Why does struggle have to be part of the creative process? What if instead of feeling like we've hit a wall, we flipped our frustration into creative opportunity? Here are five tips to keep your creative juices flowing when you feel like you're stuck.
1. Study other writers
It doesn't matter whether it's fiction, nonfiction, good writing or bad. Your goal is to take your mind off your own writing and start analyzing other people's writing.
Pick up an article and study the construction of sentences—how does the narrator build on information?
Read a book of poetry and pay attention to the rhythm of language—what words sound good together and which ones would you change?
Read a short story and study the narrator—what can you deduce about the narrator's attitude and/or relationship to the characters from the information he or she gives? What about the narrative tone, use of repetition, or why the narrator has chosen one word over another?
How about studying punctuation in a piece of fiction—have you ever done that before? Consider how by-the-book grammar helps or harms the dialogue within the story? Where are the rules of grammar broken in a way that enhances the character?
These observations will not only get your mind off your work, but they'll get you thinking about writing in ways you may not have before.
2. Get creative
Sometimes all we need is to get our creative juices flowing. Maybe your other talents include painting or playing guitar. Or maybe you bake seven-layer chocolate cakes, sew your own dresses, or whip up herbal tonics and potions.
It doesn't matter what you do. The point is to keep your creative juices flowing, and to build confidence in yourself while taking your mind off your writing. You'll feel accomplished, reenergize, and fresh when you're ready to jump back into your story again.
3. Make a list
Yes, yes, and yes! I'm a huge fan of lists because they help me stay organized and stick to my goals. Jot down some of the things you're struggling with in your short story. Is it building characters...what specifically? Dialogue, gesture, descriptive details?
Maybe you're struggling with finding your voice...what words or phrases feel inconsistent with your overall tone? Who is your narrator...have you created a character bible for him or her?
What about the structure of your story...if you changed the order of information, could you create a more compelling story?
If we're able to organize our ideas and roadblocks out of context, it can help us see things from an entirely new angle.
There are so many stressors in our daily lives that can add up to create little blockages in our creative flow. It's important to take your mind off your writing and take care of yourself. Meditate, take a bath, sit in the grass, read a book, go to a museum, or sit in a coffee shop and drink a hot chocolate while watching passersby out the window. It doesn't matter what you do, so long as you're taking time for yourself.
A long walk can help to clear your head, but that's not what I'm advising here.
So much of good writing is being able to use descriptive language to bring the reader in—to make the reader see it exactly as the narrator does. This takes time and practice—and what better time than when you're in the creative slump?
But don't just go for a winter walk, rather, think about exactly how you would describe the way the cold air comes into your lungs.
What words would you use to talk about a stiff muscle in your leg that's been cramping while you were at your desk all day.
Think about the complex colors of nature and the more elaborate ways to describe them (go beyond sunny yellow and burnt orange!).
Come up with metaphors, pay attention to your gestures, and listen to the way people speak. And take notes! Not only will you get away from that screen you've been staring out, but you'll force yourself to use new and exciting descriptive language. And showing versus telling always makes for better writing.