I don’t know about you guys, but with a packed teaching schedule and loads of other personal and professional obligations, my creativity takes a hit. In between all the things I have to do, the things I want to do get pushed aside. Sometimes I think my business- before-pleasure approach to life is a personality flaw, and I really have to make an effort to pick up my writing when life gets crowded. And, yet, when I do give myself permission to sit at the laptop and write, I find that I’m too tired or burnt out to get much done other than to stare dumbly at the screen or check Pinterest or Twitter for roughly the thousandth time that hour.
In an effort to combat this, I take the concept of self-care from my counseling career and translate it into the writing life, meaning I actually slow down and do something to enrich myself. I’ve also tried a new approach to my work in progress, allowing me to jostle my brain out of its work rut.
As far as a new approach to the piece, in writing the first draft of a second novel, I have really been able to generate ideas by switching the order around in which I write the book. So, what I mean is this: First drafts for me are torturous and when I’m short on time, sitting down to write a novel in a linear fashion seems a smidge overwhelming. To get over this, I’ve started writing scenes out of sequence. Most recently, I’ve written the start of the novel, a very pivotal scene halfway through, and a smattering of other chapters in-between. The benefit of writing out of order is that the plot falls into place easier, for me at least, since you can see what you need to go back and fill in or you have a clearer view of what chapters need to come up next.
As far as some ideas about what you can do to reduce burn out, you’ll primarily know what works for you, but here’s what I do: I read the works of people I want to write like, or I read craft articles. I flip through literary journals; I go to author websites to feel that energy and drive again. By immersing myself in great literature, it revs up my ambitious side and reinvigorates me to hit my goals.
Another wonderful thing to try when it’s a difficult writing day is to try to hit a very small word or time count. Say that you will only write for five to ten minutes and then you can be done. More often than not, if you really give it your all for a short time/word count goal, you’ll get into it and not want to quit. You’ll have tricked yourself into productivity!
But, sometimes the best thing to do, which seems counterintuitive, is to step away from the laptop and do something entirely different. Go for a walk; sit somewhere and just watch people go by. Play with your dog. Go draw with chalk on your driveway with your kid. Just allowing yourself the space to breathe and not do a darn thing is incredibly restful. When we put that pressure on ourselves to goGoGO all of the time, it can create panic because we haven’t met some outrageous goal we’ve set.
When we invest time in ourselves, we invest in our work. Ultimately by slowing down or reconfiguring our approach we can decrease writer’s block and increase our ability to do what we love to do—write.