Every writer has pockets of time when their creativity just isn't flowing. I know I do! Perhaps it's because I'm stuck on a plot point, I just can't think of the words or they feel too dry, or maybe it's because I'm having a rough time physically (achoo!) or emotionally (blub) and don't feel creative. There's even been occasions where I've looked at the blank opening chapter of a new book, frozen before I've written more than "Chapter One" and thought "I'm afraid of this book! What if it isn't really good? What if the plot isn't good enough? What if my readers don't like it? What if I don't like it?" That negative thinking can cause a creative paralysis and many of us experience it.
Well, here's the thing. Whether writing is your job, or your hobby, you have to start writing some time, and you have to finish it, otherwise you'll never have a novel to be proud of. So, here's how I get through those uncreative days and get back on track.
Focus on how you will feel AFTER you have written your word count
This reverses the way I think so I focus on the positive after effects of writing, rather than focusing on how I feel right now. I might not feel creative when I look at that blank screen, I might not even feel like tapping the laptop keys, but I know after I've written x-thousand words or pages, I will feel proud of pushing through whatever was stopping me from writing. I know I will feel a sense of achievement at hitting my word count. I know I will have moved closer to my goal of a complete novel.
Write something else
As it happens I'm not having an uncreative day today, but see those last two articles on How I Write (here and here)? Yep, they were written on uncreative days when the last thing I wanted to do was thrash out a chapter. So, I stopped trying to force it and wrote something different. I wrote content for this website. This served three purposes: one, it made me do something involving writing. Two, it enabled me to create extra content that my readers would find interesting. Three, it gave me a break from chastising myself from not writing and from staring at the screen to actually doing something. As the old saying goes, a change is as good as a rest.
Do your pre-writing work
What's pre-writing? It's the development work for your novel. I have notebook after notebook full of brainstorms for plot points and character development, notes on who my heroines and heroes are, a secret Pinterest folder for locations and other imagery research, continuity notes, things to remember, series information and how/where my current work-in-progress plays into that. These notebooks don't just cover what I'm currently writing but future books I'll write too. Even staring out the window counts as work so long as I'm thinking about my story. When I do get back to writing, this development work gives me a greater insight into the storyline and the descriptive information I'll include which makes my writing easier.
Know what your goal is
I know what I want to achieve this year and next (but you can focus on achievements for today, this week, this month, over five years, whatever works for you) and I know what amount of work I need to do to get there. I know achieving something today will make me feel enormously proud of my writing accomplishments, I know that as a result of gaining my goals I will be able to do things in my personal life (for example, I love horseback riding and it needs to be financed or if I double my word count one day, I can take the next day off to do something fun!), and I know my many readers will be glad to get more books into their hands and on their devices. If I focus on my goals, along with how I'm getting there, that works as a good impetus to get started.
Don't beat yourself up about it
Everyone is allowed an off day, even an off week. Heck, 2015 was a totally off year for me! Be kind to yourself. Don't punish yourself for feeling uncreative and being unproductive. Turn your laptop off, put away your notepad, and do something that distracts you so you're not even thinking about it. Go to a cafe and people watch. Put on the TV and watch a cheesy movie (Hallmark channel anyone?). Take a walk. Go to the movies. Cook a meal from scratch. Yes, it might be procrastination but it's also okay. You don't have to force creativity.
Part of what I've learned as a writer is to build in time to account for unforseen eventualities - like catching a cold, being unproductive, or having to meet some pressing matter - that will appear as you write your novel. If you allot time for what you might want to call "a duvet day" you don't have to feel guilty about using it!
Do you have any tips for those uncreative days? What do you do to power through or give yourself a break? Let me know in the comments!