Monday, December 28, 2009

Breaking the drought

I've been through a couple of periods in my life where writing went on the backburner in such a major way that I completely lost my mojo.

You know how you feel when you get into the swing of things, and you can't stop writing? Words flow freely, ideas pop up all the time, and your characters live and breathe inside your head (and on the page!). It's wonderful!

And I'm sure you all know how the opposite feels- you sit in front of a blank screen for hours on end, no words even remotely close to your fingertips, and then you give up and surf the Internet instead because it's easier than trying to squeeze blood out of a stone.

My droughts go another step past that- it's like I've been kicked out of the mental building by security, and I can't even get back in the door. I can barely remember what I was writing about in the first place; my characters don't "talk" to me any more than the dog or the cat do; and even the idea of opening up my word processor makes me sigh with reluctance.

During these times, I don't just not want to write. I hate writing. I feel like writing is the hardest thing anyone has ever done, and I'd rather die than do it. Not such a great way to look at your favourite hobby, huh?

I'm smack in the middle of my second-biggest writing drought ever. I haven't sat down in earnest and attempted to write any of my WIPs in any major way in about 18 months.


Mostly it's because I had a baby last year, and she's one of those super-active, crazy kids who needs constant stimulation. Getting three minutes alone is tough- and before anyone tells me to write while she naps, well. She only sleeps if she's sleeping with me, day and night, and she still wakes eight times a night. I think the exhaustion of that is the biggest factor. Attempting to even think about my writing brings back a loud, "DOES NOT COMPUTE" from my brain. All I want to do in my spare time is SLEEP.

But you know, I've been here before (not the sleep-deprived, perpetual parenting place, but the writing drought). And every time, I've found a few things that help me bust out of that awful mindset, and eventually get me back on track. The reality is, no matter how hard things are you can find things to do that keep you in the game, whether it's actual writing or not.

So, without further ado, here are my tips for breaking the drought (or surviving it, at least, until your life calms down enough that writing is fun again). And I feel qualified to talk about this again because I managed to churn out a brand new first chapter for Between the Lines last night, measuring in at just over 2000 words, plus a completely reworked (and IMHO significantly better) plot outline while my husband took my daughter to build sandcastles at the beach. Huzzah!

1. Write, write, write.

Don't stop. If you can't stand the sight of your WIP and if fiction full-stop turns your stomach, then start a blog. Start a diary. Just keep writing. I can't even begin to tell you how much of a huge factor this blog has been in recovering my mojo, partly because of reason number 2.

2. Set yourself goals and (dare I say it) deadlines, and don't make excuses.

The reason this blog has been so good for me is that I know I MUST post every single Monday, no matter what's going on in my life. I don't have the excuses I usually make- baby, work, watching a marathon of Dexter- I've committed to write every Monday, and come hell or high water, by God I'm going to do it. Ditto the serial story- every four weeks, I've got a chapter to do, regardless of nappy changes and teething. It's teaching me that if I took this approach to my writing *all the time*- if my obligation was to myself, instead of my friends- then I'd be getting places with my story. So MAKE yourself your own boss. Set yourself deadlines and goals, and stick to them.

3. Reconnect with your story

Read parts you loved in the past with a positive eye. Look for things you love about your writing. Remember why you enjoyed your story in the first place, and why your characters were people you liked to spend time with.

4. Write your WIP for fun

This might seem contrary to the deadline approach, but I find myself least likely to write if what I'm writing is something I "have" to do. In the interest of keeping on with your writing when times are tough, give yourself permission to muck around with your characters. Visit a house party at the CompuServe forum (the first one ever held is here; the sixth is due in February, taking all our characters to ancient Egypt). Write backstory that will never appear in the real thing. Write a diary for a character you're having trouble cracking. Do a SOC exercise.

5. Give yourself a break, and quit the guilt thing

I hate that I haven't managed to write anything much at all in the last year and a half, but you know what? I have reasons. Good reasons. Real life is tough. A lot of us try to approach fiction writing as if it were a "real job", or we at least think about it. That's why we curse ourselves when we have extensive down-time. But think about it like this- imagine if writing really was your full-time job, and then you just happened to get a second full-time job as a hobby. What if that second job was the job you currently do full-time? Do you think you'd be able to spend your off-hours working as a lawyer/ researcher/ manager/ teacher/ whatever you do without dying from exhaustion?

I'm going with a no here. So, take it easy on yourself. You're already working hard enough without adding guilt over your writing. You'll finish when you finish, as long as you keep your own interest and work through the hard times.


  1. Great post Claire! This is really good advice - especially point 5. I know points 1 and 2 are also very important - write, don't play spider solitaire *g* - but real life does intrude sometimes. I feel that some writers giving advice on how you have to WRITE in order to finish a book just don't give any consideration to extenuating circumstances. Feeling guilty for not writing when you have good reasons for not writing isn't helpful.

  2. Very timely post, Claire. I NEEDED you to write it. Thank you! :)

  3. Brilliant post Claire - it's always good to remember these things, especially... er, well, all of them. Really. It's easy to say you'll do this or that, but... butt in chair, that's the main thing. I had my longest drought before I met DH due to two factors: believing I had to wait for inspiration to strike before I could write, and a meanie of a boyfriend who wasn't very encouraging (unless we were talking about his writing. Grr, don't get me started) who, for some reason, I listened to. Now I'm realising that writing every day is the only cure for droughts. I'm trying to set a goal of getting up an hour earlier each morning and writing for that hour. We shall see... Sleep is hard to give up :-)

  4. Excellent post, Claire.
    Even though I do try to set myself goals - mostly to write a certain amount of words each day - your point number one is the number one point - DON'T STOP WRITING. I'm so glad to have this blog to keep me writing while I'm in the "let the manuscript marinate" stage (and the "impossible to write with the kids home for the summer" stage, too!). It allows me to still feel connected to writing, and hopefully I'll find I haven't lost my mojo when I start revisions. We'll see. :-)