I’m looking at a nearby wind turbine. Despite the breeze, it refuses to spin. It proves to be an excellent analogy for my current writing output. The urge to write is there, no doubt about that. Plus, there is a heap of stuff in my head, so all I need to do is open Scrivener and get typing. Only the words stubbornly refuse to come. If they materialise, the output is meagre for the amount of mental toil put into making them.
I used to see this as a good sign I should steer clear of writing (or dabble in those aspects which vaguely count as writing, like research) until the words flowed again. These days I see writing in the same way as exercising or learning. Certainly, it is wise to stop if something is causing an injury or your mental health to worsen. But stopping running, for example, because that last run was an absolute slog is going to do no good for your running habit, nor will it help you improve.
The yogis like to say they practice yoga. I like to think I practice writing. There’s no goal to reach save for meeting yourself where you are in your practice today.
So how do I keep up my practice when words stubbornly refuse to flow?
Journalling is a nice way of saying I info dump the contents of my head every evening into a document and then delete it. I don’t even reread what I’ve put down. The act of writing my thoughts, feelings and opinions of how the day went helps shake them out of my system, leaving me in a much more balanced state.
By not rereading and deleting what I’ve written, I won’t judge myself for what I’ve put down (and my terrible grammar). I’m here to vent and move on.
What are the benefit of journalling?
- A five-minute pause in my day to vent in words always makes me feel a lot more clear-headed (and hopefully in a better mood to do more writing).
- It helps me set aside some time each day to write without self-critique. Building a writing practice means I am more likely to stick to it.
- Journalling helps lead my thoughts down different alleyways. It may spark an idea for a new story, or give rise to a solution to a problem in one of my current WIPs.
2. Write anything!
A common thing I hear from other writers (and I’m guilty of it too) is the burning need to just finish this bloody WIP! When the words flow, that’s fine. But when coherent sentences refuse to form, it makes my frustration deepen.
Instead of focusing on the project I feel I need to work on, I’ll think to myself, ‘What do I fancy writing?’ Okay, it’s not working on that all important project, but I showed up and did something. Sometimes this is enough to get my grey cells warmed up so I can switch to tackling on finishing my bloody WIP.
Maybe you have an idea for a blog (like I did). Or something you saw today made you think of a really interesting scene to write or play with an idea for a new character. Maybe you randomly pick a word for a prompt and see where it leads?
3. Adapt a writing practice into your routine that works for you
It would be nice to think I could spend my entire day writing stories. Unfortunately, the control I wield over the worlds I conjure inside my skull doesn’t expand into reality. I am fully aware of the external reasons which are currently limiting my writing practice. I have some sway over parts, but on the whole, a huge chunk of it is outside my control. Right now, I have to accept this, but I also ask myself, ‘Okay, so what is achievable?’
Also, question your beliefs. If you’re saying to yourself, ‘I can’t write in the evenings because I’m too tired from work,’ is that technically true? Are we just seeking the reward (in my case, relaxing with a red wine while playing video games) instead of doing something nurturing? Sometimes a change is better than a rest.
4. Keep showing up
A writing practice is like an exercise habit. You commit to showing up, especially on the bad days. Some days I feel like I’m flying. On others, I feel like I’m waist-deep in mud. I feel like I’m in the mud right now. But I decided I would still show up, so I wrote this blog. Is anyone going to read it? Maybe? But the important thing is I showed up today and enjoyed my writing practice.