8 Ways to improve your writing when you don't feel like it

How to improve your writing
How to improve your writing

As writers, we know that it's important to write even when we don't feel like it. But I think we can also agree that there are times when we simply do not feel like writing - or rather, we don't feel like creating something with words because writing can be hard work.

I've found myself in these slumps of creativity more times than I can count. For me, the creative process is one of peaks and troughs. I can write up a storm for a week or two, then go down into the trough of uninspired restlessness for anything from a day to a week or more.

The things that I do to fill my creative well and improve my writing at the same time don't require much effort in terms of creativity or 'work', and some of them are only obliquely related to writing, but they're good to do nonetheless. Like piano players have to practice scales, and ballerinas have to practice barre work and plies. Writers have to practice as well.

Specific things that I do to improve my writing.

  • Writing practice

I copy, word for word, a few pages from a book or blog or article that inspires me. I've been doing writing practice for years, and it's immensely satisfying. Obviously, this is only for your private practice, not for publishing. The aim is to get a feel for how a writer that you admire creates his or her writing pieces. It's subtle training for your inner writer.

  • Stream of consciousness writing

Writing non-stop for half an hour is one of my favourite things to do on uninspired days. I have no goal other than to give myself a place to purge. It's like cleaning house so that when inspiration visits once more, which it will, my mind will be clear and uncluttered.

  • Read

Because I write a lot and have to do other things, like be a mother, teach yoga classes and generally live life, I don't get to read as much as I would like. So when my inspiration to write dries up temporarily, I catch up on my reading.  Reading has to be one of the easiest ways to improve writing, so this should be no hardship to any writer.

  • Create with different tools

Instead of using words, I play around with paint and colour and pictures because it gives me pleasure. And because I know that some of the random little thoughts that pop up in my uninspired and exhausted brain during a writing strike might lead to something useful later on. So I play with the ideas that come straggling in, just not in words.

  • Learn to compare

While comparison is not normally on my list of useful ways to spend my time, it is great when practised in the form of metaphors and similes. Every so often, instead of writing whole sentences and paragraphs, I will spend the day coming up with metaphors and similes and other clever writing tools (onomatopoeia, synonyms, that sort of thing) for things that come my way during the day. I've written up lists of comparisons while sitting at the beach with my kids or at the playground, played synonym games in the car with them, and played with sounds and describing details in my mind while cooking dinner or waiting for the kettle to boil. In other words - you can do this anywhere.

I don't do anything with these lists that I create - I don't put them on my computer for later use or file them in a drawer. I just leave them in whichever notebook I happened to have with me and forget about them.

The point isn't to remember as many clever comparisons and synonyms as you can, but just to train yourself to think of them, so that when you want one for a great piece of writing, then your brain has received some training in making the connections between things and being able to express it.

  • Writing is a whole body workout

We often forget that writing engages the whole body. Our shoulders take a lot of strain, so does our neck and spine and lower back. Even our hips get tight and our knees suffer when we cross our legs or sit in other comfortable but ill-advised postures.

I do yoga daily, but when I'm writing a lot my yoga sessions are shorter. So I use this downtime to practice for longer sessions. I also do more walking to loosen up my shoulders and counteract all the sitting.  You can do any physical activity you like of course, as long as you remember to iron out the kinks and oil the cracks that come from regularly sitting behind a writing desk.

  • Learn

This is the best time to learn about writing. And my inner critic - probably the part of me that's responsible for the slump in creativity in the first place - doesn't mind because learning is associated with the left half of the brain, not the right half. Inner critics like the left half. It's safe and cosy and orderly there - we can be far less vulnerable and things make sense in this half of the brain.

Consequently, my inner critic is perfectly all right with the idea of learning. I might read a book on writing or do a short course on any topic that interests me. They all blend eventually and feed my inner writer, whether I'm learning about watercolour, photography, yoga or writing.

  • Socialise

I make time to see friends and play with my kids. I know that getting plugged back into the details of life is feeding my creativity, and by engaging in life I'm actually collecting fodder for my next writing peak.

Your turn

So there you have it. My favourite useful things to do when the writer in me goes on strike.

What do you do when your creativity slumps and the urge to write seems to have taken a nosedive? Please share it below in the comments section.

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