Have you ever sat down to write, managed a sentence, or a page, or a blog post, and then thought, this sounds familiar? And then realized it is familiar, because it’s the same idea you had three weeks ago?
And I am absolutely certain that I cannot be the only one who does this.
You guys have done this at one time or another, haven’t you?
As writers, it’s far, far too easy to get stuck in a rut. We find a niche that works for us, a storyline we like, and suddenly—we’re stuck. It’s easy, it’s comfortable, and people seem to like it, so why branch out, right?
Actually, I am a great believer in having a signature style and embracing your niche. Sometimes, the jack-of-all-trades really is the master of none. There is something special about the depth and richness a writer who knows their craft lends to a story. People tend to write what they are passionate about, and passion, above everything else, is what drives a great story.
But sometimes, the passion is replaced by a template, and we sit down to write stories that we’ve written before and ideas that no longer excite us.
The trouble with being in a rut as a writer is that we’re not choosing to be there. We don’t just stop coming up with fresh, exciting story ideas simply because we don’t care anymore. If we did, it would be a good time to question if it was time to set the pen down and find a new path. We love our stories. We love the adventure, the thrill of creating something that sends chills down our spine and wakes us up. We’re after that elusive heart-stopping story that makes us want to cry and laugh and stay up until midnight because we’ve forgotten we’re working.
But sometimes, ideas like that are hard to come by, and so we continue to write what used to excite us, hoping that we’ll catch that feeling again on the next page.
Or the next one.
Or the next.
As a writer, I have found myself in a rut many times. My stories feel stale, and I find myself reading old chapters in hopes of remembering just what it was that excited me about them. When that happens, I know it’s time to make some changes and find a fresh approach.
Here are five ways that I do that:
1) Don’t try to pour from an empty pitcher.
Pumping out hundreds—or thousands—of words while you’re stuck in a rut and hating what you write is not going to help dig you out. Give yourself permission to pause, to slack off for a little while, and to rest. Very often, being stuck in a rut can be a sign of writer’s burnout, which needs, more than anything, a break and time to recover.
Nothing good comes of forcing creativity. If it is time to stop, then stop.
Come up with a plan before wasting any more time staring at a blank page or a story you don’t like.
2) Change your habits.
Sometimes our writing gets stuck in a rut because we’ve been operating in a rut. Day to day, our routines are the same as they’ve been for months, or even years. Our stories may just be one indication of the way we feel in our own lives.
It may be time for a few changes.
Now, most of us are not going to change jobs, shave our heads, or move across the country in hopes of shaking things up in our lives. If that’s you, more power to you. If that’s not you, maybe try something less drastic.
Have coffee at a new coffee shop.
Find a book or TV show that you wouldn’t normally read or watch.
Take a walk instead of watching TV in the evening.
Take a MasterClass you’ve been eyeing for a while, or find a new hobby that you wouldn’t normally spend time on.
Take a day trip to the mountains, or the beach. Linger. Sit beside a waterfall, or gather seashells. Smell the pines.
Go to a zoo or an aquarium. Don’t rush. Watch the ducks or the snakes in the reptile house. Sit on the steps near the shark tank, or beside the penguins. Be still. Admire.
Moments like these are story fodder, and without them, our stories dry up and become dusty.
3) Try something new.
New is hard. New is terrifying.
New is also the best way to shake yourself out of a rut.
Write a poem or short story. Write a story from a completely different point of view than you usually do or a genre that you’ve never tried before. Romance, or SciFi, or contemporary.
If you don’t have ideas, search for writing prompts on Pinterest. Pick one that doesn’t jump out at you, and give it a shot. You don’t have to show anyone the attempt, but trying may make all the difference.
4) Don’t limit yourself.
You are a writer. You have the tools, you have the passion. Just because you’ve been writing one kind of story, or even been doing one kind of writing since the beginning doesn’t mean you can’t branch out.
Novelists can write articles.
Bloggers can write poetry or short stories.
Journalists can write novels.
You are not confined to one style of writing or one genre. Allow yourself to branch out, and to learn a new style.
5) Stop chasing.
Ideas are not limited. There is not a certain number that each writer is allotted. You cannot run out, and you are not washed up if you’ve run dry.
Instead, I firmly believe that ideas are like butterflies.
If you spend all your time chasing after them, they will appear and disappear before you can blink, and you will end up frustrated.
Instead, the best way to catch them is to go where they gather. Wander in parks, or zoos, or linger in coffee shops. Be patient. Wait for them. Focus on other things, instead of racking your brains.
Before you know it, you’ll have more ideas than you know what to do with, and if you’re willing to take the plunge and risk trying something outside of your comfort zone, you may just be surprised by what you can come up with.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.