Copywriting, Feature Writing, freelance life

How to get out of a writing slump

Image of crumpled paper in a bin and wording 'How to get out of a writing slump' by Ruth Dawkins

Write a content calendar, they said!

Plan a year’s worth of blog posts in advance, they said!

So, I did, and yet somehow it’s May 7th and I’m only now publishing the post that I’d planned for early April… I’ve had two big copywriting projects on the go, both of which required me to work through the school holidays, so when I did have spare time it felt much more important to spend that with my family rather than tinkering away in the back of my website.

However, school is now back, my diary is a little more under control, and I’ve got a chance to share this post that has been sitting in note form in my drafts folder for several weeks.

Somewhat ironically, given how busy I’ve been, I decided that in April I would write about how to get yourself out of a writing slump.

It happens to the best of us. There are no commissions waiting for our attention. No editor call outs in our areas of interest. Just a glaring white page, a flashing cursor, and a brain that feels utterly empty of ideas.

When that happens, you really can’t fight it. There’s no point sitting at your desk and waiting for the muse to strike. But what you can do is find an activity that will get the creative juices flowing again. Here are five things that I always try when the words just won’t flow.

Read!

It really doesn’t matter what you read, you just need to find something that makes you fall in love with words again. Read a good book – you could either reach for an old favourite or branch out from your usual interests to try something different. If you normally read fiction, try non-fiction. If you normally read memoir, try poetry. Read some blog posts by other people in your field. Read some great personal essays. Head to your local library and read some magazines or local newspapers. Maybe even re-read some of your own previous work as a reminder that you can actually write. (If nothing else, this will probably help you realise how much you’ve improved as a writer over the years!)

Buy new stationery!

Sometimes the blank page of a new notebook can be much less intimidating than the blank page of a Word document, so I always find it worth playing around until I find something that feels good to write with. It doesn’t have to be an expensive Moleskine notebook and a Mont Blanc pen. My favourite pens at the moment are Paper Mate InkJoys, which are $3 for a pack of ten from Woolies. (I only like the blue, pink and purple ones though – I fob the green and orange ones off on my ten-year-old). Nice stationery isn’t just for teenage girls, it can definitely fire up the creative part of your brain and help you feel inspired again.

Look to your past!

It can be horrifying, I know. The hair. The make up! The mid-90s NHS glasses! But there’s a reason why the phrase ‘start with what you know’ has endured. Digging through photo albums, letters or even, heaven forbid, your old diaries might unearth some inspiration about what has changed in the time you’ve been alive. Chances are, if something makes you feel happy, embarrassed, or overwhelmed with nostalgia, it will resonate with your readers too.

Get social!

Social media has a terrible reputation among writers – it’s where we go when we need to procrastinate. But it can also be enormously helpful. Twitter especially is an absolute treasure trove of stories, and whatever kind of writer you are you’ll find something that sparks your interest. Follow academics and keep an eye out for their journal articles, search hashtags that are relevant to your area of expertise, follow-up on stories of local interest, and connect with other writers or editors who often share their own tips. The news cycle moves fast, but not every story has to be a hot take, churned out in an hour. Sometimes a slow-burning story, or a more considered op-ed can be a better option.

Go outside!

In the southern hemisphere, we’re in mid-autumn, which means beautiful blue skies, cold, crisp mornings, and the smell of wood smoke in the air as Tasmanians try to warm their poorly insulated homes. My running routine always falls apart at this time of year, but I know that to keep my brain ticking over it’s still really important to to get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Walking my son to school every morning and then walking to collect him every afternoon gives me a good half an hour of quiet thinking time each day, and that’s often when my writing ideas come. Stick a mini notebook in your pocket, or make sure you have your phone with you for jotting down ideas in the Notes App.

If you’re in a writing slump at the moment, the most important advice I can give you is not to panic. Trust that when the time is right, you’ll find the right words again.

In the meantime, try some of the tips above, or share your own in the comments below.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

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