Writing Q&A 15: Writing slumps; showing your work to others
Published: January 30, 2007
|I have writing slumps that can last for weeks because I can't think of anything interesting to write about. How do I avoid this? |
Most writers face periods of inactivity at some point. Sometimes you simply need time to restock your creativity shelves. And that is important work. You can collect observations, mull over ideas, and imagine possibilities. Still, maintaining a regular routine can help you stay connected to the habit of writing and even reinvigorate your creative energy. There are plenty of ways to get that pen moving across the page. Here are some I have found useful:
Writing exercises: Whether you are a beginning or seasoned writer, exercises help you focus on a specific task, which can get you started. Exercises can also crack open your imagination by presenting a detail, situation or nugget of information that comes from outside your own thought process. Sometimes that is enough to summon a world of possibilities and put you the midst of writing, rather than wondering what to write about.
Freewriting: This is the practice of writing without stopping for a set amount of time. You might start with 10 minutes and build from there. Begin with anything that comes to mind, such as describing the view from your window, and see where you go from there. It might take a week of consistent freewriting sessions or just three little minutes into the first session, but if you keep at it, you will eventually gravitate toward a compelling topic. Another approach is to indulge in wordplay. For example, you might scribble a list of nonsensical phrases or word pairs: "whittled wash," "gummed hope," "locked coins." Experimenting with words can create connections and associations that thrust your thoughts in unexpected directions. You're bound to find yourself in the midst of an interesting scene or intriguing idea when the timer sounds.
Move: Take a walk. Go for a bike ride. Mow the lawn. A simple activity that doesn't take much thought and can be done alone leaves your mind free to invent and imagine. Don't think of your to-do list, or the fact that the checkbook needs balancing. Instead, experiment with characters and dream up complex scenarios. If you keep your thoughts away from responsibilities, you free yourself up to more creative thought.
Create a writing ritual: Setting the table and preparing a meal signal that dinner is approaching, and that puts us in the mood to eat. Similarly, we can train ourselves to anticipate writing. It's no coincidence that writers who prepare for the arrival of writing time often find themselves ready to write. This is one reason many writers find it useful to write at the same time every day. A ritual may be very small, such as listening to a specific kind of music, preparing a cup of tea, or acknowledging a certain talisman. The writer who writes outside the home may find ritual in simply gathering together the supplies--a laptop or a pen and notebook--and walking to a favorite place. You might actually have a ritual you already enact.
Writing is an act of creation and, as a result, can feel very mysterious. But writing isn't something that happens to us; it's something we do. So find ways to free up your imagination and to situate yourself in front of your notebook or computer long enough for the words to come.
|At what point should I show my work to someone?|
The answer to this question often varies by writer. Some writers won't show their work to anyone until they get through several full drafts. Others are eager for feedback even before they have written the end of the story. Listen to your own writerly needs. If you are spinning your wheels, a sensitive reader might provide just the traction you need to move forward. If your ideas on a current project feel precarious, you might give yourself the time you need to figure things out for yourself before getting outside input.
A good general rule of thumb is to wait until you have taken the draft as far as you can on your own. Your draft may seem very strong, or it may have problems that you can identify but don't know how to solve. Often, writers get so anchored in their own work that they lose objectivity. A careful reader can help you see the strengths, flaws and possibilities that you're not seeing on your own.
It is also useful to consider who you show your work to. Other writers can make great, informed readers. People who don't write but who read regularly can be valuable readers, too. Nonwriters might not use terms like "rising action" and "point-of-view strategy," but they can share their emotional responses to the characters and note where their attention was captivated and where it flagged. And you want to make sure you choose someone who is both supportive and honest. You're not looking for hollow praise, after all. You want a thoughtful look at how well your intentions made it onto the page.
Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and Rattapallax. She was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University, University of Wisconsin, and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University and edits Letterpress, a free e-newsletter for fiction writers.
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