I am no fiction virgin. I have published six novels to date—one on my own, and five with Penguin Random House. Yet, until recently, I have never felt more stuck as a writer.
What happened? I really don’t have a clue. Yes, my agent has been hanging onto my latest book for a while. But I’ve always been a writing workhorse, so I decided to start another manuscript while I was waiting. I mean, what better excuse is there for starting a new novel than National Novel Writing Month?
Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get unstuck. It was like my brain had frozen or overheated or, I don’t know, locked some secret door, preventing me from accessing whatever neurons I need to write. Every day I’d sit at my desk, but the words refused to come.
I didn’t panic at first. But then, as the days and weeks went by, I became grumpy. Then angry. Then desperately sad, to the point where I felt like I was sinking deeper and deeper into that hellhole of despair, the one familiar to many writers who become convinced that our time is up and we’ve written our last books.
This is the sort of despair that feels as if you’re wading through a muddy pit of writhing snakes. You are trapped in a cloying sort of darkness, entangled and bitten by every mean thing anyone has ever said to you about your writing.
It took me a while to realize that the source of my despair wasn’t just a new crisis of confidence, but the fact that I had NO FICTION PORTAL at all.
For me, a fiction portal is any story or novel in progress. This portal is nearly as essential to my existence as oxygen. If I’m writing, well, I can handle almost anything else in my “real” life better. The fiction portal gives me a place to escape to, one where I control everything from the weather to why people fall in love with each other (or not).
Clearly, I needed to find a new fiction portal. But how, when it felt like every avenue was closed off to me?
I did find one in the end. I’m writing again, and much saner. Here are some strategies that worked for me, not in any particular order:
- Read three books in a row without writing anything new. Doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or nonfiction. One of the best ways to be an inspired writer is to be an inspired reader.
- Look at another manuscript you tried to write, anything that failed and has been put in a drawer or stashed in an attic box. Pick three paragraphs you like out of that abandoned book and use them to start something new.
- Clean out your office and closets. Sometimes, a clearer physical space will help unclutter your mind, too.
- Sign up for a writing workshop. Having a new audience will give you a fresh perspective on your work, and workshops are often free if you find one through your library or local bookstore.
- Try writing in a completely different genre.
- Read quotes by famous writers. Here’s one of my favorite sites for quotes by writers about motivation and rejection: http://writersrelief.com/quotes-for-writers/#Rejection
- Finally, get plenty of sleep and exercise. It’s impossible to feel like your head is on straight without getting plenty of sleep. And who knows? You might just dream your next plot line.
I found my new fiction portal this time around by starting something completely different: a YA science fiction novel. I haven’t read science fiction since college, so it’s fun to just let my mind roam in that direction without any pressure. Who knows where this book will take me? Maybe nowhere, but at least I have a new portal beckoning me out of my everyday life.