It has taken me weeks to finally write this blog post or to work on any of my WIPs. Why do you ask? Well, my friends, I have come to the point in my writing journey where I have experienced my first writing rut. Basically, the hell on earth for writers, or so it may seem.
Writing ruts are the worst, far worse than writer’s block, in my opinion. When I think of writers’ block, I picture my mind as a blank canvas. There are no words, no ideas. My WIP’s and projects come to an immediate standstill and I temporarily lose my ability to complete sentences or put words on paper. I often experience writer’s block from lack of sleep, too much coffee or too much screen time. It generally lifts when I take better care of myself. But as for writing ruts– those are far more personal.
Writing Ruts vs. Writer’s Block
When I’m in a writing rut, it’s not that I can’t write, it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s not even that my brain is lacking words. The words are flowing, my projects are getting completed. So what’s the problem? Well, nothing. Nothing is wrong…but nothing is exciting about what I’m doing either. There was nothing challenging about it or unique to the people around me. I was just doing what I felt I was supposed to do. What sounded ‘right’– safe.
As soon as I figured out I was in a writing rut, that’s when the emotions started flowing: self-doubt, imposter syndrome, depression, anxiety. All this time I believed I was going towards my goal, working the steps, doing the hard work, participating in the workshops in my genre. I was following a formula I had set out for myself, one derived from experts and people I admired.
I was on the path that I thought I was supposed to be on at this point in my journey, but something felt off. I didn’t feel fulfilled, or true to myself and my goals. The direction my writing was taking was so predictable, exactly what I was trying to get away from by starting my writing journey to begin with.
Challenging My Inner Writer
So what did I do? At first, I did nothing. I had the urge to write. I had ideas flowing through my brain throughout the day. My fingers were tingling with anticipation to work on something, anything! But I resisted, half out of avoiding disappointing myself again. I waited almost a month (maybe more) before I sat back down at my writing desk to decide on my next project, a new path that I would be satisfied with and excited to explore. It worked– I chose to work on my poetry.
For me, poetry is equivalent to laying out my entire soul on the line for all to see. A window into my darkest secrets that I have only shared with a select few over the years. To share my poetry, a collection of my poetry, would be terrifying. Therefore, it was the perfect place to start to finally climb out of my rut.
The time I took to refocus on who I really was as a writer was priceless. I admit, it was painful to shelve projects that I was in the middle of editing, some full manuscripts ready for the next step. I think about them often, when I second guess my decision to switch gears. But I don’t light up when I talk about these projects as I do with my current WIP. I don’t have a twinge of fear that people won’t like it or that my words will be a little too raw; that little flame of the right kind of fear has sparked some of my best work.
Don’t fear the writing rut…use it
If you find yourself in a writing rut, don’t worry. It happens to all of us, another part of the process. But what you shouldn’t do is panic. Don’t immediately switch up your entire WIP, writing schedule, plot, plan, and goals, go cut your hair, burn your drafts, or sell your soul– just wait. Take some time where you force yourself not to write, even though you want to.
Then, when you’ve taken enough time, see what stories are begging to be told. Which pieces you are still excited to write about as opposed to the ones you feel you have to. Which WIP’s are you just a little fearful to write and expose to the world? Follow the fear and tell that story.
About the Writer: Shell Sherwood is a poet, fiction writer, freelancer, and creator of silly children’s stories, who could live on coffee, pastries, and romantic tragedies. She lives in Hudson Valley, NY with her fiancé and three boys, and aspires to own a small writing getaway in every climate. Learn more about Shell and follow her writing journey via her author blog, Instagram, and TikTok.