Let me set the scene.
You’ve been writing for some time now. You’ve started sending your articles and stories to magazines and, although they haven’t accepted any of it, they are giving you some useful feedback. Your managing to get some of your work published and, even though they are all freebies, you’re feeling pretty good about it. You’ve started at the bottom and now you’re ready to work your way up to the big leagues….
You start sending off articles to big magazines. Maybe you had an amazing idea for an article about how dogs are really space cowboys from Venus and you send it off to one of the dozens of dogs magazines. Or maybe you’ve finally perfected that short story you have been working on and you’re ready to send it off.
“It doesn’t matter if they don’t want it,” you muse. “Even if they don’t want it, I’ll just offer it to someone else. It’s so good that someone is bound to want it!”
So, not concerned about the fate of your article or story, you start writing more to get sent off. You even start pitching article ideas to the big magazines, convinced that this is your time! Here and now is where your writing takes off!
Soon you have sent off a dozen stories, two dozen article pitches and one very confident book pitch to a well known publisher. But the waiting time for a response is three or four months…
“No matter,” you think. “I’ll go on holiday or something. Then when I return the magazines will be clambering at my door, desperate for my genius…”
So you take a nice trip.
Somewhere inspiring like Rome or Athens, maybe Vietnam or India. You really chill, and you even have a flurry of creativity whilst you’re out there. But when you return, there are no knocks on the door, no post in the hall, no excited emails waiting on your computer.
And all of a sudden, every ounce of enthusiasm that you ever had about writing professionally drains from you.
For weeks on end, you struggle to sit at your computer for more than a few minutes. The light of creativity has gone out….
If any of this sounds familiar, then you will know what I’m talking about. It is an unfortunate side effect of working as a writer; you have high days and you have low days. When you first get the buzz, you feel like nothing can stop you. You can work solidly for weeks on end, churning out piece after piece. But it is a common fact amongst all things that what goes up must come down, and whilst you steam roller your way through your own brilliance, you edge closer and closer to the precipice. And if you fall over the edge, you may never recover…
So here are my three top tips for navigating your way past the inevitable slump that every writer has once in a while.
1. The Ego Scrapbook
The Ego Scrapbook is one of the most important objects in my study. A black scrap book, tied closed with black ribbon, sits on the floor leaning up against my desk, chilling out like the cool kid in the school hall. Every single article or story or comment that has ever been published has been carefully stuck inside this book, and I mean everything. I’m talking letters, freebie articles, reader’s articles, stories, poems, the lot….Every single one has been meticulously cut out of the magazine and stuck firmly on one of the black pages of the scrapbook.
As a tool, it is invaluable. It contains everything that I ever achieved as a writer and there is nothing more uplifting that flicking through the Ego Scrapbook to look at my best work. Sure, you’re a writer. You remember everything you ever wrote, so why bother with a scrapbook? You bother because it is a record of who you are as a writer. A single session of flicking through that book is almost certainly guaranteed to revitalise your writing once more. And if the sight of your greatest exploits doesn’t, then it might be time to call it a day…
2. Try Something Different
It is infuriating how often I hear someone saying that they are suffering from writer’s block and yet they only ever attempt to write novels. Yes, fine, I get it. You are a novelist, or budding novelist, or novelist in waiting, or future Booker Prize Winner… I get it. But nowadays, it is very rare that you find someone who is just a novelist. Seriously, pick up a book and look at the author’s blurb page. For many of the most successful authors there are, you will find that their credits range from novels, to novellas, to short stories, to critical essays, to poetry, to non-fiction. And there is a very good reason for this.
As writers, we are incapable of writing solidly on one project, even if inspiration is guiding you through. A writer’s brain is something than needs to be cleansed with new ideas and projects and, whilst writing a novel is very commendable and brilliant, it is only one project. And it is one project that takes months and months to form. It is a very slow process… And as a result, novelists suffer horribly from writer’s block, even when their idea is fully formed. So, if you’re in that position, try something new. Write a sonnet. Or a piece of flash fiction. Or a letter to your local newspaper about an article you read. Give your brain a work-out every so often. I guarantee, it will make a difference.
3. Keep Going