Have you ever been hit by a writing slump? Maybe you’re even struggling through one right now? They can strike at any time, taking with them our confidence, motivation, and belief in ourselves and our writing.
My most recent slump struck soon after I had published my first novel in the Bloodwitch series, The Dying Light, and was trying to begin drafting its sequel, We Become Shadows. I was so desperate to write, and to be with my characters again. But each day, the blank page beat me. The longer this went on, the more I started to doubt myself, and my own worth and abilities as a writer. Maybe I only had one story in me. Clearly, I was the problem – I just wasn’t good enough.
I’m sure you can imagine how well that way of thinking turned out.
Thankfully, with the help of good advice and good friends to talk to and learn from, I worked my way out of that slump, all the way up to 100k words and past the halfway marker of the first draft.
In this article I have tried to condense what worked for me into five actionable steps. My hope is that, after reading, you will feel empowered to flex those writing muscles and be strong enough to fight your way out of any slump!
1. Build a routine that gets you into flow state
Flow is ‘the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter’. In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues that ‘the best moments [of our lives] usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile’. Writing is a perfect example of this (although maybe struggling to fix that major plot hole doesn’t feel like one of life’s best moments while we’re at it!)
To achieve flow, we need to minimise or eliminate as many distractions as possible. Grab a snack, and have a drink beside you (peppermint tea always signals to me that it’s officially Writing Time). Hide your phone (you could try putting it on a shelf behind you, or even hide it behind your laptop). Close your door, and let any beautiful distractions (such as a husband trying to procrastinate from his own work) know that you’re now going to be busy for a while.
Although some people struggle to write while listening to music, for me it’s a cue that the flow state – and writing – beckons. You could set up a writing playlist, or – if you find yourself singing along – why not try out some lo-fi or even blast some brown noise? (It’s surprisingly handy if you need to block out construction work from next door when you’re on a deadline!) My current WIP has mostly been written to the Frostudio Chambersonic orchestral covers of Frozen. Whenever I hear those first few notes, my brain just know it’s time to write.
2. Try exploring by keeping a character journal
When I first started drafting We Become Shadows, I was overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of what lay ahead of me. I felt as though I had just climbed a mountain by writing and publishing my first novel, only to realise that there were even higher peaks still waiting for me. With the sight of a blank page – an empty document – all the confidence I had developed while writing The Dying Light crumbled. I didn’t know what to do. I felt as though I had lost my characters’ voices, and I didn’t know how to find them again.
Thankfully, that very week, my friend Jennie Fournier (@jenniefournierwrites on Instagram) posted a live about character journaling. I had never heard of this concept before, but it was a real revelation. As Jennie explains, you only need a piece of paper, something to write with, and about ten minutes to half an hour of uninterrupted time. Choose the character whose perspective you will be journaling from, then begin to free write in first person. Following Jennie’s method, I began: ‘My name is Vasco Kovalev, and I …’
The words simply flowed from there. Every day for weeks, I would sit down and write for about ten minutes from the perspective of one of my characters. Typically I would alternate between my two main characters, listening to their tangled thoughts, their deep fears, and their tentative hopes. Whenever I introduced a new character I would try writing from their perspective too, to get to know them a little better