I’ve told the story at several writers conferences of the time I reached a point in my writing ministry, somewhere after the release of my twentieth book or thereabouts, when I thought I was done. Finished. Burned out and burned up as a writer.
I’d been through a three-year process of revision and revulsion on one book that had left me doubting my ability and drained of all enthusiasm for writing. I’d hit roadblocks before and endured rejection, as we all do. I’d written some books that sold modestly; and by modestly, I mean my wife bought one. And I’d weathered those storms. But this time, I thought I’d have to find other work, honest work, actual work. Despite my lack of discernable skills.
Most writers hit rough patches in their writing. Some crash and burn, but nearly everyone gets stuck at some point. If that ever happens to you, you might try one of these five ways to reboot your writing life:
REBOOT #1. UNPLUG
Anne Lamott famously said, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” So try it. Unplug for an afternoon or a day—or more. Maybe your “stuckness” is screen fatigue, tech fatigue, or just plain old fatigue.
REBOOT #2. GET OUT
A simple change of scenery may be enough to reset your operating system. Take a hike—or a picnic. Or maybe just a walk around the park. Or sit on a bench and listen to the birds.
REBOOT #3. CHANGE YOUR SETTINGS
Move your next writing session away from your desk. Go to a coffee shop or chapel to write. Curl up in your favorite chair in front of the fireplace. Or sip your favorite tea, wine, or coffee while you write in the bubble bath. (Use paper and pen, though; it’s dangerous to take your laptop into the tub.)
REBOOT #4. SET A NEW SOUNDTRACK
See if a “just right” playlist can energize your writing. If you’re crafting a romance, play The Notebook soundtrack. For a military thriller, play music from the Call of Duty game. Or maybe, “Alexa, play Mozart.”
REBOOT #5. PLAY AROUND
I once got stuck writing a contemporary manuscript about an archaeological discovery in modern Jerusalem. I spun my wheels for some time until I finally threw up my hands and said, “Let’s just have some fun with this.” I began inserting a new POV from the time of Jesus, and suddenly both storylines came alive. (That manuscript became my time-slip novel, The Bone Box.) Something similar happened with that draining project I mentioned above. I cleared my desk and started playing on a new project and, while it never saw publication, it played a role in reviving my writing. Why not try it? Play. Experiment. Knock it down, and build it back up. You can always go back to what you were doing before, but a little playfulness might do you good.
Your turn: Have you ever “rebooted” a writing project—or your whole writing ministry? If so, what did it do for you?
God did give my ministry
reboot while I was novel-dreamimg,
and into it He thus dragged me
a-kicking and a-loudky screaming,
for poetry is not my thing;
it’s arty stuff from English class
to which the hairy hippies bring
nickel bags of Maui grass
and roll torpedoes with the teach
while reciting Kerouac;
not the way that I could preach,
but God, He said He had my back
and He smiled to make His point
by handing me a fresh-lit joint.
Loudky? If that’s not a word, it SHOULD be.
Loudky is what is what happens when you come home late at night, and have lots of trouble getting the key in the lock. The noise you make scraping the key all over the door wakes everyone up, and all you can say in your defense is “Sorry for the loudky”. NOT speaking from experience, of course.
So timely advice for my stuckness! Thank you. You reminded me how in the past when slogging through a project or a period of time, I intentionally did something physical (Like taking a walk), mentally (read something totally different or watched a documentary), emotionally (laughed, prayed), socially ( time with family and friends and spiritually ( more prayer, worship, journaling etc). Nourishing all dimensions of my life got me going again, Love your posts!
I have been away from this blog for a long time due to some odd technical issues (translation: I am getting older), but what a great gift for my first time back. Wonderful advice. I love the break-taking suggestions – that has always worked for me.
I would add, (since you asked) that in my case, I started writing the wrong book, and it wasn’t going well at all. Writing became a chore, a struggle, and I began hating it. Not good. And then the Lord (through my wife’s voice) suggested I try starting a completely different kind of book in a totally different genre. At first I scoffed. “That just isn’t me” (much like Andrew’s point), but the Lord (not to mention my wife) is never wrong, and the book got written, soon to be under contract. I guess I could coin a Hostetlerism – “Make sure you write the right book!”
