How to break through a creative writing plateau (using tried & true fitness methods)

Over the past few weeks, in addition to catching a small cold, I’ve hit a wall. Technically, it’s a short, easily-climbable wall, but it’s a block nonetheless; I’ve fallen into a rut.

Once I learned that the effectiveness of self-generated motivation and discipline can stretch only so far, I was forced to reassess my writing schedule. Currently, my word quota is approximately 1,000 words per day. Unfortunately, when I spend eight hours staring at a computer at work, I have less initiative to spend another two at home doing the exact same thing. Of course, the creative output is different but, either way, I still feel like a bleary-eyed hermit.

After a few frustratingly unproductive days, it was time to try something different. Like any good fitness program, you need to adjust your workouts on a monthly (sometimes weekly) basis to see results. I’m sure you’ve heard this word before: plateau. As it turns out, this philosophy can be applied to just about any other goal.

How do I break free from my plateau?

Good question but hard to answer. Over the past week, I’ve been brainstorming a few ideas, turning to my fitness resources for inspiration. Here are a few fitness methods, adjusted to fit my current creative conundrum.

Method #1

Shock the body and try something new

Creative translation: Find a new rhythm for my writing schedule. Create new and fresh habits.

I currently write every evening for approximately one to two hours. Usually, I’ll schlep my laptop onto the balcony, sit in a lawn chair and hammer out a chapter while listening to the sounds of traffic, a light breeze on my face. While this may sound relaxing, the brightness of the computer screen is not easy on the eyes, especially since I’ve already spent most of my day in a cubicle answering emails. As a result, my eyes start to water and I feel lazy from sitting still all the time.

Solution: Write more by hand during the week and transcribe on the weekends. When I was little, I used to write all my short stories longhand. Now, I do most of my writing, except for journaling, using a word processor. I am beginning to wonder if returning to my old habits might provide the change I’m looking for. My only problem is that my hand generally doesn’t write as fast as my fingers can type. However, this could be a blessing in disguise, thus forcing my overactive mind to slow the hell down. Maybe it’s time to whip out my old notebook.

How do you feel about the computer vs. longhand debate? Which do you prefer?

Method #2

Pre-plan all workouts & meals

Creative translation: Brainstorm weekly artist dates in advance.

I have let two weeks fly by without doing anything to feed my creative side, something that rejuvenates my soul, thus enabling my abilities to write. If I don’t refuel, then I won’t have the energy to write anything worth reading.

Solution: Write a list of 5 local places I’d like to see and/or visit, then go to one place per week. During the first week of July, I thoroughly enjoyed a trip to the National Art Gallery. I forgot how much I enjoyed wandering the halls and looking at paintings, re-discovering my love for Prudence Heward portraits.

Method #3

Keep track of your progress with visual reminders

Creative translation: Create a chart on which I can measure, see and rate my progress.

When I was a kid, I used to make a paper chain to countdown the days before Christmas. It was a way of turning the boring tradition of waiting into something visual, something measurable.

Solution: I’ve decided to create a chart on which I can record and track my word production. It doesn’t have to be official or professional, but it will help me see the progress I’m making, thus calming my impatience and the need for speed. Similar to that of a fundraising graph, using words instead of dollars, I’ll colour in the chart after each writing session.

Method #4

Take a class

Creative translation: Ditto.

I think this method is self-explanatory, but it’s important to mention that the classes don’t necessarily have to be related to your art. They certainly can, but don’t have to. It’s also a fantastic way to meet new people, make some friends, and have a change of scenery.

Solution: I have already signed up for rowing lessons in August! I’m very excited to try something different. Not to mention, I’ve been talking about trying rowing for over three years, but I never had enough money. Now, I have enough to give it a go. I am also considering bookbinding classes at the Ottawa School of Art this fall.

Method #5

Have a cheat day or take time off.

Creative translation: Take a short break from writing and explore another creative outlet.

Because the body adjusts itself to changes so easily, the logic behind this method is to throw it off kilter. By resting, we keep our muscles (mental or physical) from overworking, therefore making us stronger and even more adaptable. We come back to the drawing board with more ideas, more energy and ready to work.

Solution: Although I may not have the heart to abandon writing for more than 2-3 days, I will try shifting my focus for a few days. Paint instead of write, or draw instead of paint, or collage instead of draw. The point is to change mediums.

I hope this helps you push through your writing rut! Do you have any ideas that I haven’t mentioned here? Let me know what you do to break out of your creative boredom!

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