3 Sane (and 1 Slightly Less Sane) Ways to Get Through a Writing Rut

30.01.2012 - Letters

Though this week’s topic is how to keep writing when we don’t have time, I have a theory:

95% of the time, “I don’t have time” really means “I’m procrastinating” or “I’m burnt out.”

I’ve been there too many times to count. And I’ve gotten out of it in traditional and not-so-traditional ways.

1. Change things up and write by hand. I write the majority of my drafts on a keyboard, which is nice because it keeps up with my train of thought. But it’s also way too easy to delete and edit as I go; I end up feeling like a hamster on a wheel, trying my best to move forward but stuck in one place. I have a journal that I write in when the screen feels like a trap. It’s incredibly liberating. The words are there; I can cross them out but they’ll still be there. And usually, once I start transcribing them into digital form, I edit them a bit and feel just good enough about my progress to keep going.

2. Let go of the idea that you need long stretches of time to write. Or huge chunks of word counts. When I really want to get through a draft but don’t know when I’ll find the time, I sneak it in. I tell myself I’ll write every day but give myself permission to write for two hours after I wake or for two minutes before bed. We can all spare two minutes, right? 10 words or 1000, it doesn’t matter. Just get the words down consistently.

3. Write letters from one character to another. When I’m struggling with character development or figuring out someone’s back story, I try to step into their shoes. I get out my journal once again and handwrite letters they’ve sent to one another. This is one of my favorite things to do when I’m in initial draft stages, because it never fails to surprise me. Not only do I learn my characters’ secrets, I also get to hear their voices in new, more vivid ways.

4. Write blindfolded. This might sound crazy, but while writing the very first draft of Chasing the Sun, I wanted to see, feel, and smell what it’d be like to be in Marabela’s place the moment she was kidnapped. Years later, I still occasionally bring out the blindfold when I sense fear standing in the way of my writing. I can’t see the screen or the words, so I can’t edit myself as I go. I can’t get stuck rereading a sentence, wondering what sentence will sound just right next. It doesn’t take very long either; it’s usually a quick 20-minute exercise. When I finally allow myself to look, I’m always surprised by how far I got in that time, and by what I’ve written now that I’m seeing it for the first time.

What are some non-traditional ways you gotten yourself out of writing rut?

Author: Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at nataliasylvester.com

18 Replies to “3 Sane (and 1 Slightly Less Sane) Ways to Get Through a Writing Rut”

  1. I used to do the writing-by-hand thing from time to time. I haven’t done it recently, but it’s still there in my tool box when I need it.

    I agree completely with #2 — I long ago started writing wherever and whenever I could (train trips, movie lines, etc.). I would imagine that’s a lot easier when you’re a pantser, since you don’t have to refer to your outline as you write.

    1. It works for me even when I do have an outline, because that way I don’t have to think too much about where I’m going next, I can just write (and let the words surprise me…even though I use outlines, I love not having to stick to one).

  2. I have played the piano for years and when trying to convey the proper emotion in my music, I often close my eyes, allowing myself to completely feel the music. But never did I think of using that same practice for writing.

    Also, what does it say that the one you thought was crazy made the most sense to me?

    1. That’s so interesting how it applies to different senses/art forms. I think interesting things happen when we can rely on the senses we’re used to.

      Also, crazy writers, unite! 😉

    1. I do, too. Or sometimes, it’s just easier to dive into the writing when I think I’m only doing a few sentences. More often than not, I end up getting into the rhythm and writing much more than I set out to.

  3. The way out of writing ruts for me? Grabbing the camera and taking photos, or hopping in the Jeep and heading into the mountains. I just can’t do the writing-by-hand thing anymore — my hand gets SO tired, mostly I’m sure, because I have failed to exercise those muscles in years. When I was in 7th grade, the typewriter became my best friend and I’ve been on a keyboard ever since.

    1. Melissa, I think you win the prize for most glamorous way to get out of a writing rut. I would love a Jeep and some mountains to help invigorate my writing! We do have some beautiful hill country and lakes around here; you just reminded me that I need to get outdoors and explore them more.

  4. Great suggestions, Natalia! Writing by hand can really get things moving for me. Heather Sellers recommends writing by hand using very large capital letters. I love the blindfold idea. Doing yoga with closed eyes is very calming and helps you slow down and get more connected with your other senses, especially proprioception. I might try it today, but I’d have to write by hand because I can’t touch-type so the results would likely be incomprehensible.

  5. I am starting to read my Bible every morn for 15 minutes and journal by hand. I find spiritual support first thing, with getting my own “grrrrr” out helps me to set aside “me” and focus on the writing.

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