Your advice is so on point. I was writing a nonfiction book for middle-graders. My critique group was about to meet again, and I had nothing ready to take. I knew what I was working on had become boring and didactic. Being in a what-does-it-matter-at-this-point mood, I wrote several pages from a “creatures” point of view.
My fellow writers took it seriously (well, you couldn’t take what I wrote seriously) and said I had to write the entire book in that style. Like Sy, I thought, “That just isn’t me.” However, I took their advice. I’m no longer bored with it, and my writing is no longer boring.
Rebooting a project that’s right in front of you is easy. If you’re stuck, kill your darlings. That’s the painful but necessary practice of letting go of stuff you might really like, but which distracts from your end goals.
In fiction, an experienced writer will ruthlessly cut a favorite storyline, passage, or even an entire character that gets in the way of the narrative. In non-fiction, that means identifying the place in your manuscript you’ve gone off on an extended rabbit trail that’s off brand or superfluous. Suddenly you’re starting fresh.
Rebooting an entire writing career is much more difficult. It might be changing your target audience for your next book. Are you writing for your publisher, your small group, God, Christians, pagans, your self, your future self, your spouse, your agent? Choose a different audience and see where that takes you.
If it works, track me down and let me know. I’m a bit stuck right now.
God is helping me reboot my ministry into a business.
It’s rough to reset your mindset.
He is redirecting my mind through multiple marketing courses (Obscure no more, jumpstart your email list) paid for by patrons who believe my book/products, are needed in the market place.
I am thanking God for His continual support in sending me rebooters!
When I get stuck, I ask God if I should continue, how to continue, and to send support on how to do it.
Simply put He has given me the boot to reboot!
Praise God, He has also pulled me out of the slough of despond multiple times.
Ask God to give you the boot to reboot.
Hebrews 1:10-12 KJV
For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: 12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
I got stuck on the prequel to my YA fantasy, which came out in 2018, and my publisher wants the prequel. My readers want the prequel. Heck, *I* want the prequel! I want it out of my head.
But I got stuck.
Then I started writing short stories, which I never thought I would like or be good at, and they ALL got accepted into anthologies! And I’m enjoying the writing process again!
Will I get back to that prequel? I hope so. I’ve already put a lot of time and money (for mentoring) into it. It’s a good story. It’s worth writing. In the mean time, I’m still writing, still working on my craft, so when I do get back to it, I won’t feel rusty or awkward. I’ll be able to get it done!
Kristen Joy Wilks
Yes, I’ve had to reboot. Not writing for a couple of months and focusing on reading good books, helped.
What’s your favorite show? Write a short about it. Favorite actor? Put him or her in a situation only they can escape from. These are good writing exercises you do only for yourself.
Thank you for this, Bob. I’ve never been so stuck in my writing as I am right now. I’d planned on finishing my WIP back in December. But my husband and I both got sick in November and then we lost our pastor and a dear friend in December and January. In between those two losses, my mom was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I took some time to grieve and to stand with Mom to battle, and now when I try to get back to work, I’m stuck at the same point. It’s like those real-life events formed a solid knot in my story, and I can’t move past it. Ironically, thread holds symbolic meaning in my story. Perhaps I need to journal to move forward…
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Thanks for the suggestions, Bob. I have gotten stuck on chapter 3’s rewrite…..I finished the first draft of the book and wrote the sequel but went back to the original to make sure the focus was right…..
Peggy Lovelace Ellis
Stuck? Yes! After several days of struggle, my characters still refused to cooperate. I created them, so why wouldn’t they do what I told them? They’re just words on paper, after all. Frustrating. One morning I woke with one thought in mind: You’re writing two stories, Nitwiit! So, I created a new document to which I moved everything about one character. Both stories then moved smoothly with the characters being reasonably obedient to my instructions.
Peggy Lovelace Ellis
Btw, I do know that Nitwit has only one ‘i’–obviously, I, not my characters was the problem!