Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How to put the brakes on a writing slump


Lethargy mixed with frustration on top of guilt. When this potent combo builds up inside writers' heads, it signals the enemy of all creativity: the writing slump.

You know the feeling. It derails your best intentions "to just sit down and write." You start losing hope you'll ever make it in this business. Worse, you make excuses or self-flagellate or ignore the problem altogether, none of which are remotely useful techniques for restoring your get-up-and-go for words.

I know the feeling because I'm on the downslide too. After a productive burst last weekend, I'm back to believing I can't sustain the momentum. But, since it's best to catch these downturns early, I turned to some wise advice I heard from a published author a few months ago.

Patricia Reilly Giff is the acclaimed author of Pictures of Hollis Woods, Lily's Crossing, and other children's and young adult books. She has been writing for over 20 years. Here are her snippets of advice and words of comfort to encourage aspiring writers, and help them stop the slump in mid-ride.

Writing Technique

1. Having story issues? Check to see if you have a person, a place, and a problem.

2. When looking at the problem in the story, consider: Will it make me worry for the whole book?

3. "All you have to do in a book is give everyone hope."


Sitting Down to Write

4. Give yourself 30 minutes a day. The cumulative effect is invigorating.

5. The first year of writing was 'really hard' for her. Sometimes, it takes a while to get into a groove.

6. Writing and stories are all about emotion for her. She'd picture 'softies with tears in their eyes' when she sat down to work.


Words of Wisdom

7. Stay up-to-date on what's new in your genre. What other books and authors are circulating?

8. When we write, we pull on a 'reservoir of memory' we change slightly.

9. "One of the loveliest reasons to write is to capture the past."


And, A Funny Story to Help Relax You

10. When Giff visits classrooms, she encourages students to interrupt her at any point with questions. At one point during a visit to a kindergarten class, a little girl waved her hand.

"Yes honey, what's your question?" Giff asked.

"I have a cat," the little girl replied.

Then the little boy next to her said, "Good question!"

***

So, I guess what I'm trying to tell you is ... relax. Take a deep breath, ask yourself some good questions (with or without cat), and concentrate on putting one hand over the other. Eventually, what went down will come up -- and bring you with it.

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