If you’re a writer— professional, part-time, aspiring, or something in between— then chances are you got into the job because, not surprisingly, you love to write. My husband and I were just this week talking about doing the job that you’d do even if you were never payed for it— and definitely writing is that for me. I write seven days a week, year-round, simply because even on the hard days I couldn’t love it more.
But we all have experienced those hard days: times when we feel like we’ve lost the spark of delight in what we’re working on. It might be a scene, a chapter, or an entire book that suddenly feels flat or empty or just lifeless on the page. So here are my top four strategies for bringing back the joy and getting back on track when it feels like your spark is gone.
1. Don’t despair. Things may actually not be as bad as you think they are. Just this week, my writing partner and I were remarking that it’s practically impossible to write a book without at some point being convinced that it’s utter crud. But those are dark, desperate moments. Don’t trust them! Put the work aside for an hour or a day— take a walk, watch a movie, do something to relax— and then approach your story with new eyes. In my experience the chances are extremely good that you’ll find the book isn’t nearly as much a mess as you thought. In need of edits, sure, but anything can be editing and fixed. Just remember: you can’t edit a blank page.
2. Find your why. But what if your story really is a mess— a mess that you not only don’t know how to fix, you don’t especially even want to? It happens. If that’s the case, I’d say to start small. write one sentence. But not just any sentence. Write the absolute truest, purest sentence about your story that you can. It might be an inner truth about one of your characters. It might be about the journey that they’re on. Write down the one most important, the one truest thing about the book you’re writing. That’s your why. That’s the reason this is a story you need to tell.
3. When in doubt, interview. For me, the most common reason I’ve lost the spark of my story is that I’ve somehow come unconnected from my characters and they’ve stopped talking to me. When that happens, taking some time to dig deep and reconnect with them can get you unstuck. Pretend that you’re interviewing them: what do they most hope for? What do they most fear? If I’m stuck on a scene, I sometimes shut my eyes and try to list off everything that my point of view character is feeling, starting with the basic five senses and working my way up from there. What do they see, hear, touch, taste, and smell in this particular moment? Often just the simple exercise of imagining myself physically inhabiting their skin is enough to help me reconnect to their emotional and mental reality in that moment, too.
4. Take a break. I save this strategy for last, because for me at least, it’s something that I only use as a last resort, something to try when all other strategies for recapturing the joy have failed. But there have been a couple of times in my writing life when trying to move forward on my WIP feels like pushing against a solid stone wall. And in those instances, what’s worked for me is to simple set the work aside and take a break from it. For me, that doesn’t mean taking a complete break from writing. Each time I’ve temporarily set a problem story aside, I’ve jumped almost straight into writing something different and new. And while generally, I think too much story-hopping can be counterproductive if you leap frog from unfinished book to unfinished book, in a couple of cases, it was exactly what I needed to rediscover the joy of writing. Switching to a different project re-energized my love of storytelling– which in both instances meant that I suddenly had the spark and the energy to go back to the abandoned book and finish it without any of the angst from before.
What about you? Have you ever felt like your spark had fizzled on a particular story? How did you get it back again?