and wellbeing is important. We need to listen to our bodies. If our body is telling us to rest, we should listen and if necessary, seek professional medical assistance. Pushing yourself beyond what is reasonable will only result in further damage to your health and wellbeing. Sometimes, your writing does need to wait until you feel better.
You’re Too Busy
You work 40 hours a week, you have to take your daughter to taekwondo and pick up your son from a friend’s house, you promised to fix the broken tap at your grandfather’s house, Bonnie is relying on you to organise her baby shower, you have to go grocery shopping/vacuum/paint the skirting boards/walk the dog, the Royal Wedding is on – whatever it may be – 24 hours a day just isn’t enough time to do everything you need to do. And by the time you have done everything you need to do, you’re too exhausted to consider doing anything for yourself. The plot hole that needs patching in Chapter 19 will have to wait another day.
But then you realise you’ve left it so long that you can’t remember the details of what happens in Chapters 1–18 so there’s no way you can devise any kind of solution to fix that plot hole, which has now become a plot sinkhole that threatens to devour your entire manuscript.
You’re busy. We get it. That’s why there’s lots of information available about time management and courses on making time to write, including this one from the Australian Writers’ Centre. It’s a lot to do with making sacrifices (usually other hobbies, socialising and your favourite TV shows), disconnecting the Internet, scheduling, writing in short bursts (even 10 minutes) and asking someone to babysit for a few hours.
This is undoubtedly something I’m going to need to learn more about once the baby is born and my concept of “busy” takes on an entirely new meaning.
You’re Full of Self-Doubt
I’ve entered several writing competitions with little to no success. The other day, I was wallowing in such a pit of self-doubt that I genuinely considered the possibility that my shortlisting for the Flash 500 Novel Opening & Synopsis Competition in 2016 was an admin error on their part. After all, I haven’t had any success with my manuscript since. Perhaps there was another entry called The Princess Murders and they got them mixed up? They really meant to shortlist the other one?
“But what’s the point when everything I write is total crap?” I hear you moan. “Am I wasting hours, days, weeks, months, years, DECADES of my life on my writing pursuits? Will anyone ever care, other than me, whether or not my main character has a fulfilling character arc?”
It’s a self-indulgent whinge and we’re all entitled to a few of those every now and then. But then we need to snap out of it and get over it. You either want to be a writer or you don’t, yeah? Are you going to give up because your story wasn’t selected out of hundreds or thousands of other stories in some competition? No, you’re not. You’re going to keep going until you’ve made your story the best it can be. So get over yourself and go make that happen.
You know, once you’ve had a few Nurofen to manage that blistering back pain, caught up on Picnic at Hanging Rock and reorganised your underwear drawer. Then you’ll sort out Chapter 19 for good. Get to it!
What drains you of your motivation to write? Let me know in the comments below.