There’s a certain kind of mood that’s hard to understand. You feel calm, healthy, at peace. Your mind is alert and you’re eager to write.
Except when you open one – or three – of your projects, you can’t come up with anything.
Writer’s block is one thing. It’s when your mind feels unable to come up with or process ideas.
This is – well, let’s call it writer’s lethargy?
It’s weird, I know. But it happens to all of us. And quite often, we mistake it for writer’s block and give up, when it’s actually something that requires a totally different approach to fix.
So how does one come out of writer’s lethargy? What you should try to do is keep your mind moving until it’s ready to be creative. And by that I mean take up an alternative writing activity – such as journalling or blogging – until you can feel your mental juices flowing one way or the other. What you shouldn’t do at any cost is give up. It isn’t writer’s block yet, and it may not be. Continuing to write is essential to bringing yourself out of the lethargy and into action. Which is why, if you were wondering, it’s best not to break away and do something else like read a book or take a walk. Those are great when you’ve hit a block and your mind needs some refreshment – with writer’s lethargy, what you need is not so much refreshment as it is a healthy push in the direction of actual writing.
I personally rely on four activities when I find myself in writer’s lethargy and want to keep writing. I pick whichever one I’m in the mood for and keep going until the actual writing happens or until I decide that I need to try another activity. Bear in mind – there may be some days when none of these work and the writer’s lethargy translates into a writer’s block. That’s perfectly okay, and I’ll be sharing tips on dealing with writer’s block elsewhere. But if you put your mind to one of these four, chances are you’ll get unstuck soon enough and get into the flow. And as a bonus, I’ll talk about a couple more activity ideas at the end that aren’t my own favourites but which could do the trick for you.
One of the reasons, in fact, that I started this blog was to have something productive to do when I had writer’s lethargy. I had anyway been toying with the idea of creating a writer’s blog specifically for literary fiction writers, and a severe episode of writer’s lethargy and the self-loathing that followed made me realise that there were hundreds of other writers out there who were possibly going through the very same thing that very same moment. If there’s something close to your heart that you’ve always wanted to write about, or a skill you know enough to teach others about, why not start a blog about it? If lengthy posts aren’t your thing, you can start an Instagram or YouTube channel instead. Just be sure to pick something you know you can stick with.
Copying out handwritten notes
Till about three months ago, I did a lot of freewriting every day. And I still turn to the notebook and pen whenever I want to write out my first thoughts on a project in an unfettered way. I’m flipping through those notebooks now and some of those drafts I wrote are actually pretty decent. So when I’m feeling less than creative, I spend some time typing out those notes onto my computer so that I can expand on them when I want to. It’s an excellent way to get into the zone of that particular project, and more often than not you’ll find yourself continuing well after you’ve copied what you wrote earlier. Related to this is another trick: copy out the last line or two of the last paragraph you wrote on a fresh page, and see where your thoughts take the story.
Making story-related notes, such as worldbuilding
Not all writing needs to be actual ‘writing’. Particularly if your story is set in some alternate reality, you’ll need to do some serious world-building to make your story consistent and believable throughout. Let’s say you’re writing a post-apocalyptic novel where half the world’s population got killed off by a disease. What are the symptoms of that disease? Does everyone catch it regardless of age or gender or ethnicity? What treatments or palliatives exist for it? How has society reorganised itself in the wake of the disease? Who are the rulers now? Who are the underlings? Are there any rebel forces? What are the penalties for going against the rulers? What would a day in the life of an ordinary person in the new regime look like? Ask yourself questions as though you were a reporter in that post-apocalyptic world and make as many notes as possible. You’ll find it much easier to write the actual story later if you don’t have to worry about whether or not people use cars or whether democracy is still a thing.
I used to maintain a diary on and off, but it’s only recently that I’ve started journalling as a writer (probs because part of me wants my journals to be discovered, lauded and published after my death like Virginia Woolf). It’s not fancy journalling in the least (I leave that to my boyfriend, whose Evernote entries are works of art), but it’s definitely honest. I write about the plots I’m working on, opinions on stories I’ve read, general observations about the world of writing and so on. I keep the pressure off myself by not bothering too much about prose quality, but I make sure to substantiate any opinion I express so it makes sense when I come back to it later.
Now for a couple of bonus tips.
I used to do a lot of this earlier, but after a while I realised I was just accumulating lines that made no sense whatsoever, and I stopped. However, this can be a great way to clear out your mind first thing in the morning (or whenever you sit down to write), so do give it a try to see if it suits you. I used to do sprints of two types – one where I’d keep writing without stopping for a certain amount of time, such as ten or fifteen minutes, and another where I’d fill up a set number of pages regardless of the time it took (but again without stopping).
Writing book reviews
I’m not too fond of writing book reviews myself, but I can see why a lot of writers swear by this. Organising your thoughts and opinions about what made a book work (or not) is a great writing exercise that can jolt your mind into thinking about how to make your own story work. Start with short, one-paragraph impressions of the books you’re reading and then move into longer reviews. You might even discover a new talent for critical writing in the process!
Which of these worked for you? Which didn’t? Do you have any tips of your own to beat writer’s lethargy? Drop a comment below!