Everything’s been going along great.
You’ve been writing, producing more and more work, and perhaps even publishing and selling. You’ve received good comments from readers, maybe good reviews, maybe even some recognition in contests.
In other words, things have been fine, but all of a sudden, in the words of the great Righteous Brothers song, you’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’.
You probably didn’t even notice it creeping up on you, but then one day, the feeling was gone. You’re no longer excited about your writing. You may go so far as to say that you don’t really care if you write or not. It’s like you’ve been in this solid relationship for a while, but now you can tell that’s something’s missing, and you want some space.
What’s going on? Should you be worried? Have you lost your writing spark for good, or is there some way you can get it back?
Is Fatigue Causing Your Writing Funk?
We writers go through a lot of ups and downs in our careers. We know it’s not unusual to get burned out, exhausted, or just plain tired of it all. That’s when we need a break.
If you’ve recently completed a new book launch, finished a novel manuscript, or wrapped up a book blog tour, it could be that you’re worn out, pure and simple.
Most of us think of this possibility first. “I’m just tired.” The good news is that it’s easy to find out if this is, indeed, what’s behind the writing funk. All you have to do is take a break and see if things get better.
Be careful, though. If you’re one of those “primed to produce” writers, you may have trouble with this step. You may resist opening your laptop for a few days, but if you feel guilty about that, like you should be writing, realize that you’ve got to go easier on yourself.
To really take a break, think of it as a necessary step for your future writing projects. You must refill the creative well. (Read more about that here!) That means at least a couple weeks of true vacation. No writing, no deadlines, no pressure on yourself to produce. Give yourself time to just be, and allow yourself to live without worrying about getting your word count in.
You’ll notice this is particularly difficult in the beginning. You’ll probably feel restless and like something’s wrong, but just go with it. After about a week, you should start to feel better. Concentrate on doing things you enjoy, and be good to yourself.
Much of the time, if you truly allow yourself to rest, it doesn’t take too long for the writing fire to warm up again. Don’t put a time limit on it, though. Depending on how hard you’ve been working, you may need even a couple months. If you’ve put out several novels, for example, the writing funk may be your muse’s way of telling you it’s time to regroup.
Give yourself the time you need. Work on something completely different if you want to—a crafting project or house improvement venture. If fatigue was behind your “don’t want to write” funk, rest will cure it.
Soon, you should start to feel the spark of a new idea. Maybe a plot problem resolves, or you get that butterfly-in-the-gut sensation about a brand new story. You grab your laptop and you’re off and running again.
This step won’t help you if:
- Fatigue wasn’t the problem in the first place.
- You’re tired, yes, but there’s something else going on, too.
How to Tell If You’re In a Writing Funk
Most of the time, you know if you’re worn out, simply because you can feel it. Plus you know you’ve been working hard.
Sometimes, however, it’s not just about the fatigue—or fatigue may not be the issue at all. This is where it can get a little tricky.
Are you tired, or is something else going on?
Let’s look at a few common symptoms shared by most writers who go through the “I don’t want to write” funk:
- You have a general feeling of apathy toward the work. My story? Who cares?
- You don’t feel any energy or joy in the writing process.
- You’re kind of stressed out because the writing isn’t flowing, and you worry something is really wrong.
- You feel a lack of excitement about any new projects—they all strike you as the same ol’ same ol’.
- You find writing or even the subject of writing irritating.
- You feel kind of generally depressed, or have an underlying sense of malaise following you around on most days.
- When you try to write, maybe you get something done, but you don’t really have any feelings about it. It just sits there on the page.
- You have difficulty focusing on a project. Your attention easily wanders.
- You go to the computer, fully intending to write, but nothing comes to mind. Your creative ideas seem to have all vanished.
- You wonder if maybe your writing days are done.
- You’re honestly in the dark about how to move forward. You just don’t know which step to take next.
- You question your purpose in life. You wonder if it’s time to do something else.
You may be experiencing other similar symptoms. The good news is that most writers and creative people in general go through this type of funk at one point or another. It’s why some artists disappear for years before coming back with new works.
Few would argue that the experience is unpleasant, though. Most writers would like to be done with it as soon as possible and get back to producing.
7 Reasons You’re in a Writing Funk—and How to Get Out
A writer’s funk is a very individual thing. Sometimes it helps to talk to other writers, but it’s really up to you to figure out what’s going on.
Following are seven common causes along with tools you can use to dig into your own psyche and find some answers. The whole experience can be frightening, but try to relax, realize that all artists go through it, and set your sights on helping yourself to feel better.
1. Something has changed in your life.
A marriage, divorce, move, job change, midlife crisis—events like these in your life can affect your writing, because they bring up the big questions:
Am I going to right direction? Have I been wasting my life? What if everything I’ve thought was right is wrong?
