Emerging from a Writing Slump

You’re a writer. You’ve had some pieces published. Someone other than your mom retweeted a link to one of your pieces. You have felt that little push of something called “momentum” filling your writerly sails. You have learned to value discipline over motivation and have carved out “writing time” for yourself. Maybe you’ve set a daily word count and hit it, day after day after day. Everything is working until…nothing is working, and nothing comes. How do you get it back?

Read. Revisit. Run.

Read. The first obligation of the writer is to read. Read anything and everything. Start with the first book that made you want to write. Start with something that you always wanted to read but haven’t had time to. Maybe read something totally different than what you write. I’m a writer of fiction so when it’s just not coming I’ll read non-fiction, typically long-form essays or even military history. Reading is learning and writing requires constant, perpetual education and reeducation.

Revisit. Chances are you have pieces you’ve left unfinished, stories or poems unpublished, or a novel with only the first three chapters completed or maybe even finished and it’s just sitting in a drawer or on a thumb drive now. Go back into your own archives and read your previous efforts, see if there is anything you can “harvest” for your current project. Many completed works emerge from the half-done efforts and scraps of others. Take a look, be your own best source. There can be a tendency with writers to try to keep emulating what they believe their success to be–i.e. things that are published.  Learn from your failures, too. Here’s a snippet of a quote from Cormac McCarthy that applies:  “Even if what you are working on doesn’t go anywhere it will help you with the next thing you are doing.” Go back to your things that didn’t go anywhere and see what they have to offer you.

Run. Or walk or go to yoga or lift weights. Whatever–just move your body. For writers, exercise is less about the pursuit of a career in professional sport or Olympic glory than it is about the pursuit of state of mind. Writing is much more about thinking than typing, and it might help to use physical exercise to get yourself into that mental “zone.” I know runners who find the words in the rhythm of their stride as the miles go by, and yogis who find it in the practice of the poses. I find it in the gym in the rack doing single rep maximums. Whatever it is, some form of physical discipline can lead to words on the page.

There you have it: Reading, revisiting, running. Three guaranteed slump busters to get you back in the flow.

Steve Passey is from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the collection Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock (Tortoise Books, 2017) and the chapbook The Coachella Madrigals (Luminous Press, 2017). His fiction and poetry has appeared widely in print on and on-line world-wide. 

Read Steve's recent story "Like Break-Up Songs on the Radio..."