Your goals fell by the wayside when you got sick in February. You stared at your keyboard for five minutes three mornings in a row before the kids woke up a full hour earlier than usual. In the car, you tap the steering wheel at a red light feeling the world is mocking your lack of progress on your manuscript. Are you in a slump? Or is this just a season? Can you figure out how to get out of a slump—or are you just stuck?

How to Get Out of a Slump in Your Writing

Sometimes I click along with my writing, hitting my weekly goals like a boss, submitting articles and posts early, and feeling like I need to invest in some confetti cannons.

Then there are weeks like this one.

The word count is down.

I’m writing far closer to deadline than usual. (Or missing deadlines—gasp!)

I can’t seem to untangle a critical chapter in my novel.

I’m interrupted with new certifications or assignments at work that wreak havoc on my writing schedule.

And I begin to slip into self-defeating talk, telling myself that I’m not as good as I want to be and why would anyone want to read this and … (See? Stop it.)

It’s easy for an off-week to slip into what feels like a slump. Suddenly I turn around and what seemed like a couple days off turns into six weeks. Does this happen to you?

When I’m in a slump

I can tell I’m in a slump if I’m talking more about writing than actually writing. If I stop making even small progress toward my goals, I might be in a slump. If I haven’t touched my active manuscript in two weeks and I’m not in the hospital, I’m definitely in a slump.

How to get out of a slump:

  1. Stop negative self-talk. (It doesn’t help and only makes you feel worse.)
  2. Write a little. (Even if it is three sentences.)
  3. Repeat. (Even if it is three sentences.)
  4. Celebrate the end of your slump.
  5. Build back up to the schedule that is in line with your goals.

That’s it. Too often, I think I need a four-hour-rain-dance-hoodoo-ritual-tea-cleansing to get out of a slump. I don’t. All I need is a pen and paper. Or the notes in my phone. A slump means life has gotten in the way for a minute, and I need to refocus and invest in my writing again.

What if it’s not a slump?

Sometimes though, it’s not a slump. Sometimes, life gets in the way of my writing goals, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Maybe we’ve made a move and I’m buried in 254 boxes. Or you are a caregiver in a particularly demanding time of service. Maybe I’ve just had a baby (which hasn’t happened in almost fourteen years, so I can’t claim that one this week). Or you are enduring a flare up this month due to chronic disease. Maybe it’s finals week and you have two papers due. Maybe I just need to switch gears and rest because I haven’t refilled my emotional, spiritual, and creative wells.

These breaks are not slumps when they are marked by circumstances that rightly require our utmost attention. It is a matter of recognizing that while writing is still important to me, my health and relationships need attention. I call these seasons.

What’s a season?

Truthfully, we’re all in a season right now. It might be a productive season or a resting season. It’s a period of time when I change tempo to nurture or rest a part of my life.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen more and more how life ebbs and flows in seasons. Not just the weather, but relationships, work, and writing.

I can’t always choose a season, but I can certainly recognize them and adjust. When fall shifts into winter, I don’t get to decide which day it changes, but I do get to choose to wear my coat when I feel cold. (Or more appropriately today, turn on the AC because the South doesn’t seem to believe in spring.)

What do I do in a season?

  1. Acknowledge that you are in a short season where your priorities need to adjust.
  2. Stop the negative self-talk. (It doesn’t help and only makes you feel worse.)
  3. Engage in self-care. (This is especially important if you are caring for others, whether it is an ill family member or small children. Small investments in your health and well-being benefit everyone around you.)
  4. Adjust your schedule and expectations. (If you’re like me, you can’t just stop writing, even in a down season. However, we can shift how we approach writing. For example, I might journal more or simply list a couple things I’m grateful for each evening.)
  5. Know that seasons change and be ready to re-engage.

Slumps and seasons mark all our lives. Recognize which one you are in and take the action you can. Being a part of a writing community like Becoming Writer can be a great encouragement through a slump or season. But whatever you do, don’t give up.

Do you have any advice for how to get out of a slump? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes and put a character in a slump or a season. Will he or she whine? Withdraw? Explode? Slumps and difficult seasons are ripe with conflict for characters, because so often we feel helpless. How will your character react? Share your practice in the comments and encourage each other.

Sue Weems
Sue Weems
Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveller with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.