I don’t treat my writing like a hobby. I treat it like a second job. There are days when I don’t feel like writing, but I do it anyway. I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration to strike or handing my creative power over to a capricious Muse. There are times when I look at the disaster that is my house and think perhaps I shouldn’t devote so much time to this endeavor. There are days when I say, “Screw it!” and take the dogs for a walk instead. Sometimes when the words don’t come easily, you need to examine the story and determine what’s wrong with it. There are times when it is best to let that particular scene sit for a while until your subconscious can work out the knots.
But that doesn’t mean you should stop writing in the meantime.
Writing is a muscle that needs to be used daily to stay strong. Too much time off and it becomes harder to get back into the habit of ‘exercising’ daily. But any athlete will tell you it’s possible to over-train, and that you need to give certain muscles a rest while exercising others. So what’s a writer to do in this situation?
When I find myself in a situation like this, I give myself permission to play.
So much of my life has been spent trying to talk myself out of writing. I told myself there was no future in it for me, that I’d never be a published author. To be fair, until the advent of digital publishing, which broke the stranglehold on the industry and its ability to dictate what people would read, this was true. But it went deeper than that. I told myself that making up stories about my favorite characters in movies and television was somehow wrong. A self-flagellating monk couldn’t have been more repressive about an innocent habit than I was.
For twenty years, I shut that creative part of me away, concentrating on my education, my career, my family. Then one day, I discovered online fanfiction archives when I was at a very dark time in my life. I mainlined stories in my favorite fandoms, tentatively opening a Word Doc and starting my own fanfic. After logging in over a million words, someone encouraged me to write original fiction for publication, and here I am.
But I haven’t forgotten my roots—that marvelous feeling when you write for the sheer joy of it, when you spin stories out of thin air, and the ideas come flying at you like barn swallows, weaving into your current narrative until you have a story that makes you smile. These days, I keep telling myself I don’t have time for fanfiction anymore, and that is true. When I hear that internal voice telling me it’s ‘time to put away childish things’, I remember that’s exactly what I told myself when I shut the door on my creativity the first time.
Which is when I typically say, “Screw it!” and scribble out a story just for me. I’ll throw in all my favorite tropes: opposites attract, misunderstandings, rescued kittens, damaged-but-salvageable heroes, The True Meaning of Christmas—you name it. As I write, I’m convinced it’s the silliest story in creation, but that’s okay, because it’s just for me, right? Only when I share it, I discover that other people like it too. The very things I’m somewhat embarrassed about for liking are the same things that other people enjoy. I mean, tropes are tropes for a reason, right? Sometimes you should just let ‘er rip and see what your subconscious comes up with.
The lovely thing about imaginative play is that it unlocks the mind for more imaginative play. Before I know it, I’m daydreaming about the story I’m working on, and solving the problems in it while washing the dishes or walking the dogs. And yes, time writing a silly ‘just-for-fun’ story IS time away from a marketable one. But if your story is just plodding along, or you’re stuck between stories, struggling to find the mojo for the next one, I suggest that you take a little time to play. Go on. It’s allowed.