What To Do When Your Writing Becomes A Chore
You gotta get up in the morning, take your heavy load
And you gotta keep goin’ down the long black road, long black road
— ELO, Long Black Road
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably been there.
Your story’s stalled, you’ve lost your way.
Writing feels like work.
Everything you write turns to dust.
Now writing feels like a chore and you’ve lost your writing mojo.
What To Do When The Funk Descends
1. Own It
Go own that shit, it’s yours
— Drake, Own It
Like the man says, own it.
No-one said writing a novel is easy. Your success is ultimately a measure of endurance. What separates the few from the many is how long they will persevere.
Make the choice. Keep whining, or knuckle down it’s up to you. Whatever you decide, own it.
2. Clarify Why You Write
Can you tell me why?
— Bronski Beat, Why
You’re stuck. The cursor maddens you with its finger tapping insistence.
Write. Something. It says.
Now’s the moment to dig deep and remember why you are a writer. Your ‘why’ lit the flame. Locate it and stoke the embers.
Write your ‘why’. Make it as powerful and committing as you can. It will drive you past the current obstacle.
3. Negative Feedback
I have found you out you see,
I know what you’re doing, what you’re doing to me
— Down Down, Status Quo
Your efforts can stall when negativity intrudes.
When you listen to negative feedback, allow it to penetrate, you are empowering everyone but yourself.
Tell yourself that you’re not writing for takers, only givers. Your work is an act of generosity first and foremost. If someone is unwilling to offer constructive, positive feedback, they don’t deserve a hearing.
4. Write To You Own Schedule
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.
— My Way, Frank Sinatra
You bought the manual, trawled the blogs, attended workshops, listened to podcasts and read the how-to books.
Everyone else knows what to do. They have a method that works for them and now they want you to work that way too.
Hold on though, isn’t everyone different?
One reason your writing feels like chopping firewood could because you’re trying to walk in someone else’s shoes.
Figure out what works for you, the time of day, the tools you write with, the place or space you occupy.
Then do that.
5. You Doubt Yourself
Oh, will you walk with me out on the wire? ’
Cause, baby, I’m just a scared and lonely rider
— Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
Have you got a Narrator sitting behind your eyes?
The one who says you look rough this morning, your hair needs cutting, you’ve put on weight and boy, what you wrote last night is a total crock.
Well, you can hear the voice, but you don’t have to listen.
Whenever it starts up with the self-critical diatribe, respond with kindness. Its voice is bitter because it’s never allowed out into the world outside. No wonder it’s so critical.
Remind yourself you’re a good person and keep going.
6. You’re Overwhelmed
You’ve done too much,
Much too young
Now you’re chained to the cooker
Making currant buns for tea
— Too Much Too Young, the Specials
You’re stuck because there’s always something more important to do. Or each day ends with a belly flop onto the couch as you collapse exhausted.
It’s all about priorities, so here’s a plan.
Make a list of all your current priorities: one, two, three and so on. Then cross out everything from three on down. Wash and repeat.
It’s a method Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney mentioned in their book Willpower.
Be ruthless. You’ll get more done and if writing’s important enough to you, you’ll find the time.
7. Fear of Failure
Will our story shine like a light or end in the dark
— We Don’t Need Another Hero, Tina Turner
Your writing has pushed you further along the high wire than you ever intended. The fall was originally only inches, but now the ground has dropped away.
You’re swaying over a chasm and you’re terrified of falling.
Good writing exposes the writer’s heart. Your hopes, fears and weaknesses are all displayed. It may be fiction, but the words have come from somewhere inside you.
If you’re worried what your writing says about you, then take courage. Everything you ever say or write has been said before. Your voice is distinctive only because it’s yours.
You are likely your fiercest critic. Take heart and carry on and get your story told.
8. The Joy Has Gone
Same dances in the same old shoes,
Some habits that you just can’t lose
— After the Thrill Has Gone, The Eagles
You started writing for one reason, but you’ll finish your story for another.
Your story’s journey begins like every journey with some hope, a scintilla of excitement and a desire to explore the world. There’s joy in every step you take at first.
Your journey only finishes however, after you’ve battled through rough ground, climbed impressive peaks and forded rivers of surging ice melt.
It’s hard and at the time you only experience the grind.
If you’ve ever climbed a mountain, you know that after the lung busting, thigh burning, wind blasted effort you’ll sit in the mountain hut on the summit and feel the warm glow of exhilaration.
Keep that in mind. The prize awaits and with it returning joy, amplified by all that you endured in getting there.
9. Your Story Has Turned to Ashes
Do you think that I don’t see,
That ditch out in the valley,
That they’re digging just for me
— Bad Sneakers, Steely Dan
You began with a brilliant insight, the hook to pull your reader in.
Now you’re in the middle section, and the fire has guttered. Your story has turned to ashes and now you’ve lost your way.
