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How I Break Out of a Writing Rut

Have you ever found yourself in a writing rut? That can feel like the words just won’t come. Perhaps there’s no more to write? Here’s how to break out of it.

This 2012 picture shoes the Connecticut shoreline on October 30, as Hurricane Sandy was approaching. So many things can be stressful — including natural disasters — and cause you to fall into a writing rut. But you don’t have to if you have good strategies for dealing with hard times.

Foggy. Uncertain. Indecisive. Ever feel like that?

As a writer, these feelings can be detrimental to productivity and happiness in our work. And when you’re a writer working from home — as I used to be — it’s even worse because there may not be any fluctuation in the environment or folks to vent to.

When Hurricane Irene hit in August 2011, I dropped into a deep writing rut where I felt buried by work. Everything I did felt like it was only partially good. I was just trying to survive a difficult time but the survival-mode wasn’t fulfilling me as a person or a writer. I fell behind on assignments and struggled to catch up. Eventually, I did, but it wasn’t a good time for my work.

The same happened after a freak October snowstorm that year when we were without power for days. Unable to work, I fell into another writing rut. This time, as I caught up, I realized I’d need to make changes so that my career and my writing wasn’t derailed by unexpected events.

The deep darkness of a rut is a terrible place to be. Have you been there?

Those experiences served to prepare me for the future. Now, when challenges arise — clients coming and going, natural disasters, life changes — I don’t let the feeling best me. Instead, I use it to propel me forward.

How did I do it?

I write about it.

As a writer, why not write about the stressful times? This has become my first step in overcoming challenges and breaking out of ruts. Sometimes, it’s a stream-of-conscious brain dump that’s just for me. Otherwise, it takes an essay form that I might consider selling later. Either way, facing what I felt and exploring it in writing helps me to catapult myself out of bad places — or, at least work through them. From there, I can move ahead.

And sometimes, those pieces of writing become powerful works that can be pitched and sold.

I make changes.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, sticking to the status quo won’t work. After all, doing the same thing over and over again is unlikely to net different results. Instead, assess the situation. In my case, I had too much on my plate leading to feelings of overwhelm and ultimately not getting enough done. It was a bad cycle — so I made changes to break out of it. I let go of some work so that I could focus on better clients with assignments that excited me. It helped.

The cause of your overwhelm might be different than mine. Maybe it’s outside your work, such as taking too much on with your kids without getting the help you need. Maybe it’s money pressures. Whatever it is, look for ways to relieve the stress.

I take care of myself.

On airplanes, we’re advised to put our oxygen masks on first before helping others. This ensures that you get the air you need so that your help is affective (and you don’t need help in turn). The same is true for a writing career. You need to care for yourself so that you can care for your career.

What does this mean in real terms? Do little things for yourself like making time to read, exercising, having lunch with friends or taking a long, relaxing bath can go a long way to improving your mood, outlook and creativity. You just can’t let it feel like work is all you do. More importantly, when you have a habit of self-care, things are less likely to derail you. They are more bumps in the road than catastrophes.

Have you ever been in a rut? What did you do to overcome it?

Published inThe BlogThe Writing Life

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