I’ll start by saying it’s okay not to write. There are periods in your life when you don’t feel like it. Every writer has a different process, and for some writers, part of that process is taking a break from writing.
It’s my belief that if you’re stuck in a creative project, something is blocking you. It’s not a lack of talent. Someone who is stuck in a rut lacks a support structure to ensure they can engage in creative practice.
Let’s adopt a Maslow Hierarchy of Needs approach. His original version had five tiers. Subsequent research and theories have added three additional tiers. I’ll use the expanded version. The premise until the primate needs are met, it’s impossible to meet social, psychological, and emotional needs. I’ll present the needs in sequence from bottom to top.
If you want to write but find it difficult to connect with your creativity, begin with the basics. It’s hard to be creative when you’re sluggish from too little sleep, too much sitting at a computer, or facing a vitamin deficiency. Ensure that you exercise, get enough sleep, properly hydrate, and eat a balanced diet.
You need a safe space to write. If you’re stressed about paying the bills or having a place to live, this will naturally draw down your inclination to write. There are some things beyond your control. You can apply for jobs twelve hours a day, every day, but there’s always a lag between an application, the interview, and starting the job.
There are community services to provide food security, municipal services for housing and rent.
Pre-pandemic, I suggested people go to the library to write. It’s a change of location, and it can help take your mind off other stressors. In the pandemic, where you can go is subject to closures. Sitting in your car, bundling up on your balcony, sitting in a park for fifteen minutes to jot down some notes or to dictate are some safe places you can go.
Don’t worry. With how 2020 and 2021 went, no one will think twice about a person speaking to themselves in a park. It will probably be one of the most normal things they see that day.
If you can’t find a suitable location to write, do what you can to change your office (or writing space). Add a few plants, brighten up the colours, change where you sit, or remove clutter. These changes will help clear your mind of distractions and make your space a stronger reflection of you.
Belonging and Love Needs
Human beings are social creatures. The last two years have been hard on everyone. It’s hard to write when you’re depressed, anxious, lonely, or feel like you don’t belong.
The only advice I have is to keep looking if you haven’t found supportive people with whom you’ve clicked. Join different hobby groups, book clubs, chat with people you meet in the park. Eventually, you will meet people who want to see you thrive and will support you on your journey.
Publishing work is a daunting task and can be hard on your self-esteem. Most writers are concerned with how readers will receive their writing. It’s important to have a strong support group and review your work several times before publishing.
Remember, even Nora Roberts and Stephen King have harsh critics, but they keep writing.
You can't please every reader.
Keep track of your accomplishments. View writing as a journey, not a destination. Compare the quality of your work today to ten years prior. You are a work in progress, constantly learning and improving. Engage in activities outside of writing to boost your self-esteem.
People need mental stimulation to grow and thrive. If you’re bored all the time, it’s hard to find inspiration to write. Excellent writers read a lot. They take workshops, join associations, network with writers, critique others’ works. Mental stimulation is needed to hone craft and develop self-confidence.
How do you engage in your craft? How do you hone it, practice it, experiment with it?
Are you engaged enough with other writers? If not, how can you expand your network?
This need refers to improving aesthetics and balance in life. Perhaps you’re working too hard at the day job and need to carve out more time for self-care and hobbies. Perhaps you need to spend more time with your friends and family to recharge.
At this level, you may consider changing how you dress or getting a new hairstyle to feel yourself again. It’s been two years of zoom calls and living in cramped spaces. Many of us are wearing sweatpants and hoodies and have COVID shaggy hair when we used to wear clean blouses/shirts with neatly pressed trousers.
Perhaps it’s the other way around. You’ve been wearing a suit and tie when you’re most yourself wearing jeans and a tee-shirt.
Find (or reconnect) with a sense of dress that you feel proud to wear.
Once you’ve grounded yourself, you’ll likely have time and energy again to write.
Writing is one form of creative expression. It’s a form of aesthetics. If you’ve met the other needs sufficiently, then take a closer look at what you want to create. Perhaps there’s something in there that you fundamentally don’t like. You can’t relate to the characters you’ve created. The conflict or backgrounds are meaningless to you, or the story has the wrong mechanics. In other words, the story you are writing is somehow ugly to you.
How can you make the story more appealing?
Sometimes that means letting it go and starting something else. And that’s okay.
