How to Get Out of Your Writing Rut 8

It happens to even the most committed, creative, and inspired writers — journal writers and creative writers alike. I’m talking about The Plateau, The Slump, where everything you write seems dry and hackneyed. Blah, boring. At least you’re sitting down to write, you’re getting words on the page, and that’s something. You think that if you put enough time in the chair with your notebook or computer the right words will eventually pour out onto the page. Sometimes writing happens that way, and when it does, the resulting joy makes you forget all the times writing doesn’t happen like that. But now the blah has just gone on too long. If you’re still with me, still reading this, then I’m guessing you’ve experienced or are experiencing something like this.

If you’re a journal writer, maybe you’ve been writing about the same issues, over and over and over. When you read past journal entries, you’re struck by either the consistent whining tone or by the way you seem to limit your entries to what you did that day, skipping over anything meaningful like a rock skipping over the surface of a pond. You begin to wonder if there’s any value in journaling.

If you write fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction, maybe you’re starting to doubt yourself as a writer, wondering who would ever want to read anything you’ve written — even if you’ve been successful in the past.

I know all this because I’ve coached many writers out of their ruts, and also because it’s happened to me more often than I’d like to admit. In addition, because I’m a writing teacher and coach, I have the added pressure of feeling as though I (and my writing) should always be on top of my game, always an example for others. Yes, I know … silly me, I’m human. Luckily, I’ve helped enough writers through this phase to know not only that it passes but how to get unstuck much sooner.

Have you ever gotten your car stuck in the mud? You know how if you keep spinning the wheels, the rut only gets deeper? Getting stuck in a writing rut is like that; if you keep metaphorically spinning your wheels by doing the same things over and over, you’re only succeeding in deepening your “stuckness.” The key is to provide a firm surface for the wheels to gain traction.

[tweetthis]If you repeatedly spin your wheels, you’ll only deepen the rut.[/tweetthis]

Here’s how to provide traction for your writing:

  • Shake it up — literally. Get up and do something so silly that you wouldn’t want anyone to see you: make strange shapes with your arms and legs, make faces, hang upside down over the back of the couch (this is just an example; don’t hurt yourself). Do this for at least 2 minutes (set a timer).
  • Mix up your writing style. If you normally write nonfiction, write a short fairytale in poem form; write a news story if you normally write fiction; if you’re tend to stick to poetry, write a few paragraphs of academic-style prose. Then come back to your regular writing style.
  • Write in a different location or at a different time of day, or both. If you’re in a rut, it could just be that you’re used to writing in the same place and at the same time every day. Change it up for a fresh perspective.
  • Practice being someone else. Pick a passage by an author you admire and whose style is not like yours. Write a short piece copying that author’s sentence structure, cadence, and pace exactly (or as exactly as you can).

There it is: when you find yourself in a writing rut, put one or more of these methods under your “treads.” You’ll be surprised by the results.


P.S. Be on the lookout for a special message this week about a new journal writing class starting in January!


Photo Credit: Jasperdo via Compfight cc


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8 thoughts on “How to Get Out of Your Writing Rut

  • patsy ann taylor

    Thank you for the suggestions. Just having finished another Nanowrimo experience, I need a little rest. But will try some of your ideas with the next project.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Patsy, if you’re not in a rut, then just save these for the future. NaNoWriMo is also an excellent way to move out of a writing rut. Forcing yourself to write a certain number of words per day, no matter the topic and no matter how good or bad the writing, is another way of shaking up the routine.

  • Traci

    This is so true. I have been writing everything from fiction to poetry to journals since I was about 10 years old. A few years ago some things happened in my life and I began to suffer from some deep depression. I’ve spent the last 2 years in almost silence in terms of my writing. For me, it was like losing my mind. I voice all kinds of thoughts and consider all types of scenarios in my writing. But, each time I sat down to put words to my thoughts, I stared at the blank page almost afraid of the words I might put down.

    Recently, I went back to one of my favorite bookstores. A very good (and old) friend of mine used to run a cafe in a bookstore. I and my husband spent quite a bit of time there. It became a sort of sanctuary for me. When that store closed, I searched, but could not find another place where I felt quite as “at home.” There’s another store by the same company (not run by my friends) that is a couple of towns over that I’ve started going to in the past few months. It’s nice. It isn’t “our store”, but its been a chance for me to sit and drink coffee and write in my journal.

    While strolling through this store, I happened upon a daily meditations guide for women. It’s written by a doctor who knows her field well. So, I began reading her short 2 page snippets each day. Then, I found myself journaling about the reading and how it might apply to my life. I am thrilled to say that I’ve written half a journal’s worth of pages in the past 2 months. It is truly amazing how much better one can feel when they are finally able to express themselves fully after so much time.

  • Linda Thomas

    Thanks for the excellent advice. I am getting bogged down with organizing my memoir but from time to time I print out segments of it. Reading the story on paper is different than reading it on the computer screen. It helps me think more clearly about how to organize segments better.

    By the way, in 1931, my mother (age 8) and her sister (age 7) and their parents drove from eastern Washington State to eastern Ontario, Canada (in other words, across the continent) in a car that looked almost exactly like the one in your photo here. Maybe it was the exact same model, I’m not sure. Mom told stories about getting stuck in mud, having to push the car uphill through the Rockies, etc. What fun to see this photo! They could have been my relatives!

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Linda, reading your story out loud is a good way to shake things up — a technique I use often. It helps to highlight awkward passages or narrative flow. Another way to organize is to print chapter titles (or events) on index cards and then lay out on a table or on the floor. Play with the order, moving things around, until the flow feels good. You can always change it later.

      Interesting note about the car … 🙂