What to Do When You're in a Funky Creative Rut with Writing
A year ago, I was not in the best place. I wasn't in a bad place, but it just wasn't good. I was in a job that wasn't right for me. I was living in a city where I felt like an outsider. I was doing very little reading, and NO writing.
I confessed my fears in journal entries in attempts to fix it. I felt the weight of imposter syndrome. I feared my life had lost its purpose. I wondered just who the heck I was and what the heck I should be doing. I resented the funk I was in, the funk of not writing and not being able to write. I wondered, "Am I really a writer?" despite the fact that I'd graduated with a degree in creative writing with honors just a few months prior.
I was lost.
I felt incredibly guilty about this funk. I was frustrated that I was in an unproductive phase of my life. I was angry. I was depressed that I couldn't go after my dreams, that I didn't know what my dreams were. My state of being lost got compounded with a bajillion other negative emotions, which made me feel even more lost.
I could've tried to "power through it," a suggestion our society relies on as an effective solution to these unproductive states. And that might've worked. Or it could've backfired. I knew something was off, and I needed a change.
I was in a state of "un": unproductive, unhappy, unwriting. (Okay, I made that last word up. But you get where I'm going with this). I was living in a low-point, a funky creative rut.
The reality of low points or "un"-times
When you're in a funk or creative rut and have lost your motivation, it sucks. You feel like a failure. You feel like nothing will ever be good again. And it's easy to spiral downwards. Your emotions compound on each other. Your procrastination leads to paralysis. And you feel bad about that. Which leads to more procrastination. Which leads to more negative emotions. It seems to be a never-ending cycle!
There's a lot of information out there on how to live a happy and productive lifestyle. These are usually cheery, happy-go-lucky, over-the-top people whose lives appear to be perfect. They're worry-free, insanely-productive but still have time for fun and family, they wear the best clothes and the best smiles. They are perfect.
And when we see them, they make our own lives seem dull and boring and stupid in comparison.
But you have to remember, they're only choosing to show the positive sides. You don't see what's going on behind the scenes. They have chosen to display the perfect picture doing the perfect thing and NOT the picture of them crying over something bad that happened. They choose to show the success, not the struggle, not the hard work, not the blood, sweat, and tears needed to create that success. Our society is focused on the positives, and we hide the negatives under the rug.
And even though we don't see the struggles, the hardships, the funky states of "un", that doesn't mean that they don't exist. It doesn't mean that these shitty states are not important and have a very necessary purpose for existing.
The reality is, these funks, these low-points are completely normal. I'm sure you have experienced one before and I know you will experience one again. It's not going to be fun, but it's going to happen. And you WILL move past it and get back to something better.
Think of it in terms of story. Your protagonist has success and failures. Their lives go up and down. The basic plot arch of a story is a roller coaster with hills and valleys. Your character succeeds, and then they fail, and then they succeed, and then they fail. This happens again and again and again until you have a story. If you choose to end your story on a success, you have a comedy. If you choose to end on a fail, you have a tragedy.
YOU ARE THE PROTAGONIST IN YOUR OWN LIFE STORY. AND YOUR LIFE IS A ROLLER COASTER FULL OF UPS AND DOWNS.
For this story, you have carefully selected what was shown and not shown in order to have that effect (just like everyone you know has carefully selected what to show in their own life stories). In most stories, the reader doesn't get to witness your protagonist's entire life of successes and failures, but only a select few that you have chosen. That doesn't mean that your character's other successes and failures don't exist. Their lives go up and then they go down. And this process repeats forever.
There will be high moments. There will be low moments. Life will go way way up, and then it will go way way down. Life is literally full of up and down moments. They will happen again and again for your whole life.
The downs are necessary because they give you something to compare the highs too. If you didn't feel shitty sometimes, if you didn't experience states of "un", then you would never succeed and appreciate the highs. This is how you feel happy when things go right; if everything was all perfectly sunshines and rainbows all the time, you would never appreciate them. If that was your baseline, then how would you ever be happy when something good happens, when you are being productive, when things are going right? You wouldn't.
How to Get Out of This Funky State
1 | ACCEPT IT AS NORMAL
REMEMBER, THIS IS ONLY TEMPORARY! THIS TOO WILL PASS!
If your life is at a low-point, don't worry. You WILL experience a high-point again. Don't beat yourself up for being in this state; accept it as a natural occurrence. Recognize that this is where you are right now, and THAT IS OKAY. You are not forever trapped in this state. It is simply a low-point on your very long roller coaster of life.
2 | Figure out why you're here
What has caused this low-point? What has happened or is currently happening to keep you here? Get to the root of the cause and figure out how this happened and why it's still happening. Determine what isn't working.