Events in your writing life, such as a bad review, a novel that fails to sell, or the inability to find a publisher, can also cause these sorts of ripples in your spirit.
Action step: Search your psyche for answers.
Using the following prompts, free write for 10 minutes and see what comes up. If you can discover the source of your malaise, you can take steps to address it, which can help you get back to your writing.
- I feel disappointed about…
- I’m discouraged because…
- After ______ happened, everything changed, and now I’m feeling…
Hopefully these prompts will jolt something lose from your brain that you can actually take hold of and fix.
Once you discover the source of your negative feelings—maybe that critique from an editor bothered you more than you thought—try talking it out with a friend, or putting it into context with all of your accomplishments. Balance whatever negative feelings you may have with the positive ones you’ve experienced before from your writing.
If you discovered something else—maybe you’ve been writing for years and haven’t been published yet and you realize you’re questioning your talent—take some time to delve into that issue. Realize you can always quit if you want to. Re-examine why you started writing in the first place. Revisit the benefits that you’ve received from it, and decide if it’s worth continuing.
Give yourself time to think about these options, because your feelings may change as your emotions even out.
2. You’re physically out of shape.
Particularly if you’ve been working really hard and burning the midnight oil, this might be your problem. Maybe you’ve been chowing down on a lot of junk food, neglecting your exercise routine, and the last time you got 8 hours of sleep was when you were in elementary school.
The body feeds the brain. Studies have shown that when you neglect your health—daily exercise, in particular—your thinking slows down, too. Your attention wavers more easily, and your creative edge dulls.
Action step: Build back your creative machine.
Take two weeks to make self-care a priority. Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night, eat only healthy food, and exercise at least 30 minutes a day. A simple walk will do.
Try to add in a stress-relieving activity like yoga, meditation, pet therapy, or time with friends. Focus on building back your creative machine, and see if your brain doesn’t naturally start gravitating back toward writing after you start to feel better.
3. You’re bored.
This can happen to anyone, but genre writers are especially at risk, particularly if they feel pressured by a publisher to keep producing the same type of book over and over.
You can quickly start to feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Maybe you’re experiencing a lot of success with the current path you’re on, and you don’t want to rock the boat, but your mind refuses to come up with one more romance (or mystery or sci-fi or thriller) plot.
This can also happen if you’ve gotten to a place where it’s almost “easy” to write the next book. You’re not feeling challenged anymore. You’re far too ensconced in your own comfort zone.
It feels good, in a way, because your future seems mapped out for you, but don’t fool yourself. Most writers love a challenge, and they also enjoy novelty and discovery. Maybe you’re missing all three?
Or maybe this isn’t about publishing success. Maybe you haven’t published a novel yet, but what you’re writing is still boring you to tears.
Action step: Learn something new.
First, ask yourself straight up: could you be bored? If you’re not sure, list all the things you like about what you typically write, and all the things you don’t like about it. Which list is longer?
If you decide that you are bored, it’s time to think about solutions. Maybe your publisher will give you some leeway to try something new in your next book. Or maybe you can work on a second project on the side.
Maybe it’s time to try something new altogether. If that means losing your current publisher, only you can decide if that’s a step you’re willing to take. One thing is certain—you need passion to produce good writing. Find out how you can regain yours.
Another trick: Learn something new about your genre. Find other writers who are pushing the limits, and read their work to discover what they’re doing. Get a new craft book and see what you can find that you haven’t thought about before. Attend a reading or workshop with a leading writer in your genre. Find a way to make what was old new again.
4. You’re asking too much from your writing.
Writers tend to go all in. You don’t just “write” as a job or a hobby. You are a writer.
That can be good and bad. It’s good when it compels you to put your best effort into your work. But sometimes, you may invest far too much of your life into your writing, and in turn, expect your writing to give it all back and then some.
Writing can be many things, but it can’t be all things. Sometimes when you realize that, you can feel let down, or unsure as to where to go next. Ergo, writer’s funk.
Maybe you find after a long, productive writing spell that your friends have kind of vanished, or your loved ones have forgotten to ask you to spend time with them. Maybe some of the other things that were important in your life have been neglected or forgotten altogether.
Action step: Expand your life.
Write down everything you’ve been doing besides writing. Are you still spending time with friends and loved ones? Are you involved in community activities, volunteering, sports clubs, or crafting groups? Are you actively engaged in your kids’ activities? Are you teaching or developing your other talents? Traveling? Learning new things?
If your list of activities other than writing is fairly short, this could be what’s causing your writing funk. The muse might be telling you that you’re asking too much of her. Try stepping outside the page and expand your life a bit more.
