Creative work is never an easy endeavor, and fiction is no exception. I don’t care if you’re writing a short story, a novel, or a limerick, eventually you’re going to hit the wall and nothing worth reading will come out of your efforts. It’s true of every great mind in every great endeavor. There will come a time when you just don’t know where to go. Characters won’t tell you what they want. Words don’t seem to rhyme even when they should. You’ll be ripping your hair out trying to find just one step in the right direction, but it seems like you’ve already tried every point on the compass.
So what do you do? Do you sit down with a notebook and force yourself to write? Do you build a bonfire and dance around it under the light of the full moon? It gets to the point where that last one will probably start to sound appealing if you think it would work, but I’m going to suggest a radical idea you can try. If that doesn’t work, you try the bonfire idea and email me how it turns out. Okay? Okay.
The answer to this problem, like most answers worth listening to, is sublimely simple. Are you reading closely? Because this trick might change your writing habits for the rest of your life. The answer, in a nutshell is…
That’s right, I said it, stop writing. The answer is you’re probably too close to your work. You’ve lost that spark. That fire that got you started writing in the first place.
Have you ever been to a live concert somewhere and stood with jaw on the ground wondering how it’s possible for someone to do something so perfect? Have you ever been reading a favorite book and looked up, only to find tears in your eyes you didn’t even realize were there? That’s art. It’s real, honest to goodness, powerful, gut-wrenching art, and there’s no way to really describe it in words. It makes you want to be better, strive for more, and work harder.
If you find you just can’t write anymore, you’ve got to get off your butt, get away from the computer/typewriter/napkins in the coffee shop and find something that’s akin to an out of body experience. It shouldn’t be that hard, it’s really all around us. I have a writer friend who goes out camping for a weekend to regain his spirit, and goes back to work on his manuscript on Monday with more freshness and vitality than anyone I know (I’m convinced if I could bottle his secret, I could make a fortune).
Once you get that power back, you’ll know it. You’ll feel ready to start again. You might have no idea what you’re going to put on the page, and that’s okay, because now you’re going to put your heart and soul into it again. So happy traveling, and long live the journey.