Where a writer learns about writing by writing
Starting When Stalled: A 6-Point Guide to Fixing Your Writing Engine
Starting When Stalled: A 6-Point Guide to Fixing Your Writing Engine

Starting When Stalled: A 6-Point Guide to Fixing Your Writing Engine

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Milos, Greece. The view from my window three weeks ago.

Life is full of interruptions, big and small. Planned, and unexpected. What do you do when this affects your writing? How do you get yourself back on track?

About a month ago, things in my writing life were chugging along nicely. I had a routine. I finished the first draft of my current work-in-progress. I was taking a great online course focusing on middle grade fiction. I finally felt I had the many balls I have to juggle in my life in a nice, manageable, rhythm. Now, after a planned European vacation and the unexpected death of my mother, all those balls have crashed to the ground and rolled deep beneath the couch. What now? How do I get my writing engine purring again?

Here’s my 6-point plan:

  1.   Get back into a schedule. While on vacation, I wrote in my journal everyday,  but I planned to let my daily fiction work slide so I could feel like I was actually on vacation. I gave myself a few days for the jet lag to recede, but I have resumed my early morning writing sessions because I feel better when I am following a schedule and even an hour a day adds up into progress.
  2.   Rely on prompts and writing exercises to prime myself until I get my writer’s engine humming again. The thought of diving back into my W.I.P is very scary to me, so I’m going to go back to the stash of writing resources I’ve squirrelled away. In my session this morning, I worked on some of the exercises I didn’t complete during my online course. I wrote the rough copy of this blog post during my first session back last week.
  3. Give myself permission to stretch timelines and goals I’ve set for myself. I learned this lesson when my father died five years ago; grief is unpredictable and I need to have compassion for myself and give myself permission to pass on deadlines I have set for myself. It’s now an advantage to be an unpublished writer. I’m not letting an editor or publisher down if I don’t write. My livelihood is not in jeopardy. Usually, I am my own harshest critic when I don’t reach my goals. I need to hold my own hand right now rather than berate myself for not achieving.
  4. I have to keep up with my writing groups and social commitments. I have to remember to turn to others, not just to my notebook. As an introvert, I fight against this almost constantly as my first inclination is always to turn inwards. I need the other people in my life to nurture me right now too, and I give them the opportunity to do so by showing up for meetings and events.
  5. Now is the time practice “radical self-care” a la Anne Lamott. I need to look for joy and seek out happiness. I have to keep living and doing what I enjoy. That is what makes me a tolerable human being and feeds my writing soul. I have to baby myself a bit and pay special attention to my relationship with creativity. If I try too hard, I might strangle it before I even get started.
  6. If I want inspiration to find me, I need to be ready and open to receive it. I have to do what it takes to get there. Even if that includes not writing. As Elizabeth Gilbert relays in “Big Magic”, when we complain about how hard it is to be creative, or worry excessively about where inspiration is, we scare it away. A few years ago I would have wailed and gnashed my teeth. Berated myself for my lack of discipline, but I have learned to be patient and allow things to come. I have confidence that I can get my mojo back eventually. As Gilbert says, “You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not my your successes or failures.”

Time to Get My Hands Dirty

So, it’s one day at a time, in the spirit of acceptance and kindness, until I find myself back where I was a month ago. I acknowledge that I might never get back to that exact spot ever again; and that’s okay. I’m going to get my engine running and then enjoy the journey.


  1. Sandra Koughan

    This was beautiful Kirsten! 🌸 I enjoy reading your blogs. Know you have a cheerleader on the other side of Canada cheering you on and hoping for your success.

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