Bad Days: When the Muse Checks Out

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So, your muse has taken a vacation? Maybe she’s just missing for the day, or perhaps she’s been gone for a while to parts unknown. What’s a writer to do? I don’t know about you, but there are days when the words flow, and there are days when I feel like producing a sentence is like pulling out a tooth.

We all need strategies to help us through these sluggish spots when we feel uninspired, when real life stressors take a toll on our creativity, or when we’re just plain stuck in a plot tangle. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to help me through, and my strategies differ depending on the issue. Here are three scenarios we’ll all likely face at some point in our writing careers, and my strategies for managing them.

It’s just one bad day…

Work somewhere else. Mixing up locations might be the jolt your mind needs to kick back into gear. If I’m particularly distracted by the stack of bills that need attention, or the pile laundry growing exponentially in the bathroom, I’ll take myself off to the coffee shop for a couple of distraction- free hours of work.  

Take a walk to clear your head. A little breathing space might be just what you need. Give your brain time to relax or switch focus, even if it’s only for thirty minutes. When you return to your work, it will be with a fresh perspective.

Participate in a writing sprint. Don’t worry about writing perfect words, just write. Forcing yourself to write when you aren’t feeling particularly creative may sound counter-intuitive, but it also might break the log-jam. Even if you can’t keep all your messy prose, there may be something worth salvaging.  

I’m struggling with this particular project…

Talk it out. If I’m struggling with a plot tangle, or I haven’t worked out certain big issues within my story, I’ll schedule a time to meet my good friend and fellow writer for a drink after work. She’ll ask the right questions or give me a new perspective on my project, and we’ll laugh and commiserate together.

Write out of order. Usually, I have a few pivotal scenes from my story that anchor things. They’re mostly high-intensity moments or big reveals and I’m always excited when I get to write one of them. If I’m really struggling with my manuscript, I might give myself permission to write a juicy scene, even if I haven’t reached that moment in the plot yet. If nothing else, I have a bit of fun, and often, this is enough to get the words flowing again.

If you are thinking about your story, you are working on it. I’m a loose outliner, meaning before I sit down to write a new story, I have a good bit of it already planned. I still leave plenty of space for the creative process to unfold while writing, but I like to have a roadmap. I consider this mapping part of the process. Sometimes, in the middle of the story, I have to stop and outline further before I can dive back into writing. When I’m thinking through my story like this, I am making progress, even if I don’t hit a word count for that day.

Plan tomorrow’s writing before you end today’s. This is my favorite trick for keeping my writing on track. If I leave off with a few notes on where I’m going for my next writing session, I can dive in relatively pain-free the next time I sit at my keyboard. It’s worth finishing up a few minutes ahead of schedule to add in this planning time.

Things are tough in my life right now…

Self-care comes first. You may not feel motivated to do kind things for yourself, but this is when you need to the most. Self-care doesn’t necessarily mean heading to the spa for a week, although that’s certainly nice! It may mean a fifteen minute daily walk with your dog, or a cup of tea on the porch in the early morning. Whatever you need to do to keep your head above water, do it guilt-free.

Remember why you love writing. Writing can be the catharsis you need during a rough patch. Worry less about hitting a word count and remember why you started writing in the first place. Maybe you can use your writing time to journal, or maybe you just want to escape into the world you’ve created for a little while? This may not be the time for aggressive deadlines or new projects.

Lower your expectations. If you can do a little work each day on your project, you’ll still make forward progress, even if it is slower than you’d like. Maybe just opening the document, reading through a chapter, and writing a few notes is all you can manage. That’s okay. Life hits everyone hard at some point, and sometimes all we can do is get to the other side.

Whether it’s one bad day, or something more, we can still make realistic forward progress on our project if we have a few tried and true tools in our belt when we need them.

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About Author

Tabitha Lord is the award-winning author of the HORIZON series. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, four kids, two spoiled cats, and lovable black lab.

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