Recently, naturalists announced that the sloth — the animal whose name has become a synonym for laziness — is actually a lot more active than previously thought. It turns out that when we cage them and observe them, we don’t see what’s really going on in the sloth’s world.
Today I have a great guest post for you from Susan Daffron, a writer and publishing consultant. She shows us how, as writers, the times when our minds are most fertile and active, might — to an observer — look like the times when we are being, well, slothful. She shows us that productivity for writers makes its own demands, and how to succeed by embracing that.
(You can read more about Susan’s upcoming publishing conference at the end of the article).
Then, leave your comments about how you will jump-start your creativity at the end of the article and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Rory’s Story Cubes – a great creativity booster in a box!
As a writer, I’ve gone through periods of extreme productivity and extreme sloth. Although I have written 12 books, last year in 2010, I released exactly zero.
For a variety of personal and business-related reasons, I went through a creative burnout like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Writing, which had always been fairly easy for me in the past, was suddenly extremely difficult.
Climbing Out Of A Slump
I also discovered that the less I wrote, the less I wanted to write. Talk about a lack of productivity!
I spent some time looking back at what happened during my creative slump. I realized my lack of writing productivity stemmed from three issues:
1. Lack of ideas. The stressful events I experienced caused my creativity to simply shut down. To jumpstart my mind, I surfed to online writing sites (like StoryaDay.org!), used random-word and writing-prompt generators, and started talking to my husband about my various writing thoughts for outside feedback and support.
2. Lack of motivation. As noted, a bunch of things that happened last year brought me down. Creativity does not flow when you’re depressed. I decided to make a commitment to exercising and started reading more inspirational materials on creativity, writing, and life balance. (The library is full of wonderful FREE books just waiting to be read!)
3. Lack of time. You’ve read it before, but I’ll say it again: you have time to write if you make time to write. During my slump, I wasn’t working smart. Part of me already knew it, but I had to forcibly reacquaint myself with the methods I’d used in the past to carve out real productive writing time. I opted to make a commitment to write every morning and also started thinking up ideas for articles and posts the night before. “Sleeping on” a writing idea really works!
And The Winner Is…
I’m happy to report that the old adage “writers write” is true. Since I got my writing mojo back again, I have been writing regularly. I have my next book completely outlined and 19 case studies/interviews input so far. I’ll be speaking at a conference this summer and plan to release the book in time for it. (Deadlines help motivation too!)
If you’re a writer who wants to publish, you can get inspiration and learn more about the book publishing process at the Self-Publishers Online Conference. The third annual event is May 10-12, 2011 (http://www.SelfPublishersOnlineConference.com) Use the code SusanSentMe and get 10% off your registration!
Susan Daffron, aka The Book Consultant (http://www.TheBookConsultant.com) owns a book and software publishing company. She spends most of her time writing, laying out books in InDesign, or taking her five dogs out for romps in the forest. She also teaches people how to write and publish profitable client-attracting books and puts on the Self-Publishers Online conference (http://www.SelfPublishersOnlineConference.com) every May.
Win! Win! Win!
Leave a comment with your best tips for jump-starting creativity and win a copy of Rory’s Story Cubes, a wonderful dice game that doubles as a story-telling tool. Roll the dice and make a story from the extremely cute images on the dice. Brilliant for days when you’re stalled and need to regain your mojo.
Special thanks to Rory O’Connor and the lovely folks at Gamewright Games for donating this prize.
28 thoughts on “The Sloth’s Secret to Writing Success”
My most effective technique for regaining my creativity during a bout of writer’s block is to write about the block itself. I especially like writing poetry that mocks, teases, or otherwise satirizes the block.
I Believe In YOU
©2007 by Thomas Harper
there’s no such thing as writer’s block
muses don’t exist
water boils when you watch the clock
nothing lost is missed
it’s better not to love or lose
time’s not medicine
saxophones don’t cure the blues
beauty’s not just skin
i don’t believe in any myth
legends are not true
but if you want to know my pith
i believe in YOU.
Sometimes, I have to just sit still. We’re all so busy with life, family, technology. If I just take a moment, I can come up with some ideas.
Stacy, you’re so right. I love my family but I also wave them off every morning with a cheerful grin and do a little happy dance as I close the door behind them. 😉
My version of sitting still is to knit. That and showering, or washing dishes, or folding laundry, seem to be great ways to free my mind, while keeping my body in one place and on task.
We live in the middle of a forest, so I go outside. Sometimes just standing outside and listening to the wind in the trees helps a lot when you need to quiet down your brain.
I must admit I don’t have any tips for getting out of the slums since I’m new to writing and need to just start myself. Having said that, I’ve really enjoyed this post and the many points brought out in the comments. Many of them I’ve thought about before, with a few new ideas for me to try. I’m excited to participate in the Story a Day in May exercise and the community gathering here.
Adam, great to have you and glad you’re excited about writing.
You may find that you don’t hit too many slumps if you can keep up that enthusiasm 😉
A few of my best tips to get, and keep, writing are:
1. Keep paper and a pen/pencil everywhere; in the car, my purse, on tables, on window ledges, etc., because I never know when inspiration will strike and not having materials near me could kill or stall a great idea.
