For some reason, it tends to happen around holidays.
Maybe because there are so many conversations, so many people to catch up with, and so many chances to rehash the "so how is your writing going" question.
Maybe because it's also a hard season for focusing. Writing projects, writing progress, writing in general: it can all feel kind of stuck.
Ohhhh, that Stuck Feeling. It can get bitter. It can get ugly. It can spread. And fast.
This used to happen to me a lot. And yes, weirdly enough, right around Christmas time, it would hit me in a bad way.
Suddenly I'd find that at night, I did not have visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. I had visions of being exposed as a total failure at the whole writing thing. Visions of giving up writing, of doing something else, anything else.
And then I'd realize that I'm not just bad at writing, I'm bad at everything. And actually, I wouldn't be able to think of a single thing I was good at.
Which can get a bit depressing.
... Does this happen to anyone else, or is it just me?? Whew. Let's all have some chocolate.
That Stuck Feeling and I: we go way, way back. We have a lot of history. And I've learned some things about how to deal with it. (Besides the chocolate, which I'm guessing is obvious.)
Here's what I'm practicing, any time that Stuck Feeling shows up. Read on and arm yourself!
1) Know your enemy and its tricks.
For starters, this is a feeling, and that's important to know.
Like all feelings, it will insist that it tells the absolute, unvarnished truth. 100% reality. It will cross its arms and try to stare you down.
It will remind you of the zillion things that you are waiting on, which are all outside of your control.
Money, lodgings, opportunities, access, time, space, ideas, skills, did-I-mention-money, teachers, fellow writers, paid professionals, attention... It can generate an endless list of Things Waited On.
This feeling is relentless.
When it shows up for me, it works SO HARD until I finally say back to it: "Yes, you are right. I am stuck. Everything is stuck."
At which point, the Stuck Feeling puts a bag over my head, just in case I wise up and start seeing all the opportunities around me.
It is such a trap.
The best and most effective way to expose this feeling as a definite lie, the best way to banish it, is to do something New.
Something good and new for yourself and your writing.
Preferably something nourishing.
To that end:
2) Try a writing challenge.
It doesn't have to be a huge challenge; you might not have the energy for huge effort.
Design your own tiny challenge instead. Grab a book of writing exercises (I always recommend this one) or find some online.
Grab a notebook and a timer. Try writing just five minutes on a prompt, and force yourself to do five prompts in a row. After just that half hour of work, you might feel completely different.
(Of course, if you get carried away, feel free to do the whole dang book. It might change your life.)
3) Actively nurture your curiosity.
I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic, and she makes a wonderful case for following your curiosity. She says that anything you're interested in—even if it's just the tiniest bit of interest—is worth focusing on.
She writes: "It's a clue. It might seem like nothing, but it's a clue. Follow that clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will lead you next. ... Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places."
So when the Feeling of Stuckness rises up, try seeking your curiosity. Force your attention away from all the wailing internal voices (I know, they're super loud!), and ask yourself:
Is there anything that you're interested in? Anything? At all?
And then treat that bit of interest like a clue, and follow it. Learn a little more about it. Explore.
And then look around for the next clue.
4) Explode your creativity.
Move in a direction other than writing. Give the words a break. Give 'em some space to refresh.
And go try something else for a while. Go dance wildly and awkwardly to some loud music: get a bit sweaty.
Or try picking up a pen and sketching. Grab some simple, schoolkid watercolors and dabble in painting for a while.
I started doing that this summer, and every time I pick up my sketchbook, I feel wonderfully calm and focused. (In other words, the opposite of stuck and screaming.)
... The main thing is: move. This Stuck Feeling can work like a numbing drug, and make you forget how strong you are, in your mind, your body, your heart.
If it says you're stuck, go out and learn. Go out and do. Make something with your hands. Go on a hike. Explore.
Outrun the thing.
5) Remember how creative rhythms work.
I've seen this pattern again and again in my writing life (and the rest of my life too!). I'll feel stuck (and wretched) and I'll think that's whole story: I'm not moving forward and I'm awful.
I think everything's over.
... And then something happens.
It turns out that, during that Stuck time, something inside me was gathering. Energy was building, getting ready to connect with an insight that was just around the corner. A revelation, an epiphany. Something that makes all the difference.
Or I suddenly encounter a bunch of resources that are exactly what I need, and I leap ahead.
Or I experience some other major shift in how I think about myself, my creativity, my writing life, and the whole shebang.
And not only am I moving again, I'm racing.
This has happened so many times.
Here's what I think: Before our brains and hearts do something big, they sometimes pull in for a while. They get quiet and still.
And sometimes this goes on longer than we feel comfortable with.
I don't know if it's like that for everyone, but it has happened to me more times than I can count.
And I'm slowly catching on. I am trying to remind myself to not go running and wailing that I'm stuck.
I tell myself that what I think of as stuck might actually be a period of invisible growth. Something good is brewing, even if I can't tell what it is yet.
So no more running. No more wailing. I need all my energy for the Big Thing that is just around the corner, moving slowly toward me.
So that's what I'd say to you. The next time you feel stuck, like everything has just stopped, like there's no momentum:
Lean toward the next challenge. Even though you can't see it yet.
Take really good care of yourself and give yourself a lot of grace and a lot of room. Practice a skill, learn something new, listen for your curiosity, keep working.
When you sense despair thrumming beside you, shift away from it.
Because something fantastic is up ahead. And it will need all the energy you can spare.