As a writer, I struggle with writer’s block from time to time (ahem… that’s totally not an understatement.) But lately, I’ve been dealing with an issue that’s slightly different… it’s not that I can’t come up with anything or move forward on what I do have. It’s that I lose interest in–or stop caring–about my subject part of the way through writing on it.
Sometimes it’s because I realize that what I have to say isn’t as original as I thought. Other times, it’s because I look into an issue deeper and realize there is way too much information out there and I just don’t have the time to give it the justice it deserves. Sometimes, I have no idea why, I just lose interest or motivation. It’s not exactly writer’s block. It’s…
Abrupt writer’s apathy, if you will.
It’s a little different, because all of the traditional tactics to overcome writer’s block don’t really help. It’s not necessarily that I ran out of things to say (or can’t figure out how to get what’s in my head to come out on paper,) it’s more that I just don’t want to keep going. It started getting a little worse, popping up a little more often, and I realized that I absolutely had to do something about it.
I tried a few things, some worked better than others. I’d be happy to share the “betters” with you. So, here are my completely non-professional, floundering tactics to combat this issue:
Remove Your Mind for a Minute
Sometimes the solution is as simple as getting out of your garrett for a minute to de-stress and re-focus. If you’re brain hits a wall in your current process, put it elsewhere for a few minutes. I’m not talking about watching “just one” episode of your favorite show or checking up on social media. Avoidance and distraction are productivity’s enemies, so shy away from anything that can suck you in for long periods of time.
Instead, take yourself away from your current task, but do something that will help you come back feeling happy and positive. These days, there are some pretty interesting ways to de-stress, but my personal favorites include slathering some peppermint or jasmine scented lotion on, taking a quick walk around my complex (getting out into nature has also been proven to improve creativity,) or taking a moment to enjoy a pouch of pop rocks (the tingle really helps.)
These tactics are especially useful if the reason you’ve lost interest is that you’re not enjoying the process of what you’re writing any more. Sometimes you’re just not enjoying it because you’re bored, overworked, or experiencing the actual physical effects of stress, and re-setting can fix all of those things. But sometimes, you’re not enjoying it because it’s just not enjoyable any more. For those times:
Make It Enjoyable
If you no longer like what you’re writing or why you’re writing it, you’re probably not going to keep at it unless there’s strong motivation, like a big payday or serious recognition. If you’re lacking those, it’s really hard to gain back the motivation to finish when you’re not having a good time. Instead of forcing yourself, try giving yourself a reason to enjoy your topic again.
Find a reality show, a ridiculous or funny Youtube video, or a poignant and snappy critical piece that has to do with your topic. Seriously. The more extreme, the better. It only has to loosely tie in to what you’re doing. Yeah, you’ll be spending time away from your work, but you’ll also be thinking about it the whole time, and you’ll be thinking about it in a new light.
As an example, I was writing an article on budgeting for a parenting magazine. I had a lot of my own insights to share, and I was excited to share them, but it ended up being more “conventional” than I thought it would and I just stopped caring. With the deadline approaching, I decided to look up reality shows relating to budgeting, ran across “Extreme Couponing,” and found some clips of the show on Youtube.
For those who have never seen “Extreme Couponing,” the show portrays people who collect and stack thousands of coupons. They go to extremes to get them, and they sometimes spend more than 50 hours a week couponing. Then they go to the grocery store, roll up with $1000 dollars in groceries, and spend $25. I’m not even kidding. I was very intrigued, and the more I watched, the more I was able to come up with different approaches to my article.
Watching the passion these couponers had for their lifestyle, and for saving money in general, gave me a new perspective. I was fascinated with their culture, their tactics, and their skill with finding and utilizing coupons. I was also somewhat taken aback by their… obsessive(?) tendencies. It definitely gave me fresh things to consider on the topic of family budgeting. I was able to re-focus and think about how reality TV and reality are two separate things, and gave my post its edge by adding a “practical and relatable” caveat to my tips. I also rather enjoyed waxing on those interesting couponers…
Do Some Research (Troll Style…)
If you’re kind of over saying what you have to say, it might be a good idea to take a peek at what others are saying on the topic and cull from that. I would not suggest googling your question or topic, because if you’re like me, you’ll open the top ten search results in different tabs, read them all, and try to glean something different from each. That is not very effective.
