I’m not one to normally make assumptions. Yet I’m confident in expressing my belief that if you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve probably found yourself stuck on more than one occasion. Along with yours, my hand is most certainly raised. It’s a byproduct of the writer’s life, I’m afraid. Creative knots are totally normal, completely frustrating, and naturally, predictable in their unpredictability.
Does any of this sound familiar?
You don’t know what to write
Your writing doesn’t sound like you
You’re not feeling inspired
Your plot needs work
Words feel as though they’re forced, not flowing
Life seems boring
But in twenty years of writing, I’ve picked up on at least one thing to rely on. These knots, this stuckness, this feeling of being bound to the page yet unable to encourage words to flow, is a very common affliction in The Season of Beginnings—first drafts, early revisions, and so on. We’re vulnerable here, so it makes sense that the inner critic can carry more weight, self-doubt can root deeper, and we feel like we’ve taken two steps back before we’ve hardly had a chance to begin.
Aside from having trouble starting during the very season when starting is imperative, there are some other general reasons for stuckness: not sleeping well, having visitors in town, kids being out of school, the weather, and so on. And since writers are generally prone to throwing their hands up and wanting to walk away from the page, it’s a good idea to have some tried and true strategies that can help move through seasons when words don’t feel as accessible as you’d like them to be.
3 Ways to Loosen Creative Knots
Over the years I’ve collected a number of ways to help me find my footing again. Here are three of my favorites.
1. Trust the reader
In the book Good Prose, Tracy Kidder says that when it comes to building a relationship with your readers, the first step is trust. “Good writing creates a dialogue between writer and reader … What you know in prose is often what you discover in the course of writing it, as in the best of conversations with a friend—as if you and the reader do the discovery together.” When you think of what you’re writing as a casual and intimate conversation, it helps take the pressure off.
2. Write it like a love letter
Writer Allison Fallon once sent a newsletter about this very topic of getting unstuck, and her advice has stayed with me. She said to write it like a love letter. The recommendation is simple: pick a person, someone you love, and write your story to them. Thinking about all the readers who might ever come across your work can be overwhelming. Instead, hone in on one and make it personal.
3. Go to the museum
When I’m in a bit of a rut, either because the words aren’t flowing, or I’m in some transitional Season of Liminal Space, or even frustrated by my circumstances in The Season of Discontent, going to a museum is one of my favorite ways to shake things out. I share this exercise inside Wild Words as a way to get out of your own head and gain some much-needed perspective and inspiration. It’s not a complicated task, and should be a very enjoyable one. All you do is take yourself to a museum, tote a notebook along, then walk through the galleries. Once you come across a piece that strikes you for some reason, sit with it, marvel at it, then pull out your notebook and start writing.
Maybe you’ll write a poem, or a letter, or a memory. Maybe your words will have everything to do with the art in front of you, or maybe it will trigger something else entirely. No matter what comes of it—whether it’s writing you publish one day or writing that remains in your journal for all of time—it’s a sure fire way to ignite something new.