2. Install whiteboards with markers in different areas of the house and several larger ones in your office/studio. I have found that having a place where it is okay to write in an nontrational way helps me free my thoughts. Having white boards through out the house means there is always a place to jot down a thought. Having a wall of white boards in the studio/office allows me to write “on the walls” which is something we have been trained not to do since childhood. It is also great because the writing is not set in stone so I don’t have to worry about it being pretty or wonderful or perfect.
3. Write EVERYTHING down. As silly as it seems hand writing out my grocery lists and to do lists along with little notes to others throughout the day keeps my hand and head in a writing frame of mind. My grocery lists end up with story ideas, character quotes, and settings along with the bananas and soup but the idea doesn’t get lost and I have let my mind know I am primed for whatever thoughts it needs me to take note of.
Love the whiteboards idea. I’m now trying to figure out how I can install more around my house….
How do you keep track of all the notes you write down? I sometimes start using new technology or systems, myself then get bogged down. (Though, to be honest, often just the act of writing something down means I never need to look it up again)
We love our whiteboard! It’s a gigantic thing that hangs in the hallway between our offices. Sometimes you need big space for big ideas 😉
And yes, I’m the list-making queen. We have notes for everything.
Hallways! Genius! (I have small-ish rooms full of furniture and it’s hard to get to the walls. But the hallways…)
Hallways = underappreciated space 😉
They have huge whiteboards at Staples. Just sayin…
I was telling a friend about some story ideas I had mulling around in my head, she said that it must be busy “in there”. I told her that at times it seems like a cocktail party, with lots and lots of guests, each one trying to get my attention and tell their story. I realized that when I get stressed, the cocktail party gets louder and the “guests” more insistent. Once I get at least the outline of a guest’s story to paper, they tend to back off and let me relax. For me writing is like therapy. Wow, now that I write that out, it seems really messed up.
Well, if you’re messed up, I suspect you’re not alone — especially not around here.
It took me a long time to realize that everyone doesn’t have a cocktail party in their head! I think this is why so many writers say they have to write or they’d go mad. I know it’s true for me 🙂
I am guilty of being a being a writing sloth from time to time as most writers. I tend to write the most when I am inspired and not force the creative proses, however that can lead to days with out productive writing. I overcome theses moments of writers block by keeping a pen and pencil around to writ down any great thought’s , plot ideas, or character lines. I also Take a trip to the bookstore to look through coffee table books full of images related to the subject I am writing ( if I am writing about science fiction I look at a book of the Hubble photographs, a fairytale I look at a book of whimsical fantasy art etc.. etc…)
I love the idea of using coffee table books as inspiration. That’s great!
I plan on pulling several prompts every night in May. That way my brain will have a couple ideas to choose from and think about overnight! Crossing my fingers that it’ll work. 🙂
Stress has been trying to drag my writing down this year. I’ve just decided that I will write to ease the stress instead of looking at the stress as a writing block.
Prompts are really useful when you’re trying to cram a story into your life every day. There is only so much time in each day and you can’t really wait for inspiration.
I think prompts are to StoryADay what outlining is to NaNoWriMo (i.e. the difference between keeping on track and not).
Myself and my boyfriend stole the idea of sitting in a restaurant and making up stories about the other diners from a movie we watched. It can be a lot of fun and generate a ton of ideas and helps with character development.
Oh! My husband and I do that! I thought we were just being mean. Now I can call it ‘development work’. Thanks!
“I’ll have what she’s having” (sorry couldn’t resist a little When Harry Met Sally” humor).
I am guilty of the “no time”. I say I have no time, but if I truly go back and look at how much time I spend on Twitter or surfing the Net, I have plenty of time. Guilty as charged.
It is amazing how much writing you can get done in little pockets of time when you have to.
I’ll be interested to hear how your perception of time changes over the next month…
Me too. I spend a lot of time online in the name of “research” and “education.” I must be REALLY well educated now 😉
Great article! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself in those doldrums, unable to write.
Along with using writing prompts to shake myself out of it, I:
1) Go someplace (a mall, a casino, etc.) and people-watch. I try to make up backstory for the people I see.
2) Listen to instrumental music. Classical and Drum music work well, as does the genre aptly called “Trance.”
3) I grab a box of cheap colored pencils and doodle. Sometimes the doodles end up being a creature, or a map of a fantasy land, or a character. I’m not an artist, by any means, but even my second-rate scribbles (lol) can cause a spark that becomes a story.
I think the reason that these 3 usually work for me is that they all have one thing in common: they make writing fun again. Sometimes we lose that fun (and writing becomes more like work) when life & the blues bring us down.
Oh yes! Making writing fun is so important. Don’t you hate being a grown up, sometimes?)
I’m not much of a mall fan, but I love the idea of colored pencils! My husband and I have been doing the exercises in the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It really helps get you out of a “linear” space and into a more creative realm I think.
I love that this comment predated the current ‘adult coloring book’ craze by about four years. We writers no stoopid!