Originally posted on Twitter, and compiled here for convenience!
I was helping a friend and it was suggested I share these tips more widely, so, behold: HOW TO STOP HATING YOUR WORK-IN-PROGRESS AND GET BACK TO IT. This is mostly geared toward writing, but some stuff can be applied more broadly.
In my experience, the bad feels are a big tangle of separate individual feels. Dealing with any single feel can maybe help unravel the tangle, or sometimes you have to deal with all of it at once to get moving again.
Sometimes it’s external life problems and your writing is just taking splash damage, so you need to deal with those first. Sucky, but so it goes. You can’t always write through the sads, anymore than you can walk through a brick wall.
That said, certain kinds of bad mood will kill motivation and sparks a cycle that’s like: I’m struggling, I can’t do this, it’s impossible, etc. ad nauseum. You have to break the cycle somehow or it will keep repeating and nothing gets done.
The best way to get out of the cycle is to do something you CAN do. Something not too difficult, something that will give you the tiniest jump start of success juice. A quick mana refill, if you will. Mana yields motivation, and you carry that motivation to the harder stuff.
Now, okay, maybe your feelings are genuinely rooted in something that needs work, instead of bad mood feels. How do you get back to a productive brain place when you’re not meeting your own expectations?
Stop comparing your messy drafts to polished, completed work. Stop it. Alto. Para. I believe it was my bud Jill who talked about how you have to make a test pancake or two before they start looking nice and fluffy and delicious. Don’t hate on your test pancakes, or yourself.
Write down what your ideal version of your novel/story should be like; maybe a paragraph, maybe a page, up to you. It can be as abstract as you want, and focus on whatever qualities you deem important. Think of it like a manifesto. A creed. A war cry.
Write down specific things you want to have in the novel, images or moments or tentpoles or themes, anything cool or dramatic or funny or meaningful to you personally. These are things you can write toward and/or refer back to when you get lost, like landmarks.
Tell yourself you’ll make it awesome later, because you will, even though it feels like a lie. Writing isn’t improv; the reader only sees the final version, not any of the messy attempts where you were trying to figure out what the hell a pancake is supposed to look like.
Pick a few outline methods and outline more broadly/deeply, so you feel better/more in control of the big picture stuff. A lot of issues that come up in a draft can potentially be rooted out before you even begin, or you can pause at any point while writing and re-outline.
Replenish your mana! Read some books, watch TV or movies, play some video games. Go outside if you’re into that sort of thing. Hit up a museum or art gallery. Surf Pinterest for inspiration. Knit a scarf. Hang out with friends. Write fanfic. Enjoy life.
If you’re writing a book, make a wiki for it so all the details are organized and clear in your mind. Or make a bullet journal, or a murder board (see Macey for details), or a spreadsheet, or some other thing that is less creative and more analytical.
Make a list of the most awesome moments from your favorite books and movies… And then steal them. Figure out how they would function in your world, with your characters and your plot. Like painting a Cubist version of the Mona Lisa or something.
Try stuff! Don’t be scared of making wrong choices. Writing things one way doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind later and rewrite them another way. It’s not final until it’s final, and no one is watching over your shoulder as you work. Except Gary, because he’s gross.
If I think of more tips, I’ll add them, but how about you, amigos? Any extra ideas I didn’t cover here, for when writers are in a rut and feel like throwing themselves on a chaise longue and groaning inchoately? I mean, that’s a thing you can also do. Groaning. Maybe it’ll help?