5. You’ve convinced yourself you’re just not “good enough.”
Maybe you haven’t realized it yet, but somewhere along the way, you’ve adopted the belief that you’re not a “good enough” writer to keep going.
Maybe you’ve received some difficult feedback lately. Maybe a life event has rocked you to the core, and made you question what worth your little words and stories could possibly have.
These feelings may be bubbling below the conscious level, causing those uneasy symptoms. You can bring them to the surface by doing some of the free writing suggested in step #1. If you discover this is the source of your writing funk, it’s time to make a decision.
Action step: Reconnect with your motivation to write.
The best way to address this problem is to ask yourself: Why did you start writing in the first place?
Maybe you planned to become a bestselling author, or you simply had a story to tell. Maybe you felt a compulsion to write and you really don’t know why.
Whatever the reason was, re-examine that reason now. Then ask yourself: If you were to start writing again today, would your reason why be the same? If not, write down your new reason. Then determine whether your current “why” has anything to do with how “good” you are.
Find out if you’re motivated by whether or not others think you’re a good writer, or by the desire to create.
If you find that you’re wrapped up in how “good” you are, consider the possibility that your ego may be sabotaging your creativity. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and realize that writing is a lifelong occupation, and we’re all apprentices.
Of course all writers want readers to enjoy their work. But that’s not something we can count on. Meanwhile, you have to determine for yourself if you can continue to create no matter what anyone else thinks.
It’s not an easy question, and I’ll be examining motivation further in future posts, but for now, try to reconnect with your original reason for writing, and see if that helps you get out of your funk.
6. You’re taking your writing way too seriously.
“Ack! How could that person not like my story? My life is over!”
Nobody ever does that, right?
So we all get a bit carried away sometimes. A lot of times. But remember—writing is supposed to be fun. That’s why most of us started doing it in the first place. Creativity in general is fun. That’s the core spirit of it. Take that away, and pretty soon you drain the life out of it.
If you’ve been a bit too serious lately about your writing, marketing, blogging, sales, reviews, and all the rest of it, that could be why you’re in a funk. Your creative spirit has finally stepped up and said, “Enough is enough. What happened to the fun?”
Action step: Reconnect with your inner child.
Ask those who are close to you whether you’ve been taking your writing a bit too seriously lately. Choose the ones who know you and spend time with you. Then listen to what they have to say.
If the message is, “Well, there have been a few too many ‘look at this great review’ tweets,” take the message to heart and see how you can lighten up. Step back and look at the big picture. If things are going generally well, can you ease up a bit? If not, can you get some help so it’s not all on your head?
Most importantly, plan some activities where you can reconnect to your inner child. Head to the playground, play some video games, or go for a round of baseball with the kids. Show the muse that you know it’s not all about sales figures and review numbers, and see if the funk doesn’t gradually disappear.
7. You’re seriously questioning what writing means in your life.
Gasp. This is a scary one. Just the act of questioning can be frightening. What if your writing years are over?
Maybe that doesn’t scare you. Maybe that’s what your funk is all about. Maybe you have serious doubts as to whether you have another story in you. Maybe writing just doesn’t give you the joy it once did. Maybe your vision is looking somewhere else now.
This can feel like a very dark place to be. Some describe it as “the void.” Creative people in particular find it very difficult not to be creating, and worse, to be questioning whether creation is their purpose at all.
Try to honor this space and listen to what it’s trying to tell you.
Action step: Listen to your intuition.
Talk to a seasoned writer, someone who’s been there. If you don’t have access to someone, choose a close friend that you know will listen carefully to you. You don’t want someone who quickly assures you that everything will be fine. Instead, seek out an empathetic person who knows you and understands your talents. If you have a therapist, that will work, too.
Describe how you’re feeling. Sometimes just talking it out is all you need to do. Try to put aside any fearful feelings you may have, and stay open to new ideas that come to you. It could be that you’re ready for a new chapter in your career. If you were to stop writing, how would you use your talents? What else might you do?
Sometimes these discussions can lead to new career paths. You may decide to become a teacher, speaker, or something else entirely. Or, as you explore the possible reality of leaving your writing behind, you may experience once again your love for it—just enough to get you running back to the page.
Either way, it’s okay. Often the only thing you need to do to get out of a “I don’t want to write” funk is to trust the creative spirit, wholeheartedly. Questioning yourself and your intuition is often what gets you in the funk in the first place.
Give up trying to be in control. Surrender inside. Say, “Okay, I’m listening, what’s going on?” and let your intuition tell you. Have the courage to let go of how you think things should be, and listen to what your creative self wants.
As Jane Austen said in Mansfield Park:
“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”
How do you get out of a writer’s funk?