In a writing slump?

This isn't for rainy days and this isn't to discuss whether writer's block truly exists. Ask any writer and they will have different ideas around writing slumps and writing blocks and if they are things we simply impose upon ourselves.

What I think most writer can admit to though is that some days you come to the paper or the keyboard with ideas and with motivation, and on other days the wish to write is there but you just do not know how to begin.

As a former teacher, this difficulty with beginning is very familiar. It was often the reason a student would raise their hand - 'Miss, how do I start?' - and while it is a matter of ideas and motivation, it is also a matter of confidence.

This is something I've been thinking about for a while and so I wanted to suggest some things I've begun to integrate into my 'process', if you will, to help avoid the feeling of being slumped against a wall as if you've already run a marathon and now you need to go food shopping.

1. Discipline...

The moment I knew I needed to get my act together was when reading Stephen King's On Writing and he wrote extensively about his everyday routine when it came to writing. To be fair, I'm not writing novels so while I knew I needed a routine, I compromised on how it would work. I've never been able to secure so many words a day, I just struggle to work that way. But, I realised I could try and integrate the writing process into my daily life.

I began with planning to write for 1-2 hours a day. This soon became 1 hour I would time on my phone but then on busy days I'd forgo it completely, adding up the missed hours and cramming them into a different day instead. In regards to routine and discipline, I'm not sure this is what Stephen King meant...

I thrive when I feel like I am accomplishing something and the above routine ended up becoming more of a chore than a desire. Now my to-do list for each day simply says - write something. And it works (for now) because there are no parameters. The something is vague enough that whatever I create is good enough. There is forgiveness and kindness in this routine.

2. Ideas

How the writing community feels about prompts is incredibly varied too. I've seen sneering and I've seen those who swear by them. There is snobbery in being able to write without them when in truth, every writer is prompted by something... Just because it didn't come from a prompt list does not suddenly make you are higher order being.

Sometimes though, lists and idea generators that exist, don't cut it. Most especially if you experience slumps like I do where I become highly critical of everything I write and feel as if nothing is new, everything I am saying, I have said before.

If you follow me, you know I now have a library membership and cannot shut up about it. This is because the access to an online catalogue as well as the ability to highlight books (without it feeling like vandalism) has enabled me to view reading as a resource. It has also prompted me to re-read old poetry collections as if they are textbooks of the craft.

From this I now have a working list called 'Commonplace poetry ideas' inspired by the existence of commonplace books, which are books where people collect ideas, although they often write over a novel etc. In this list I write down lines, poem titles, after ideas and concepts that I have read and that I would like to try myself.

I'm not here to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of fantastic people who will do so. I'm here to hone my craft and practise, to push myself out of my comfort zone. I am learning best by imitation as it has helped me learn what my style is and what I enjoy. I have put myself back in the seat of a student and I think many of us could benefit from this - the moment you see yourself as a master, you stop learning. You become a stagnant pond.

3. Confidence

Now, the student who asked 'Miss, how do I start?' could have a plan and a set amount of time to write and still struggle to begin. This is where confidence comes in.

Not the 'I'm the best', 'I can do this', 'This will be the best poem I've ever written' confidence but quiet, affirmative confidence.

  • My plan is to write something, if I write anything, I have achieved

  • This poem is a first draft, it won't be perfect

  • There is no pressure to do anything with this poem, it can simply exist

  • You may return to this piece and completely change it, this is okay

  • No one else ever has to read it

  • There is no obligation to edit and refine once something is written, you have time

And so on.

A brief time spent on social media lately will reveal how many of my peers feel utterly defeated by algorithms and the pressure to be present. Whenever I see this, I think two things: 1) it sucks and I know how it feels all too well, 2) isn't it time to clarify with ourselves why we write?

The cornerstone of all three steps is the fact I decided that anything I write simply exists. If I decide to put it in a book, if I decide to publish it online, if I decide to submit it somewhere, so be it. But nothing I write is for those things. I am not writing for anyone but myself. It is hard to remember this but it is the most freeing state to write in. Put yourself first and I promise you, the writing will mean so much more and will probably be some of the best stuff you've ever written.

How the above advice manifests in my Patreon newsletter:
  • every newsletter has 15 prompts

  • the majority of these prompts are inspired by poems and poets I have read recently

  • there is a large appendices in the newsletter with copies of the poems which inspire the prompts

  • I have a 'Happy writing' section which sets you two writing exercises

  • I include two poems of my own based on the prompt list (in Education we call this modelling)

  • lastly, I break down and analyse a poem by another poet as it is a firm belief (again, this is the teacher talking) that if you can understand how something is created and why it works, you can attempt it yourself and do it well

The newsletter is available from the lowest tier on my Patreon.