Columns > Published on February 21st, 2017

How to Write When the Going Gets Tough

Every writer loves to write when they’re feeling inspired and healthy. We all have those times in our lives when things are rolling along at a nice pace, and we are able to create and push forward with relatively little strife. But what do we as creatives do when life throws us a curveball and things aren’t so easy anymore?

Maybe you’re afflicted with an illness, be it physical or mental, that leaves you down and unable to concentrate on writing. Or maybe you’re struck with a profound sense of malaise by the political climate before us, and feel like the words just aren’t coming to you.

There are a million reasons that might come up in our daily lives that can sap us of creativity or inspiration and leave the well dry, but there’s no reason why we cannot find our way through the darkness and make art. If you’ve ever found yourself unable to create in the bleakest of times, here are several ways to find your love for writing once again.

There’s no reason why we cannot find our way through the darkness and make art.

Give Yourself Grace

The first step to getting your creative mojo back after a setback is to allow yourself time to heal. Self care takes many forms, and if you’re going to get back in the groove, taking care of yourself is the number one priority.

If it’s illness that’s holding you back, be sure to take your medications and attend all of your appointments. Lean on your support systems and allow others to take on some of your burden. Writing through illness isn’t easy, but with good self care and plenty of patience, it is possible.

If it’s a situation that’s got you down, try taking a step back from media sources and find solace in television, or film. Just because you’re not actively working on that one specific writing project doesn’t mean you cannot fill the creative well in other ways, and looking at plot and conflict through other mediums is still studying story.

If you find that you just cannot write fiction or poetry in your current state of mind, try free-form journaling, where you can get your every care and worry out on the page. The simple act of making words from your pain might just free up some of that missing inspiration.

Pad Your Deadlines

When times are tough and you know you’re going to need extra time to find your voice, it is okay to pad your deadlines. If you have a firm deadline with an editor, agent, or publication, try reaching out and seeing if there’s wiggle room to work with. Being honest about your ability to produce quality work in a specified time frame can do wonders for freeing your spirit. If you have self-imposed deadlines, by all means stretch them out a little and allow yourself the extra time you need to feel creative again. If you know your mind is swirling and what usually takes you an hour is taking three, then work that into your plan. Be as gentle with yourself as you need to be in order to work freely and still meet goals and expectations.

Find a New Practice

When times get really tough and you find that you just aren’t in the right frame of mind to be creative, it is time to re-evaluate your method and practice. If you are used to a solitary work environment, perhaps moving to a coffee shop or library where you are in the company of other people might invigorate your creative spark and help steel your resolve. Sometimes there is safety and security in being part of a community. Or maybe you’re used to working around other people but right now you’re feeling overwhelmed by society. In that case, take your act solo and hole up in a quiet, private place to work. Don’t force yourself to do what has always been your process in the past. Illness and anxiety call for change and adjustment.

Similarly, your regular work schedule for producing writing might need modifying. When we are sick or anxious about the world around us, sometimes hours of uninterrupted work can be added stress that we don’t need. Don’t be afraid to change it up and work in smaller, more manageable increments when you’re not well. Take plenty of breaks and practice good self care inbetween writing sessions. Even a temporary change in schedule can be effective in resetting your creativity and getting you back on the path to making art again.

Personify the Pain

One of the most amazing things about being a creative person is the ability to escape into art as a method of coping, and when we are struggling with illness or malaise due to the world around us, there is a way to channel that strife. If you find yourself hurting in one way or another, try personifying that pain on the page. Try making your illness a main character in your fiction, or an attribute of your villain, and then write about obliterating it in one way or another. If you’re fed up with the political climate, write words of resistance or support for your cause. Use the feeling of unease to fuel your creative work in whatever way feels most comfortable to you. It can be freeing to fight real life demons in a more metaphorical way on the page.

As creative beings, we know that our productivity is intricately linked to our well-being, and the unfortunate truth of the world is that there will be times when we are not well. Illness strikes at the most inopportune of times and the world is a volatile place, which sometimes leaves us in the lurch creatively. It is still possible to produce good art in times of stress, and hopefully a few of these ideas are helpful to you in finding your way back to the page.

How do you make creative magic when the going gets tough?

About the author

Riki has a long-standing love affair with all things books and writing. She indulged her love for all things literary with a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University and is currently studying at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Although she is well past her own teen years, Riki’s reading passion lies with Young Adult literature where she devours books that handle the “firsts” in life. When not reading and writing she can be found yelling at the television while watching sports.

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