After two years of pandemic and countless other troubles, it seems many people are struggling. Social media and industry surveys tell us that publishing staff, agents and writers are stressed and burned out. Work feels tough.
We’re so drained and emotionally depleted that writing can feel like a battle. And for newer writers, who don’t yet have that support network, breaking into the publishing industry feels tougher than ever.
Earlier this year, I came close to giving up. It felt like a spark inside me had gone out.
I’d spent the last few months querying agents with my second novel and, despite a couple of very positive rejections, it had been met with a wall of silence. That, more than the rejections, is what affected me. Despite telling myself that agents were busy and overwhelmed, that inner voice grew louder, and I couldn’t shake the idea that my voice didn’t matter, that I was not good enough. I had to confront the idea that building a career as a writer might never happen for me.
It almost stopped me from writing altogether.
So, what changed?
I’m still in the query trenches hoping to find that agent, but things feel a lot brighter and that’s because I’m writing again.
Believe me, no matter how difficult it feels, there are things you can do to keep the words flowing.
Reflect on your creative process
If you’re not writing a thousand words each day, it’s easy to feel like you’re not making progress. But sometimes your brain needs that time to work through an idea or a problem before you can write. Understanding my process is something that has made me more relaxed about my abilities as a writer and that only helps keep the creativity alive.
I’ve written three novels and a novella now, and each time, it took me several years from the initial idea before I even wrote a word. That used to make me feel like a bad writer, but I’ve come to understand that the time my subconscious spends chewing over a story is important because it lays the groundwork.
Write every day is also advice I ignore, because it doesn’t work for me. Instead, I write in bursts, immersing myself in the narrative for a few weeks, with long breaks in between.
Build a process that works for you and you alone.
Remember that creativity is cyclical and that fallow time is important so the seeds of a new project can grow.
Don’t put yourself under pressure
Nothing destroys creativity more than stress. When you’re suffering from writers’ block, work stress or your mental health isn’t at its best, forcing yourself to write can make things worse.
Accept that, when the time is right, the urge to write will come back to you. In the meantime, do whatever you can to pave the way, whether that’s spending time reading or just focusing on self-care so your creative well is replenished.
Focus on the small steps
I’ve been working with a creative coach recently, and after bemoaning my inability to start work on the next round of edits for my novel, she set me a challenge: what if, after this call, you opened your manuscript and just spent two minutes with it?
So, I did. And that two minutes was followed by half an hour the same afternoon. Before bed, I spent ten minutes scrolling through the manuscript on my phone, allowing myself to clamber back inside the story. The next day I did the same thing. After three months of procrastination, in less than a week I’d worked through my list of edits. And I felt good again. I felt like a writer.
While these steps might not be the ones that work for you, there is a way to keep writing when it all feels too much. Focus on yourself; listen to your body and try to understand what it needs. Give yourself the time and space to come back to your writing a little bit at a time. No matter how long it’s been, it will still be there waiting for you.