Every writer hits a dead end now and then. Creativity is a quality that’s defined by peaks and valleys. Many famous writers have gone through dry periods of writer’s block where they felt their work was worthless.
It’s not just fiction writers who suffer this fate. Journalists, researchers and even students also reach points where they feel uninspired by their work.
So what should you do if your spirit is lagging and you can’t find the joy and thrill in creating something new?
Go to conferences and workshops
Part of the challenge of writing is that it’s a solitary endeavor. And the human mind is a tricky beast, it can dry up pretty fast in the absence of outside stimulation. Attending writer’s workshops and conferences can spark your enthusiasm again. Getting feedback on your work can give you a new perspective on it. Hearing the advice of the coordinator can set you in a new direction.
Meet other people working on interesting projects, this will fill you with the desire to keep going or to start anew. Get yourself out of your work space – the site of so many frustrating hours – this can refresh your senses and help spark new ideas.
Try a different genre
If you’re a sociologist working on a dissertation, try writing poetry or fiction. If you’re a fiction writer, try writing an editorial article about something you feel passionate about. It’s a way for you to keep practicing writing without getting stuck in a rut.
It can also help take the pressure off. You’re not trying to publish a book of poems, you’re just playing around with words. You’re not aiming to become a journalist, you’re just finding another way to express yourself. Sometimes branching out into different areas and experimenting with styles can bring a light-heartedness to your work.
Re-read your favorite book
Some writers have a particular book that inspired them to write. Maybe it influenced their writing style or opened them up to new possibilities in writing. When you’re experiencing a lull in your work, go back to the early source of your inspiration. Re-read it. Religious people turn to their sacred texts when they’re in doubt. Turn to yours. What did it teach you all those years ago when you first read it? What does it teach you today?
If you’re struggling to find the purpose in your work, try teaching. There’s nothing better to light your fire than passing on the accumulated experiences of your years of writing to eager young writers. You’ll have the chance to take stock of all the challenges you’ve overcome to reach the point you’re at today. It may give you the courage to overcome your current block. Giving advice to them is also an indirect way of giving advice to yourself.
Make sure you have enough time
Maybe your problem isn’t lack of inspiration but burn-out. Did you take on too many commitments at once? Are you trying to balance work and family and over-stretching yourself? There’s nothing like having too much on your plate to snuff your creative fire. Exhaustion, stress and guilt are a toxic cocktail that only work to keep the muse at bay.
Rearrange your schedule to include enough time for leisure activities, to do the non-writing related things you’re passionate about. Sparking passion in other parts of your life may have a contagious effect on your writing life too. Also, allowing yourself space from your problems is what gives you the perspective to solve them.
Take on work that you love
Nothing kills your passion for writing like writing about subjects you find boring. So, if that’s what you’re doing, stop. There are more than enough writing gigs to go around in the area that you love. Take this advice from Ray Bradbury: “I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.”
Join a writer’s group
Preferably one that meets in-person rather than online, but if that’s not possible, then an online one is better than nothing. It helps to talk to other writers and share your work. Most writers tend to have a circle of writer friends, but it can be a tricky thing to depend on your friends to give you honest feedback. A group of professional writers can not only offer more objective advice, but they can give you the support and encouragement you need to work through difficult phases and reach the finish line.
Look at the small picture
Sometimes your writing dreams are too big. You want to write the Great American Novel or win the Nobel Prize for Literature. But instead you’re sitting in front of a blank screen every day. So, try something else. Don’t think about goals. Don’t even think about finishing your book. Think about today. One word after the other. And after you’re done, put it away and stop thinking about it. And then tomorrow do the same thing.
Take the pressure off to turn your passion on. Mark Twain explained his writing method this way: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
Whatever lull you’re going through right now, remember that many writers before you have gone through it too. Don’t give up. Just make it to the bend. Once you round it, things will look different again.