This article, written by Denise Agnew is from the November 2020 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc.  (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership

Writing challenges can convince you that you’re broken. The excitement you once enjoyed creating stories feels as if it has vanished. Since Covid-19 arrived at our doors, many authors have been looking for ways to cope.

If your creativity has diminished or completely disappeared, you may think it will never come back. Take heart. Writer challenges are rarely permanent if an author explores what is happening with their particular situation.

It is easy, when you’re not feeling well and negative thoughts are threatening to keep you down in the dumps and uncreative, to throw your hands up and surrender. It is tempting to wallow and decide it’s just the way it is. Most of us have done this at one time or another, and we don’t always realize that the messages we tell ourselves are half the problem.

My challenge for you is to dig deep and to not buckle under to despair.

Discover what’s really going on

Writing challenges are different for everyone, but there are things you can consider and questions you can ask to discover the origins behind your particular situation.

Overcommitment/setting boundaries

  • Make a list of commitments you have in your life and see if you are shoving aside your writing in favor of doing everything else first. If you discover you’re overloading your plate, make a list of what you might trim or eliminate in order to make more time for creativity. Your sanity is worth it.
  • Are you volunteering in organizations you no longer enjoy? This is a tough one. Often people feel that if they’ve committed to volunteer in an organization, that they have to stick with it no matter what. I have personal experience with joining an organization and sticking with it way after the luster and enjoyment was no longer there. In 2019, I significantly scaled back my commitment when I realized I no longer enjoyed the group the way I had for the last 10 years. It freed a lot of time.
  • Do you feel guilty carving out writing time? Many people are family first, everything else comes second. While this can seem virtuous, there are pitfalls. You’ve heard the old saying that says if momma isn’t happy, no one is. I guarantee if you are dying to write, but have abandoned it because other people are demanding every second of your time, any subsequent dissatisfaction and depression will manifest itself in negative ways. You may give up on your writing dreams. Ask yourself if you are training other people to expect certain things of you. If you don’t carve out writing time, no one else is going to give it to you. Boundaries are important. Are your children remote schooling at home and your spouse also working at home? Are you working another full-time job at home and also trying to shoehorn in writing? If any or all of those things are in force for you right now, you may need to set new boundaries with those around you. If others don’t know that writing is still important to you, they may either encroach on your writing time either by accident or design. Decide now that your writing is important and put it on your schedule. Even if you don’t have as much room to write as you did before, dedicated space on your schedule can keep creativity alive.

Lean out of your comfort zone

  • Are you afraid to create in a different genre or approach your genre at a “riskier” angle? Have you told yourself it might reveal something about you that feels shameful or that other people won’t like? What are you not saying in your writing that you want to say?
  • Own your writing. Writers want to please the reader. Sometimes, though, writers forget that in order to be happy as writers, we have to enjoy what we do the majority of the time. If others disapprove, we have to find it within ourselves not to give their approval weight. Many writers have externalized their writing so much that everything on the outside dictates whether they are creative or not. Eventually this will backfire and the creativity dries up. Be your own champion. That means please yourself first when you write and everyone else second.

Carve out some peace

  • Are you worried about the state of the world? There is no doubt there are worldwide concerns overtaking space in most of our heads. Now is the time to realize that you can’t spend 100 percent of your day allowing those subjects to overwhelm, depress, and deprive you of your creativity. Feeling guilty if you aren’t thinking about writing 100 percent of the day doesn’t serve your creativity or your mental health. Find some time to switch off that outside world and refresh your body and mind creating.

Stay open to new perspectives

  • Our egos can get in the way. We become jaded and even sometimes proud of our cynicism. What this can do, though, is lead us to see our world in narrow parameters. We think we’ve seen it all and therefore we can’t learn anything new. Unwillingness to stretch our minds into new genres, or new ways to refresh our current genre can lead to creativity disappearing.
  • Be willing to listen to new craft techniques and ideas if your creativity is waning or drying up. Consider if a technique might work, and try it. If it doesn’t work for you, all is not lost. Chuck it and move on to the next.
  • On the opposite side, avoid using craft classes as an excuse to never write anything. There are many writers who have spent years taking craft courses and never finished a single manuscript. Recognize when it is time to put those courses to the test by writing and finishing something.
  • Write what you don’t know. One way to branch out in creativity is to decide it is okay to write what you don’t know and research it. If you’ve always wanted to write about a subject or situation you haven’t experienced, go for it. There’s nothing stopping you but the willingness to stay open. Being curious and researching can energize your creativity and excitement for a project.

Recognize your own power

  • You’ve got great ideas. Somewhere along the way, though, you may have convinced yourself you don’t. For some people, this stems from long-held self-esteem issues. If you think self-esteem issues are getting in the way of your creativity, it might be time to discuss them with a mental health professional who can help you navigate those waters.
  • You’re not alone. Too often writers believe that everyone is creating like gangbusters but they aren’t. Take heart. Most writers who’ve been in this business a long time have encountered bumps along the way. Recognize that writer’s block doesn’t form because you’re a bad writer. Many famous authors have complained about writing difficulties over the course of their careers. You’re in great company.

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Denise A. Agnew is the award-winning author and screenwriter of over 69 novels and several optioned screenplays and television series. She’s written in a variety of genres including horror, romance and historical. Over the years she’s also enjoyed participating in archaeology and archery. Reading is a huge love! She was fortunate enough to live in England and Hawaii and travel throughout the UK and Ireland. Denise is also a producer, paranormal investigator, Certified Creativity Coach, Reiki Master, and evidential medium. She lives in Arizona with her husband and a mini schnauzer. You can find her at www.deniseagnew.com and www.agnewcreativemedium.com.

Laura Resnick

Laura Resnick is the author of the popular Esther Diamond urban fantasy series. A monthly columnist for Nink, she is also a past president of Ninc.