Stuck In A Rut? Five Tips For Writing Your Way Out

by Catherine Matthews


As a writer, it is inevitable that you will reach the point where all you want to do is throw in the towel and walk away from your writing. You’ve written night after night and query after query, only to have your efforts met with kind but firm ‘no, thank you’ replies. Reading your own work no longer gives you pleasure; suddenly all you can see are problems. Problems that make you start wondering why you love this, if you love this, and are you really any good at it? Then comes the big question: Is any of this really worth it?

The answer is: Yes. Yes, it most definitely is.

Writing is difficult. No one needs to tell you that by now. Just because this is your dream doesn’t mean you don’t occasionally day dream about falling in love with something else—anything else—that yields instant gratification. What about gardening? you think, I’d love to post pictures of my very own, home-grown, organic vegetables on Instagram…Or maybe I’ll make candles? Take your time relaxing in your imaginary garden, reveling in your scented soy wax candles…go to whatever happy place you have and enjoy it.

Then come back. Because you’ve got some writing to do.

  1. Try something new. It sounds counter-productive, but it may be time to shift gears. Get your creativity flowing again by starting fresh with a new idea. You aren’t walking away, you’re pressing pause while you fall in love with writing again.
  2. Rely on the brilliance of strangers. It’s true what they say about perspective; the reason you may not be able to see what agents are saying needs work is that you’re too close to the project. Find a writing group, either in person or online, someone whose opinion you trust but won’t take personally. Diana Gabaldon began Outlander with the help of an online forum, and it worked for her.
  3. Tape your most recent query letter somewhere you (but only you) will see it. Motivation is a hard mistress. You can’t improve your writing when you’re afraid of rejection, and you can’t get past that fear unless you face it. Every day. Until that letter inspires you to work harder and revise smarter so that you can reach your goals.
  4. Ask your favorite authors. Did you know that most authors have an FAQ page on their websites where they directly address questions about both the writing and the publishing process? Visit the sites your favorite authors and learn from their journey. Actively seek encouragement; writing can be daunting, and you’ll need to work with confidence if you’re going to work well.
  5. Write when you don’t feel like it. This is the most important thing. It’s okay to get to the point where you feel like quitting—but write past it. You don’t always have to write something brilliant, or ground-breaking—you just have to write. Sometimes just putting words to paper is victory enough.

Yes, your writing is a labor of love—but remember that it is labor. If it’s hard, then that means that at least you’re working hard. If it’s breaking your heart, then that means at least your heart is in it. If you can push, then you can finish. If you can finish, then everything you’ve gone through to get through will show (and shine) in the polished, professional final draft that is your submission to a literary agency.

Catherine Matthews is a literary assistant with Holloway Literary.