Running Out of Steam

Have you ever felt as if you were running out of steam on a writing project?

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a writing friend. It went something like this, 

"A while ago I started this blog post series because I really thought it was a great idea. I had much to say and and it seemed easy enough to say it. But now that I've completed a good number of posts, I seem to be running out of steam. I still believe in the idea, but I have lost my sense of excitement. I wonder if I should bring it to a halt or how I should handle this problem." 
She went on to ask, 

"1. Have you ever started a series of posts and then lost the "flavor of it"...?
2. What did you do? Did you abandon them, cut them short or did you persevere for the sake of practice and experience?"

I had a good chuckle. At that point I was busy with a series on my own blog that had grown stale (for me), and I was having to work to regain my enthusiasm! The interesting thing was, when I pushed myself to WRITE, and get the words down, what came out was okay. I'd read it again the next day and realize although I knew I'd battled, my readers wouldn't. 

Those who have done NaNoWriMo will recognize what I'm saying. The first week is exciting, your story flows, and your characters come alive. The second week is a bit tougher. But then comes the dreaded third week where you wonder what on earth possessed you to get involved in such a project. The leaders start saying, 'Don't give up! You can do this." We are urged to keep our eyes on the finishing line and keep writing.

So what's the answer?

Here is part of my reply to my friend. Think of it this way. If you were working in an office, would you stop work when you lost interest in your task? If your boss gave you a letter to type and you didn't feel in the mood, would you say, "Nah. Maybe tomorrow!" or would you plonk yourself down in your seat and type, whether you felt like it or not? 

If you were a nurse, would you ignore the patients you didn't feel like working with? If you were a teacher, would you look at your room full of ADD kids and decide to take the day off and maybe come back tomorrow? You may feel that way. But would you?

Writing is work - and we write because we are writers, not because we always feel like it. I think this is probably when you grow the most as a writerwhen you have to discipline yourself to write even when you don't feel like it. 

Right now I have a deadline looming, two books to review, two blog posts due in the next few days, and a book I'm busy writingand guess what? None of them appeal to me. I'd like to curl up on my bed with a good book (that I don't need to review.) But I'm a writer, and writers write. 

Can you imagine the frustration of reading a book, and then half way through the story peters out? Instead you read a note from the author: "I got fed up with this story so I've decided to write something else." If you're writing a series, that's what you're threatening to do to your readers. My guess is they'll never follow another series you write if you do that. So go sit down, take a deep breath, and write!

Having said all that, we're not meant to torture ourselves (or our readers) with badly written prose. So here are some techniques that can help.

1. Have more than one project on the go so that if you really dry up on one topic, you can skip it for the day, and work on another one.

2. Work in advance. Don't aim to meet your deadline. Beat your deadline. The deadline I mentioned to my friend is actually the end of January, but my own goal is to submit it before Christmas so I can relax and wait for the edits in the new year.

3. Take a day off writing and catch up on marketing or on promotional work. Take a look at your website. If it's anything like mine, there is always work to be done there. Then make sure you get back to the problem work the next day.

4. Take a look at 420 There is a paid version, but I've found the free one works just fine for me. You set yourself a time limit, although I've found the default time works well. I think of my topic, possibly the one that I'm battling with, and hit start. For 4 minutes and 20 seconds I type. I try not to stop and think. I don't check spelling or research facts. I just type. I have been amazed at some of the "fables" I've come up with. It helps to clear the cobwebs and gets me writing without listening to my internal editor. 

5. If all else fails, go and buy an ice-cream and walk along the beach. Get away from your computer for an hour or two, and when you come back discipline yourself to tackle your problem child and you may be surprised the new thoughts that come into your fresh brain. Okay, that's something the nurse, secretary and teacher can't do. But hey! That's one of the perks of being a writer. 

6.  If you find you are becoming truly overwhelmed with all your projects, maybe the time has come to "step away from the task" and see if there's something that needs to go. And no, I definitely don't mean stop half way through a series, or drop a contract, or fail to submit an assignment. But sometimes we need to look at our priorities. Are we trying to do too much?

I have been feeling that way myself for quite a while, and so I've come to a couple of decisions. I'm juggling too many balls in the air, and as is always the case, something begins to suffer. In my case, it's my writing. I've got so many projects going, I don't have time to write . . . actually write. I feel as if I'm running out of steam. 

I do blog posts, marketing, social media, emails, etc . . . I work for hours every day, but I have a book in progress that I don't get to. Of course this hasn't been helped by a year spiced with knee surgery, two websites being hacked and having to be rebuilt from scratch, my husband's broken shoulder and me scalding both hands. (See selfie I put up on Facebook at the time) . . . I could go on.

However, for the past few months I've been looking for ways to wind down, and unfortunately this blog is going to be one thing that needs to go. 

I've completed the series on blogging which we've been doing for some months, and this is my last post for the year. So this seems like the right time to step back. I've been writing for Writers on the Move for four years, and it's been fun. I've learned a lot and enjoyed being a part of this talented group of authors. But time has come for me to step down and hopefully give my space up to another writer.

I will definitely visit from time to time and try to keep up with the posts. Keep up the good work girls! I'll miss you. 

SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband, Rob. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer, has brought encouragement and inspiration to a multitude of friends and contacts across the world.

Visit Shirley through where she encourages writers, or at where she encourages those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or Facebook.

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Karen Cioffi said...

Shirl, another outstanding blog post! I think all us writers reach that point of overwhelm at one time or another. I'm juggling 5 ghostwriting projects and I'm feeling that way myself right now. The good old 'feast or famine' of the writing world.

It's been wonderful working with you and you'll certainly be missed. Any time you want to guest post you're always welcome.

And, please drop by now and then to let us know how you're doing!

Have a wonderful holiday season and amazing new year and beyond!

Shirley Corder said...

Karen, thank you so much for your kind words. Yes, I think overwhelm and writing goes hand-in-hand. It is so difficult to know what we can do and what we can't cope with! I'm going to miss this group, and will definitely keep in touch!

Kathleen Moulton said...

Shirley, I have always looked forward to your posts each month. Looks like you're in a season of recovering. Best wishes for health and renewed energy!

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks Kathleen. In addition to stepping back from a few regular commitments, I'm taking a total break from writing for two weeks, and I'm sure I'll come back with renewed energy and enthusiasm!

Sue Peters said...

Great post! Thank you for the encouragement! I get the point, but I also understand that sometimes it is the hardest thing to give oneself permission to stop or do less. Your post has beautifully illustrated this. Kind of reminds me of a quote I put on my Facebook a while ago..."Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in your fruit salad." May wisdom prevail in all our lives! Best wishes for your new writing path!

Karen Cioffi said...

Hey, Sue, that quote is great. Who is it attributed to?

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks Sue - and thanks for the inspiration that got me thinking along these lines! Blessed New Year - and thanks for the tip about the tomato!

Shirley Corder said...

Yes, love this quote. According to Google, English writer and raconteur Miles Kington first said this.

Unknown said...

Great post, as usual! Your words of encouragement continue to give hope to aspiring authors like me to make it big in the future. I remember a similar blog post I wrote in my website:

God bless you and your family this 2016!

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