How To Break Out Of A Creative Slump In Twenty-Four Hours
Every writer cycles in and out of a creative slump. If you’ve been in one, you know the symptoms. Your ideas feel stale and repetitive. You might even feel bored or uninterested in your work.
You can write a successful story and remain mired in the depths of a recession. It has nothing to do with external success.
A creative slump is nothing more than a recession. Your mind temporarily pulls back to regroup from the excesses of creative prosperity.
If it’s your first time, you might feel like it will last forever. Heck, if it’s your tenth time you might feel that way. Go through enough of them, and you’ll understand it’s part of the process.
In this story, I’ll share six techniques to compress the doldrum phase of your writing cycle. A slump can last for days or even weeks. It will eventually work itself out.
You can speed up the process and snap out of your downturn in as little as twenty-four hours.
1. Learn about a new subject
A few months ago, I found myself in the depths of a rut. I felt like I was running out of new angles on the same ideas. I read a book called The Hidden Half of Nature by David Montgomery and Anne Bikle.
It’s a book about microbes. I had a passing interest in the subject and needed an influx of new ideas, so I tried it.
Of course, you need to do more than just read a book. You need to put it into practice. Don’t just write about what you learned, put a creative spin on it.
Take notes of crucial concepts and ask yourself this question.
How can I apply the [fill in the blank] concept to my domain of expertise?
In the book I mentioned, they write about radiation resistant bacteria. I could take the concept of these bacteria and write about resiliency, stubbornness, and redundancy. I ended up using it in a sci-fi story.
Finding these connections between disparate topics can break you out of your creative malaise.
2. Apply your expertise to something off topic
Let’s suppose you write about relationships, and you feel uninspired with the theme. Use your expertise in relationships and write about another subject. Let ’s pretend you play golf.
Golf is a lot like a successful relationship. You need to trust your swing, be honest about your mistakes, and don’t cheat by taking mulligans…
There may not be much outside interest in this sort of story, but who said you have to publish it? The purpose is to stretch your mind and look for new connections.
The benefit comes from the mental effort of squeezing your concept to fit into another world.
3. “Listen to” fiction
Most writers read fiction. Like most readers, I often stick to my preferred genres: sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, and thrillers. When I’m struggling creatively, I go outside my standard fare and delve into something new.
When you explore genres outside your norm, you open yourself up to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world.
Most of us cannot read a complete fiction work in twenty-four hours. That’s why I like audiobooks. I can listen on the go, sometimes at 1.5X speed. I can consume and absorb the equivalent to thirty-thousand words in a day.
Save clips or take notes as you listen to your audiobook. I’ll save a line that resonates with me. Then, I’ll take that line and build a story around it, or work that line into a story. It forces you to think in a way you are not used to thinking.
4. Edit someone else’s work
You’ve got your stable of favorite writers. Have you ever tried to edit their work just for fun?
When you take the time to deconstruct someone else’s writing you notice their subtle stylistic preferences — the secret sauce that makes their writing unique. Go through their piece and edit it as if you were editing your work.
Noticing the stylistic differences opens you up to multiple viewpoints of expressing the same idea. You will find it enlightening.
“I love the way she expressed that idea. I never would have thought of that.”
Most of the ideas expressed in the world have been stated before. It’s how you communicate it and the lens from which you approach it that makes our work unique. The key is to notice these differences.
5. Experiment and write about it
I’m a big fan of experimentation. Whenever I experiment with a new product, activity or skill, I write about the experience. The experiment does not have to coincide with your domain of expertise.
I find that writing about these experiments helps me understand the benefits I gained from the effort. It enables you to draw conclusions that you might not have been able to discern just from thinking about it.
A few months ago, I wrote about my experience with CBD oil. I’m no expert on the subject but writing about it helped me decide whether or not I should continue to use it. It also offered me a brief escape from my usual subject matter, allowing my subconscious to explore new ideas and perspectives.
6. Write by hand
When I first learned the skill of Copywriting, my mentor started me out with a simple, yet painstaking exercise.
He gave several pieces of successful copy and had me write them out by hand multiple times. Something unusual happens when you handwrite someone else’s work. You pick up some of their stylistic and structural preferences.
It doesn’t happen from doing it once. When I first did this exercise as part of my Copywriting apprenticeship, I wrote out the same piece over a dozen times. Do not try and improve or edit. The purpose is to absorb the style and construction of another writer.
You must do it by hand. You do not get the same benefit from typing.
Copying Hemingway’s works won’t’ turn you into a Hemingway, but you’ll gain a better feel for how he structured his work and his style. With that in mind, be careful about whose work you copy.
Spend an hour doing this exercise, and then start on your own piece without delay.
What you should never do
Never take a break when you feel like you’re in a rut. I know lots of people suggest a few days off or even a few weeks away from writing. Does it work for some people? No doubt. But I suspect that for every person who returns to their creative work, several more make their break permanent.
It takes a good deal of effort to entrench yourself into a solid routine. The idea of re-establishing a routine might feel daunting after you’ve been out of the game.