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The long haul: Getting through writing rough patches

During the endless weeks of March, writers face roadblocks in their work, whether it’s a problem story, a silent muse or a creative slump. These novelists, nonfiction writers and poets share how they power through the rough patches in chilly times.

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“There are times where it’s productive to push beyond what’s comfortable, but there are also great benefits to giving your mind a break and allowing the work to simmer in your subconscious. Sometimes this can take weeks or months, but what’s the rush? I think we often get frustrated when we don’t see immediate results, but if you’re interested in delivering a message and making quality art that matters, then it’s worth it to take your time.”
— Dexter L. Booth, poetry, Scratching the Ghost

“When I get stuck on a passage, I step away from the keyboard, take a deep, long breath and try to imagine a little more light, a little more space around me and the words I’m struggling with. Remembering to breathe in those tough moments is so important in writing and in life. It doesn’t always fix the problem, but deep breaths help me find the strength and the patience to go back and try again, and again, and again.”
— Jenny Feldon, memoir, Karma Gone Bad

“I tend to type whatever it is I’m working on, but I keep a notebook and pen nearby. This is my gripe journal. When I encounter a roadblock on the screen above, turning to this journal and handwriting my complaints about how very stuck I am nearly always clears my head and opens up a new path.”
— Kate Milliken, short story collection, If I’d Known You Were Coming

“Whenever I feel my creativity waning, my writing not going quite as I would want it to – or not going at all – I try to make a clean break and focus on something. That gets me moving and away from the page, if only for a little while. By the time I return an hour or so later, the energy is back, and whatever problem I had has often resolved itself without my quite knowing how.”
— Maria Konnikova, nonfiction, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes


“There’s a natural ebb and flow to what a writer produces, and productivity isn’t all about word count. Sometimes you need to sit in front of your computer for four hours, daydreaming in the general direction of your blank page, before words start to come. If that happens, don’t get upset, don’t get frustrated; that’ll only make it worse. Just take it as a natural part of the flow of your writing.”
— Ransom Riggs, fiction, Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Children

“I save a draft of whatever I’m working on, telling myself it’s the “real” one, then I open another file, rename the same document, and “experiment” with this ‘other’ draft. Of course, what I’m really doing is writing and editing, but don’t tell me that, please.”
— Charles Graeber, nonfiction, The Good Nurse

Originally Published