Towards the end of any month-long writing challenge, the average writer finds herself grabbing at straws for inspiration to keep writing. All the great ideas that had been incubating up until the beginning of the journey are exhausted and she’s left with either a lengthy, cumbersome tome or yet another blank page of reticence representing the next poem or short story. All of the conventional approaches to consistent writing adamantly advocated by leading writer’s magazines, websites, and blogs are likewise worn thin and their effectiveness called into question under the scrutinizing gaze of the inner wild-child — who simply wishes to create with abandon.
If your wild child has grown bored with the carefully arranged, safety-approved environment of adequately structured playground equipment designed to stimulate just the right amount of brain activity and instead is testing the parameters of the playground itself, here are a few ideas to consider:
Honor the Block: Like all other demons of the psyche, writers and artists fear the dreaded Block; but fear only gives it more power. If you feel a block on your path, acknowledge it and invite it to your table. You may discover that it has something of crucial importance to impart, and it is your job to make way for its message. What questions would you like answered? Entertain a discussion and welcome the inevitable discovery of self that opens access into the deepest reservoir of your creativity. There are answers there. Some grave, some simple. Your Block’s presence may indicate major changes are in order, or it may simply mean that it is time to rest, or time to move.
Clean Something: Ever notice how cleaning off the kitchen table somehow leads to doing your taxes, a chore you’d been putting off for months? Just as our intentions are triggered and honed by unrelated activities, so can writing arise from non-writerly pursuits. And just as intent to write brings household chores to mind, so do household chores bring writing projects to mind. And obviously, writing, for most of us, is much more appealing.
Work Backwards: In a culture that advocates putting difficult chores first, days and weeks can fly past before we get around to doing what we really want. In writing, the difficult parts include, well, writing. Take time today to imagine the day you read from your published and wildly popular work. Imagine what you are wearing, where you are reading, and even the occupied seats of the venue. Design the cover of your book or get an author photo taken. Practice your signature and what you will write when fans ask you to sign their copy of your book.
Catalog Your Work: On days when I feel overwhelmed with things to do, I make a list of things I have accomplished. It immediately puts things in perspective and takes the pressure off. Instead of worrying about all the work that stands before the present moment and the moment when you can say you’re finished with your project, take a look through the work you’ve accomplished so far. I don’t just mean in the month of March, either, but through all the days of your writing life. This includes the comic strip you wrote in Jr. High, the love letters you penned in college, and the Journals you wrote as an undergrad. It should be obvious that everything you wrote for your college classes belongs in this survey as well. Impressed? You should be. Now to really bring to light just how much you’ve written over the years, index your journals, create a spread sheet of your papers, or stack everything you have in hard copy smack dab the middle of the floor and walk around it for a week. As a penultimate exercise in self-appreciation, check your Submittable account and wallow in the success of having actually sent your work out into the world. Some people never make it that far!
Go Where You’re Unknown: At the extreme end of this spectrum is moving to a different state or leaving the country. Culture shock will send you running to your Journal, your only true friend in the world, to normalize your experience, as a plethora of raw material pours forth. But even if you are a lifelong member of your community with no plans for ever uprooting, just going to an unfamiliar coffee shop or opting for a different branch of the library — ones your friends do not frequent, whose “regulars” are new to you, and whose location is in an outlying area — can trigger the kind compulsory focus needed for productive writing.
Remember, challenges like the Writers’ March are meant to work for you, not the other way around. If you find that any approach leads you down an ill-fitting path, simply turn around. You can always return to your comfort zone any time you like.
Good luck, good work, and happy writing.