Therese here. Please welcome guest Kristen Lamb  to Writer Unboxed. Kristen is the author of the best-selling book, “We Are Not alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media,” which hit #4 on Amazon last week in Computers & Technology. Kristen has guided writers of all levels, from unpublished green peas to NY Times best-selling big fish, on how to use social media to create a solid platform and brand. She’s here with us today to discuss something even more fundamental than platform: having a driving energy to write, and how you can revitalize yourself when that energy flags. Enjoy!
Bring Back that Lovin’ Feeling–What to Do When You Feel Burned Out
We are officially in the second month of 2011, and it’s usually right about now that the shiny has worn off the new year. Perhaps this was the year you vowed to take that novel more seriously, and you set out with bold promises of daily word count.
The first week of January, you were off like a shot. The creativity was flowing, and you couldn’t remember a time you felt so alive. You might have even wondered why you put this off so long? Fingers flying across the keyboard, you laughed in the face of all your naysayers.
Now? Four weeks in?
You’ve lost that loving feeling! Whoa, that loooving feeling. Bring back that looooving feeling cuz it’s gone, gone, gone….whooooaaahh.
Okay, I promise not to sing anymore.
Maybe you are heading into February, and, what was so exciting and fun a month ago, now feels more like slogging through a rice paddy wearing ankle weights and snow shoes. I feel your pain. So when you hit that mental wall, what can you do to push past and find that same kind of energy? Here are some tips to help.
1. Recognize that stalling is normal.
When we start off with a new sparkly idea, it is like a first date that goes really well. We spend every spare second dreaming of our next time together, and every moment apart is torture. But, like the dating world, the one month point with our new project marks a transition in our relationship. This is the point we often ask, Can I commit for the long haul? ‘Til “published” do we part?
Be encouraged. Just because we don’t get giddy every time we think of our work in progress in no way means that something is wrong. It just means we have an opportunity to dig in and go deeper. This is no longer a fling, a wild fleeting affair. It’s a commitment. That’s a good thing.
2. Revisit the plan.
There is a saying we used all the time when I was in sales. Fail to plan and plan to fail. Many writers (I’ve been guilty) just take off writing without any prior preparation. It is usually about the 30,000 word mark that this initial failure to plot starts becoming clear. We stare at our screen and realize our story is so complicated the reader is going to need a GPS and a team of sherpas to navigate our plot.
What went wrong?
Maybe we should have spent a tad more time plotting. We have a choice. Keep writing, or stop and make a plan. Often, if we will just go back to the original idea and construct even a basic outline, we can easily see where we got off track. Think of it like taking a wrong turn on a road trip. We can keep driving and hope to stumble across a familiar interstate, but the better idea might be to drag out that AAA map we ignored in the beginning because we wanted to be “spontaneous.”
Frequently, when we hit a mental wall in our writing, it is because our subconscious is shouting, “You took a wrong turn!” If we will listen and retrace our steps, we will be cooking down the Inspiration Interstate in no time.
3. Revisit our goals.
At the beginning of every new year, a condition called RDD sweeps the globe, and writers are particularly vulnerable. What is RDD? Reality Deficit Disorder. I don’t know if it’s the champagne or peer pressure that makes us believe we can lose thirty pounds, build our own California Closet out of spare Popsicle sticks, and win the Pulitzer by summer.
Let’s be honest. New Year’s Day makes us crazy.
We seem to lose all grasp on reality and forget that we do have a life. We have spouses, children, pets, day jobs and needy houseplants that all need our attention, too. These things don’t just go away because we decided to write a book.
If you are starting to feel burned out, then it might be a good time to revisit your original goals and grant some grace for temporary insanity. Maybe you need longer than 8 weeks to write your opus magnus.
Just because we move a personal deadline does not mean we have failed. Sometimes our creativity will lock up simply because it is caught like a deer in the headlights. Give your muse some breathing room, and she might just spark back to life.
4. Focus on love.
One great way to rest and recharge our creativity is to read. Remind yourself why you love to write. Get away from your own work and out of your own head for awhile. Read the kind of stuff that inspired you to want to write that novel in the first place. This is a good way to recoup, but still be “working.” Often, by “plugging in” to the creativity of others, we can recharge and be ready to write in no time.
In the end, know that writing a book is more like a marathon. We have to train, prepare, and then pace ourselves, or we will end up curled in the fetal position on the side of the road waiting on the rescue van. It’s normal to make mistakes and have setbacks and feel less than thrilled about our decision to become a writer. What is important is to remember that all of the doldrums and depression is temporary, but the thrill of publication is forever.
What are some ways you use to bust past the writing doldrums? What do you think causes your creativity to “lock up?” What tactics do you use to get unstuck?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s David Masters