Transcendence is the highest level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Individuals who have reached this level are confident and capable. They have plenty of ideas and are implementing them. They have successfully integrated the various levels of the pyramid of needs and led fulfilled lives.
You’re welcome to reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron
I want to thank @TonyaAtki for the topic suggestion.
Taking creative risks
Taking creative risks can push your skills as a writer. They can challenge how you structure your plot, develop your characters, and force you to come up with a unique twist.
Here are some pros to taking creative risks:
- you stretch your creativity and imagination
- you strengthen your writing skills
- you develop opportunities to collaborate (reaching out to new people, writing in a new genre, developing ways to cross-promote through blogs, etc.)
- you might discover that you enjoy writing in another subgenre/genre
- taking creative risks can develop into part of your brand
Here are some cons to taking writing risks:
- you might not have the current skill level to do the story justice
- you might alienate some of your readers if you switch genres or take too much of a risk
- the story might be so ambitious that it frustrates you, and you lose your desire to write it
- it can be a blow to your self-esteem to receive negative feedback
There are different types of risks an author can take. You can do something radical with the book cover. The issue with going too far off-genre with your book cover is that your audience might not recognise it and buy it. Many people do judge a book by its cover. If no one stops to read the blurb, they won’t buy it. You can do some A/B testing with your book covers to see which one gains traction. Sometimes, people will be attracted to an off-genre book cover. Other times they won’t. There’s plenty of opportunities to experiment with FB ads, IG, and reading groups.
I write romances, and romances rely heavily on tropes. If I’m reading a historical based in Scotland, readers expect a highlander in a kilt who often falls in love with an English bride. Let’s consider western romances where many stories involve saving a ranch.
I continue to listen to historicals and westerns, among many other books. There’s a certain comfort in knowing how the plot will unfold. I like seeing an unpredictable ending, which isn’t easy considering the sheer volume of stories in which the basic plot is the same: MC1 meets MC2, they need to save the ranch (or defend a Scottish keep), antagonist tries to kill MC1, the black moment between the romantic couple, resolution of romance and non-romance plots, an epilogue with babies.
The great books that stand out (for me) are those with moments of supreme humour (as in I’m walking alone on a highway listening to a book, and I burst out laughing) and unexpected resolution. Humour is fun to write and can push a writer’s skill. An original resolution that resonates is something that takes time, patience, and the willingness to push boundaries.
If you like historical romances, Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare and Sweet Revenge and The Switch by Lynsay Sands are (in my opinion) unique and funny. If you like contemporary romances, Running Wild by Linda Howard and Linda Jones might interest you. It’s not particularly funny, but it deals with a ranch-based romance that isn’t about saving the ranch (which for westerns is unique).
If you don’t like romances, Thirst by Katherine Prairie is a contemporary mystery with a unique plot. Sing the Four Quarters by Tanya Huff is a fantasy with an interesting plot. Stars Like Cold Fire by Brent Nichols and Duchess of Terra by Glyn Stewart also stand out in the sci-fi space. These books aren’t humourous, but they do stand out.
What’s common about the books I mentioned is that the authors took risks. They pushed the boundaries of expectations and crafted memorable stories. I remember each lot very well because they were different. The authors met my expectation for the genre (romance—the couple has a happily ever after, mystery—is solved, SciFi—has spaceships, fantasy—has second world), and they held my attention, adding something different.
What’s different? Their profession, the conflicts they face, their background, the dynamics of the world, the plot they need to address, humour, and how the couple addresses their interpersonal conflict to address the plot.
You can push your writing boundaries and still gain an audience if you position your book correctly. Test out the cover to make sure it will be well-received by your target audience. Write a blurb that accurately presents expectations. I wrote an article for A Muse Bouche on how authors have a contract with their readers. The blurb is the establishment of that contract. Ensure it accurately presents the plot and how it fits in the genre, and how you’ve pushed the boundaries.
When an audience has a clear understanding of what they’re getting involved with, they’ll follow you to the end.
Don’t be afraid to take risks—that’s how authors grow.
What creative risks have you taken? Reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron to continue the conversation.
I'd like to thank @RCameronThomas for suggesting this blog topic.
James' and Mirabelle's story will be released in Fall 2021. It's a high heat contemporary romance set in eastern Ontario.