Break Through the Writing Doldrums


This morning I found myself in a slump. I’ve written all the stories I had bouncing around in my brain, I have work out to about 14 places (and I’m not particularly willing to spread myself out much more than that at this point, as I don’t want to send the same work to different places too much), and I’m waiting to hear back from seven “in-process” stories–and have been waiting for quite a while.

In short, I’m in the writing doldrums, and I’m feeling the stillness of it acutely.

The writing doldrums is a made up term I just coined, but the experience certainly isn’t unique. It’s a point where a writer is, more or less, holding their breath. They are waiting on a submission to come back or are waiting for an idea to crest itself in the mind. I’m trying to come up with as many ocean/sailing comparisons as I can right now, and I think I’m doing a great job keeping myself afloat.

Anyway, it’s a tricky spot to be in (the devil to pay and no hot pitch–stop me), and it’s important to get out of it, or at the very least be productive while stuck in the doldrums. Here are some ways I’ve found to get back into writing:

1. Brainstorm story ideas: When was the last time you stopped to just come up with story ideas? I know that I generally just wait to stumble onto one, which is easier but less effective. Instead, spend some time thinking about story plots when you’re in the writing doldrums. Give yourself time to develop a narrative in your mind, or come up with an interesting character–or even just a fragment of a plot. Doing this can be the first step to getting a new story idea.

2. Write a three hundred word story: I write flash fiction sometimes, but generally I stick with short stories (let’s say 1500 and up). When I get hung up with nothing to write–or I just don’t feel like writing–I force myself to write tiny 300 word stories. I create a character while I’m writing about her and then let the story develop, whatever it turns out to be. Often times these stories are overly dramatic and break every good rule of writing that exists, but the point isn’t to share them with anyone, it’s to get your brain working again. That being said:

3. Share your work: Before the MFA, this blog was a place for me to share my work. Whenever I was practicing at writing those 300 word stories, I’d post them on the blog. I found that knowing people would see them (even just the few dozen that read this thing) helped me feel like I had to write. This comes with a few caveats, of course: anything you put up on your own blog is, in fact, published. Many places you could send that work in the future will indicate that they don’t want it simply because you posted it before. So I’d recommend sharing work that you don’t expect you’ll use in the same form as a possible submission.

However, if you are willing to share work just for the sake of getting yourself excited about writing again, well then this might work for you.

4. Read: More often than not, reading is the best inspiration to get yourself writing. In particular when you read a story and think “Hell, I could write that!” It’s not a slight when one writer thinks this about another–it is something that drives writers crazy, though. The idea that someone beat you to the punch is a great reminder that writing is something that has a timeframe–both in that you will someday be in a casket (where you won’t get WiFi access nor have enough light to write) and that every other writer is also writing. If you have a story in your noggin, get writing. You might get published only because you  got your feet on the ground first.

5. Don’t force it: Outside of those other four is this piece of advice–don’t force it. Sometimes fretting over your lack of writing can make the lack of writing so much worse. Getting caught in the doldrums is a natural part of the changes that happen to all writers  what writers go through, so don’t think that you’re failing or never going to write again. Give yourself time to pull through it naturally.

But if you find that you simply can’t abide waiting–or have been waiting too long, why not give a few of these tips a try.


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