What I decided to do instead (mostly out of morbid curiosity and an unhealthy fascination with online douchebagery) was find articles written on my subjects, and then skim through the comments. I’d definitely be scanning for disagreements, harsh words, or extreme opinions. It’s not always easy to find them, but if you look hard enough, they will eventually appear.
The internet is a great outlet for many things, and some utilize it better than others. When speech, especially reactive speech, is fueled by hate or anger, it rarely serves any purpose besides making the perpetrator look bad. No matter what we do, they will always be there. Since they’re not going anywhere, we might as well use the ugly side of the internet to do something good.
In my case, I’d find them, read whatever vitriol they coughed up that had to do with my piece of writing, and then resist the urge to respond with a tome of harsh judgement. And that right there is where it is…
I’m not suggesting you search out the douchey opinions of the scum of the internet because they have useful things to say. I’m suggesting you do so because it will get you fired up. You will go from not caring about a topic to being reinvigorated with new enthusiasm. All you have to do now is stay the urge to tell those trolls what’s what and re-channel that passion into your writing.
There’s an App For That!
When you’ve got all your ducks in a row and it comes time to stay focused, there are a number of smartphone apps you can use to help out. Really! Apps like Stay Focused and Coach Me can help alleviate distractions and keep you on track. Stay Focused can block certain websites or set timers for them, which is handy if you need to actively research something and have your browser open while writing. It will keep you away from (or limit your time on) distracting platforms like social media or buzz sites.
Coach Me allows you to set goals, track progress, remain accountable, and it rewards success. It can also gather all this data and create reports that allow you to track your productivity, which is something most of us creatives never have access to. It’s amazing how motivating it can be to look at a graph of your progress (or regression.)
If you’re the type of person that has trouble staying away from your phone, there’s an app called Forest that plants a tree that only survives if you don’t touch your phone for 30 minutes. At the end of the day you’ll have a forest full of living (or dead) trees that represent every half hour you remained productive. It sounds a little cheesy, but it’s hard not to care about your adorable little trees. It is my favorite way to stay focused on my writing, especially when I have overwhelming amounts piled in front of me.
There are also a number of apps that utilize the Pomodoro Productivity technique, which is a way of breaking your workday into small chunks to achieve one goal at a time. This could be good if you have
time restraints, like you can only spend a half hour researching something, or you want to allot a certain amount of time to writing and another to finding photos and uploading everything into WordPress.
In some ways, abrupt writer’s apathy is worse than writer’s block. In both cases, you hit a wall, but for different reasons. With writer’s block, as soon as it starts flowing again, it flows. With abrupt writer’s apathy, you have to figure out how to make yourself want to do something that you’ve lost interest or investment in.
If you think out of the box and are willing to try something new, you’re sure to change your own mind, at least some of the time, and proceed to create the things you knew you could.
I’ve had drafts I’ve walked away from because I’ve lost interest in the story. I usually revisit them months later to see if they’re worth working on or just shelving. Luckily, I usually figure out what was boring me and I’m able to fix it and keep drafting.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Good job, Kelly. Slaying the boredom beast, one draft at a time :). It’s amazing what a difference a little time can make.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Some great ideas, and I especially like the apps you found to keep us on track. I have one more suggestion, which is really only viable if what you’re writing isn’t essential to your income: change genres, change topics completely. Sometimes a writer’s boredom can come through to the reader, and that makes it boring for the reader, too. If a writer can find something else entirely different to explore, maybe that can stoke his or her passion into something long-lasting.
LikeLiked by 2 people
[…] 7) How To Combat Abrupt Writer’s Apathy by Brooke Faulkner […]
LikeLiked by 1 person
Your article popped up in my Twitter feed today. Another helpful tip for both writer’s block and writer’s apathy that I came across recently (possibly recommended by Michael Swaim in a podcast): as an exercise, just write something deliberately bad. The effort required to try to write terrible prose — like emulating a particulalry dreadful student essay — on a different topic than usual can get the mojo flowing again.
[…] 8) How to Combat Abrupt Writer’s Apathy by Brooke Faulkner […]
LikeLiked by 1 person