For me, a year ago, this meant realizing that I was no longer in a writing routine. I wasn't immersed in the writing lifestyle. I wasn't writing every day. I didn't have any writing companions. I wasn't reading any life-changing books that made me want to write. I had lost my habits.
So then I asked why I had lost these habits. At first, it seemed very surface-level: I was busy working two jobs that required a lot of mental and physical energy; I didn't have the time; I didn't have the focus; I didn't have a story idea. But then I dug deeper and realized, I wasn't pursuing my passions AT ALL. I wasn't writing because I had required myself to focus my attentions on something that wasn't me. I wasn't writing because I wasn't happy with how my life was. I wasn't writing because I wasn't being true to myself.
This was HUGE for me to realize. When I was go-go-go I'd become complacent with how my life was. But underneath that complacency, there was a lot of unresolved, unhappy emotions. I was too busy to realize that I wasn't being myself. And then it finally had to bubble up and become a low-point, because it simply wasn't right.
Once I knew just how and why I had gotten to this point, I could figure out a way to move forward.
3 | figure out what you want + set goals
Evaluate what isn't working. What can you remove from your life in order to make it better? What can you replace it with? What needs to change? What do you want?
I took a long time and considered what was it that made me want to write. I thought about who I wanted to be as a writer. I thought about what was important to me to write about. I asked why I was writing. I created and worked through the things in The Real+Good Writer's DNA to get myself back on track. (Literally, I'm not even kidding, the birth of the guide happened because this was what I felt I needed in my life a year ago).
Then, I got laser-focused on what it would mean for me to be living a writing life I desired. I set goals that I wanted to achieve. I figured out what I wanted and put that into concrete, actionable goals that I could work towards.
4 | TAKE BABY STEPS TO GET THERE
"If you put one foot in front of the other, soon you'll be walking out the do-o-or!" Seriously, go cheer yourself up and get some motivation by listening to this song. Feel free to sing along. I sing it all the time.
Once I had that vision, it was hard to rebuild a habit and get back into a routine. You don't just wake up one day and become a highly-productive writer, just like you don't wake up one day and run a marathon. Things take time. Things take endurance. Productivity is a muscle that has to be built up if you want to sustain a productive writing life, and it takes time to build muscles.
So accept where you are and start slowly. If you're not writing at all right now, you don't have to wake up tomorrow and write 2000 words (and please don't try to! Don't overwhelm yourself!). If you wake up tomorrow and write for 10 minutes, that's FANTASTIC! If you wake up tomorrow and write 20 words, GREAT! All that matters is you take a step in the right direction. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be progress.
For me, I did exactly this. I made a date with writing and I put it on my calendar. I wrote for 10 minutes, and then let myself give up for the night. Even though it was just 10 minutes, it was much more than I had done yesterday. Soon enough I was writing for 20 minutes, then an hour. Now, I can write for quite a few hours before going a little loopy.
Don't leap out the door; put one foot in front of the other and soon you'll get where you're going. This is how everything is accomplished: with the accumulation of a lot of baby steps.
5 | persevere at all costs
JUST KEEP SWIMMING. DON'T STOP BELIEVING. (Are you hearing Dory and then that song with this?)
It takes 30-days to develop a habit. Don't write one day and give up. You've got to be in this for the long haul.
It's going to be hard. You're going to want to give up at times. Especially coming from a low-point, your bed and Netflix will be calling your name A LOT. But if you want to get out of your funky-funk and get back to a place of productivity, you've got to keep going. You've got to pick yourself up by your bootstraps, get back on the horse, and keep going after what you really want.
Stick to your goals. Remember why you're doing this. Come from a place of "yes" and keep going at all costs. You've got this, champ!
These states of "un" that feel so funky and low and shitty are not fun. They're not places you want to be. But they're completely normal occurrences that can bring forth an even better state of productivity and happiness. If I wouldn't have experienced this funky creative rut last year, I don't know where my writing life would be right now. But because I evaluated my writing life, set goals, and persevered, I created a writing life I LOVE. And I'm so incredibly thankful for that.
So accept where you are, evaluate what needs to change, reach for the stars, take baby steps to get going, and persevere. Your writing life WILL get back on track. Your writing life WILL reach new heights.
If you're feeling extra particularly funky, check out Christy O'Shoney's new FREE series on getting "De-Funked." It's AWESOME, as is she! Lesson #1 is a fun and super helpful little quiz that determines what exactly your funky self is going through. Go check it out and get de-funked!
Good luck, my dear writer. You WILL get out of this annoying and shitty phase. I'm rooting for you.
What do you do when you're in a funky, low-point, creative rut? How do you get yourself out of it?