When you are in a slump….
Okay I admit it. I’m in a slump.
I thought it would just last a week or so then I’d be back on the horse, charging into battle once again. Instead, it’s weeks later and I’m staring at a blank page with glazed over zombie eyes wondering why I can’t string a single sentence together.
I tried pulling out a few of my usual tricks. Watch a favorite movie that I like specifically for it’s storytelling. Listen to music that I could imagine as the soundtrack to my novel. Take a breather. Talk it out.
So how did I get here?
I got some pretty biting feedback that basically made me question my entire existence. Not gonna lie, it was a total gut punch. But I knew that if I could just come out the other side, my writing would improve, and my story would be better.
Except I’m not on the other side. Not yet anyways.
So how can we handle slumps?
Sure, I could wait to write this post until I’m over the hump and I give you lofty words of wisdom painted in the golden hues of hindsight. But TBH that’s not real.
Right now, as I wonder whether I ought to give up, as I ask myself if I’ll ever be any good–right now, here, in this ugly, self-pitying, miserable moment, this is real.
The pain is real.
The frustration is real.
I’m not going to sugar coat it.
Instead, I want to capture the raw vulnerability of the here and now, and hopefully, in some way, show myself (and maybe you too) that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
So I ask again, how can we handle slumps?
First, admit the truth.
Writing is hard. It’s healthy to admit it to ourselves that what we do, or at least attempt to do, is insanely difficult. And it won’t get easier. There is no magical finish line where everything clicks and you never struggle again.
But you will get better.
Remember, you’ve trained for this. You’ve worked hard to improve, to grow, to flourish, and all that training doesn’t just evaporate when the going gets tough.
Trust that you know a thing or two about writing. Trust all the work you’ve put into becoming a better writer.
Second, recognize the reality of hills and valleys.
Life ain’t easy folks. But I’m sure you don’t need to hear it from me.
Nothing is eternally good, nor is it eternally bad. There will be hills (the good stuff) and valleys (the bad stuff) and there is literally nothing you can do to change this. Even the best and the brightest have valleys.
Just know that if you are in a valley today, you won’t be there forever. Likewise if you are on a hill today, you won’t be there forever either. Lean into the reality of hills and valleys and take each day one at a time. You’ll be happier and more peaceful with the knowledge that there is no goal post, no finish line, no moment where you “figure life out.”
Third, please be kind to yourself.
You’re an artist. I get it. We are quick to berate ourselves, to agonize over that fickle mistress, perfection. But this isn’t sustainable.
We need to be kind to ourselves.
Please, take a chill pill and give yourself permission to write badly, or even not at all. Not every word on the page is going to be akin to Proust. Some chapters will be garbage. Some whole books will be steaming piles of manure. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean you are a bad writer, or a bad person, or unworthy.
Just keep going, and show yourself grace and mercy along the way.
Fourth, take a break when you need to (and stop comparing yourself to others!!! Stop it! Like right now!)
I know your Twitter friends might be completing their 97th novel this year while you limp along at the pace of a one-legged turtle, but that’s okay. Everyone writes at different speeds. Not everyone fast drafts. Some people churn out 7 drafts before something is ready, and some people only revise once.
This is in no way a reflection of anyone’s talent, marketability or value in the publishing world.
Take your time.
Log off of social media for a while.
Go for a walk.
Please, for the love of God stop banging your head against the keyboard, it’s not making anything any better.
And please, I beg of you, stop comparing yourself to other people.
Really, I get it, it’s easy to get caught up in comparing our current failures to someone else’s successes, and to let those gaps define us. But they don’t. In fact they are setting us back on our journeys.
Cheer for your friends’ successes, be inspired by them, but whatever you do, don’t compare.
Let your own visions push you to do better, not someone else’s editorialized highlight reel.
Fifth, come up with SMART goals.
I know what you are thinking. Uh when did this post become a corporate retreat???? Just trust me, okay?
SMART goals stand for
When you are in a slump it can feel like you’re drowning.
You suck at writing. Nothing is getting better. You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never achieve your goals.
Do these nasty internal lies sound familiar?
These lies keep us trapped in a perpetual state of paralysis.
We can’t do anything because we are awash in despair.
Why even bother if the only words you hear are, you suck????
A great way to combat these lies (yes they are lies) is to lay out SMART goals that can help set you back on a road to success.
For example, instead of telling yourself you are going to finish an entire first draft in a month and query in two months and get an agent in three months, and if you don’t it’s probably because you suck at writing, you have already set yourself up for failure.
Instead, start with smaller, more attainable goals with realistic timelines. Like, I’m going to write one chapter a night and revise two chapters a week. Or, I’m going to do a whole revision just focusing on the romance arc in one month, and then another revision just focusing on character development.
When we set SMART goals, we have a higher likelihood that we will achieve our goals. And when we achieve our goals, we build our confidence back up so that we can tackle the next goal, and the next.
Does anyone feel better? I certainly do.
I’m still in a slump. But that’s okay because A. that’s life and this too shall pass, and B. I have tools to deal with the slump.
Just keep going.