Retrace your steps to that original burst of inspiration. There are an infinite number of ways to depart from this location. Brainstorm, use the Plot Generator website to spin some new options or try Story Spark or Brainstormer.
If the hook is too good to lose, find another way to use it. It’s your story and you don’t have to stick with your first idea.
Prevent The Funk
Prevention is always better than cure. Don’t wait for a funk to creep up on you. There are many ways to reduce your risk of a terminal slide into story writing stasis.
1. Get Physically Revved Up
Ride like the wind at double speed,
I’ll take you places that you’ve never, never seen,
Start it up
— Start Me Up, the Rolling Stones
Get on your bike, go for a walk, or a run. Climb a hill, mow the lawn, go swimming. Build a wall, erect a fence, dig a trench.
Let some physical activity into your day. It will make your blood flow, drive oxygen into your brain, release stress and tension and brighten your mood.
When the nights get lonely, it can be your only friend,
Hard traveling down the road
— Hard Travelin’, Mandolin Orange
Plan your year so you take some trips. They don’t have to be exotic. A local park you’ve never visited. Go there intending to record every bird you see.
Or take a train and visit a town you’re unfamiliar with. Listen to the way people speak and note the differences.
Take a bus and allow it to take you on a circuit to see where it goes. Take in everything, the sounds, the colours, the expressions on faces, the stray dogs, the architecture and what mood it all conveys.
It’s like watering the garden of your imagination. Discover which strange and unexpected flowers might bloom there.
3. Meet Some New People
People help the people,
And nothing will drag you down
— People Help the People, Cherry Ghost
Your imagination craves new sources of inspiration. If you limit your circle of contacts, you’re starving yourself of fresh potential. For a writer, people illuminate the dimensions of a story. Voices provide perspective, colour, insight.
Organise your week so there’s a chance to stimulate some fresh ideas for characters and storylines.
Go shopping with a keen ear. Join a club, meet your friend’s friends, sit in a cafe or coffee shop and people watch. Ensure you’re exposing yourself regularly to a fresh stream of new people to marvel at and describe.
4. Show Your Work to Someone
But there’s something that I want from you,
Distract me from thinking too much
—Help Me Out, Maroon 5
Some writers are made of steel. They commit to lonely hours alone with their writing and keep going until the end.
If that’s you, kudos.
If that’s not you, you might enjoy periodically sharing extracts of your work. This serves two purposes. First, it may help you course correct if you get some positive feedback that highlights a weakness you can respond to.
Second, you might enjoy validation and even praise.
If the road ahead really seems like a long black one, a little encouragement could go a long way.
5. Join A Club or Society
I just wanna hold you,
Take you by your hand,
And tell you that you’re good enough,
And tell you that it’s gonna be tough
— The End, Kings of Leon
The loneliness of a short-sighted author.
Trapped with a story struggling to be born can be a bleak situation.
Many writers get solace from joining a writing club or society. Although it’s cold comfort to understand that everyone else is suffering just like you, mutual pain can be a consolation.
Beyond that there is the fellowship that comes from sharing a creative impetus. It might keep the flame alive.
But just remember brothers and sisters,
You can still stand tall,
Just be thankful for what you’ve got
— Be Thankful for What You’ve Got, Massive Attack
During the struggle of writing a long form piece, you can dramatically enhance your chances of success if you develop a positive outlook.
Happiness as Shawn Achor points out, drives success. People with a growth mindset are the first responders when opportunity calls.
One simple trick backed by science is to keep a gratitude journal. It’s easy to do. Each day write three things you’re grateful for. That’s it.
If you do this consistently, your brain will adapt. In time it will anticipate the task ahead and automatically identify reasons to be grateful.
7. Set Goals You Can Hit
It feels far but life is just in hours,
Let’s aim high and save ourselves forever
— Aim High, Paul Weller
How long is a novel?
Typically, between 80,000 and 100,000 words.
If you do the maths, to write a 90,000 novel in six months you need to write 15,000 words a month which is only 500 per day.
Why not set a target? 500 words each day, how hard can that be?
The problem with a target like this is that it’s easy to fail. You only need to fall short on one day and you feel like a loser.
A more intelligent target might be to write each day, even if it’s only one word. Try that and see if you feel better about yourself.
Bonus: Music To Rev You Up
There’s been a musical flavour to this article. Here are ten songs which might lift your mood and get your creative juices flowing.
- Pump It Up, Elvis Costello
- Live Your Life Be Free, Belinda Carlisle
- Lovely Day, Bill Withers
- I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), The Proclaimers
- The Rockefeller Skank, Fat Boy Slim
- Go Your Own Way, Fleetwood Mac
- Regret, New Order
- Ashes, Embrace
- Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen
- La Tristesse Duerera (Scream To A Sigh), The Manic Street Preachers
Final Bonus: The Best Music Video Ever
If you have read this far and still need cheering up, take a look at the best music video ever made.