Getting out of a slump

WriterI’ve been working on a new writing project for the past few months. And like with every project, I hit a slump at the one-third marker. I’ve noticed the same things in my software projects, and seen it with other people too. How to get out of those slumps?

Writer’s block

I don’t like the term Writer’s block. For starters, it doesn’t just apply to writers. Musicians, film makers, and video game makers might suffer from the same malady. Basically, anybody creating something from nothing is at risk. I’ve seen people having to write papers in college freeze up. The guy behind the game Fez quit the game industry entirely during the development of his second game.

The second problem I have is with the term ‘block’. This implies some kind of external force that’s preventing you from pursuing your art. Or at the very least it implies a single problem, while the reality is more complex.

Finally, Writer’s Block – yes, I’m using capitals – has taken on such mythic proportions in the public eye that it’s now a loaded term. If you say ‘well I’m in a slump’, you’ll get very different reactions than when you say ‘well I have writer’s block’.

So, I like to call them ‘slumps’ instead. It sounds less haughty and better describes the feeling of ‘bleeeh’ that I usually experience.

Causes of slumps

I can’t speak for everybody, but for me, there are three reasons that my writing process shuts down and I get into a slump:

  • External events distract me
  • A new project distracts me
  • I’m at the beginning of the second or third act of my story.

Now, this list seems to line up nicely with the research into the matter.  The first two more or less speak for themselves, I think. The third one is unique to my process.

I get stuck at about a third of a story, and at about 80 percent. This is most likely because at a third of the story, I’ve just started to move into the second act. The build-up of the story is done, and the meat of the tale comes into view. I get stuck there. I’ve had a project that I actually killed at that point because the story was utterly broken. At 80 percent you start heading into the climax of the story. All the moving parts and plot lines come together to form the climax… and I usually discover some don’t come together quite right.

Now I don’t know if everybody suffers from similar problems, but I can guess that there is one additional cause that I don’t suffer from, because I love writing. That is: you are forced to do a project you don’t like.

Fighting a slump

There’s a lot of advice out there on writer’s block. I could give some general tips, or things that work for me. However, I think it’s more useful to talk a little a bit about how I came to my own solutions.

You see, in the end, you yourself are the cause of your slumps. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to solve, or a shameful problem. It means that all the tips in the world will only work if they fit with who you are and if they address the root cause of your slump.

An example. Say a writer read online that locking herself in a room with a laptop and no Wifi for an hour will get her to work. She sits in a room for an hour with her laptop, pondering how she’s going to fit cleaning the house, picking up her kid at daycare, and walking the dog in the same afternoon. Then she walks back out, as blocked as before. Oops. The root cause of her slump was a busy life and too much on her mind, not internet distractions.

So yes, forcing yourself to push on might help (that’s what helps for me), but only if the problem is story-related. If the problem is external events (busy life, family problems, etc.) then you need to solve those. If it’s the fact that you’re forced to do something you don’t like, find motivations – or find an alternative approach that you do like.

In short, get to the root of the problem, and get creative.

In my case, I did some soul searching along the way. One thing I found is that I had to start choosing. I couldn’t do personal software projects, writing, playing video games, and painting miniatures at the same time. I had to prioritize. These days I try to force myself to write a certain number of words each week to force me to get past any slumps and to keep my priorities straight. I also write a blog post each week to keep the creative juices flowing – as  you may have noticed.

Conclusion

Slumps suck. To figure out how to get out of them, you need to find how you got into them. That’s not easy, but the results are worth it.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy author/blogger from the Netherlands