Ah, the dreaded sound of gears grinding to a halt. Love that sound in the morning. NOT.
I touched a little on burn out in previous blog posts, but today I want to address the Big Burn – the one where your gears stay stuck for months. When the blank page defies you like the bared teeth of a dragon. When you open the document only to shut it without a single word put to paper. And then it happens again. And again. And again. Until your writing sessions become staring contests and productivity on your draft is no more than a dream.
What can you do in times when burn out has seemingly stolen the life from your WIP? Here are some tips for things to get your gears turning again:
1) Go Slow to Go Fast
The longer you’ve had a project on the shelf, the harder it can be to return to it. Go gently. Ask yourself why you’re going back to it. Don’t let this dissolve into poor self-talk about how you should have been working on it all along. Ask yourself why this story meant enough that you wanted to get back on that horse. Jot down a few notes about the story – key things you were excited about before the burn out. Maybe you liked the world you built, or a certain character, or a romantic subplot you couldn’t wait to explore. Build a slow frame of motivation. Also, ask yourself why you stopped: was it because of life circumstances, or did something in the draft no longer work? Explore this. Ask the good questions and the tough ones. Don’t rush this part – it’s the groundwork!
2) Do Something Non-Writing For Your Draft
Try approaching your project from a different angle. The arts are interwoven mediums, so if the writing part isn’t working, try a new angle: brainstorm; build character playlists; commission (or draw, if you have that talent!) some character art; make a map (inkarnate.com is a great tool); also, if you are part of a writing community, try to engage in some writing-related exchanges with your fellow writers that force you to think and talk about your story, without actually having to put pen to paper. Like free-writing, this form of free-thinking within your WIP universe can help you unblock.
3) Surround Yourself with Positivity
This one is huge. There’s an old term about “garbage in, garbage out.” This isn’t to say that your writing will be garbage, but rather that it’s very hard to foster motivation when your intake is negative. Examine your self-talk and adjust as needed so that you’re building yourself up, not tearing down. If you wrote the love-notes about your story mentioned above, pin them somewhere so you’ll see them when you write. Get a stash of favorite foods. Stock up on your drink of choice. Organize your writing space (decluttering the environment helps declutter the mind). Again, if you are part of a writing community, ask for some positive feedback on your past writing, and hold on to that. Keep it nearby.
4) Map Out and Commit to a Schedule
I’m a very firm believer that creation is 10% inspiration and 90% discipline. Especially when coming back from a long burn out, it can be crucial to have some guidelines or guardrails to help you get unstuck. Consider two 50-word writing chunks each day, or one 100-word session, or whatever works for you. But commit to putting something down, and don’t worry about the content being good, acceptable, or perfect. The key is to commit and have the discipline to carry through with just putting something down, something to oil the gears and get them moving again.
5) Read, Read, Read
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your burned-out brain is to fill it with other words. Read books within your preferred genre. Read your old favorites. If the words aren’t coming when you write, try populating your brain with the words of others. It’s amazing how much reading inspires the writer. A perfect sentence or a well-executed arc in a novel can inspire that old spark of, “I want to create emotion like that.” Next thing you know, you’re on your way.
6) Make a Big Deal About Your Comeback
Hey, you’re trying to bounce back from a long writing hiatus. This is HUGE. Don’t be afraid to treat it that way! Set a date to start working. Carve out a good chunk of time to go after this story. Make sure you have those snacks handy. Get your writing buddies together to celebrate with you. Hype it up. Celebrate you and your WIP!
Got some tricks that have helped you move through a burn out? Leave them in the comments below!