Writing Ruts: When a Labor of Love Becomes Hard Labor
I’ve been sitting here staring at a blinking cursor for nearly an hour.
Before that, the words were crawling onto the page at the pace of a slug, each line dragging on behind the other in a continuous stream of “blah” as I try to make another dollar; another deadline. I thought if I just pushed myself, I would wrap this one up in a jif.
Yet the words came to a halt about an hour ago, and the cursor hasn't moved since.
What’s wrong with me?
Why can’t I bang out this 1,000-word blog in an hour like I usually do?
Facing the Reflection in the Computer Screen
Beyond the serif text of this Medium post, I can see the faint reflection of myself on the screen. She looks tired. Older. The cloud of fatigue is like a fog across her face.
In that moment it became apparent why I had lost my momentum. No matter how much I tell myself “Just one more assignment!” or “Just one more paragraph!”, the cursor wasn’t going to move.
My tank was on empty.
Over the last six months, I had worked myself to the bone rebuilding a freelance career at what was literally a moment’s notice. I desperately needed a break.
Yet I couldn’t stop. I had no choice but to plug out assignments like a content mill in order to earn enough money just to pay the bills. It’s been a marathon of 12-hour (or more) days, countless cups of coffee, and more than a few silent temper tantrums in the shower as I asked myself, “Is it even worth it?”
My labor of love had simply become labor.
Should I keep going?
The Short Answer? Yes!
I’m not the first to experience this kind of writing rut. The freelancing game is a never-ending grind of scouting out clients, churning out assignments, and still making time for writing for yourself (← This is very important!).
When you add it all up, it’s far beyond an 8-hour day gig, yet there is only so much energy one person can give. We all have limits, and the blinking cursor I mentioned above was a flashing sign that I had reached mine.
I needed to pause and recoup. Part of that process is what you’re reading now. Outlets are essential, from processing those pent-up emotions to simply letting our creativity run free.
The other part includes getting up and getting out. No matter how much you enjoy the writing, it can’t be all that you do. You need breaks in between to carpe diem and live.
Go on a road trip. Stop by the beach or a park. Call up your friends and meet for drinks. Get out of the house and do something.
These things are rejuvenating. They refill your tank so you when you plop back in your chair, you can keep plugging along.
Climbing Out of the Rut
I’m in no way oblivious to my workaholic nature. Everyone, from childhood friends to recent acquaintances, knows that I am constantly working, whether it’s on client assignments, new books, or some other project that slides across my desk.
I have a hard time turning it off, but I have to remember if I don’t pause to embrace life, the fire will dwindle. Writers feed off of new thoughts, new experiences, and new rabbit holes of imagination.
We need to give ourselves inspiration, and it isn’t going to happen from our computer chair. It happens out there in the world around us.
This includes a sense of purpose, which I admit is sorely lacking in the blogging realm. The majority of my work these days involves churning out blogs for SEO. More often than not, I feel like I’m writing for an algorithm rather than an audience, which in truth isn’t how SEO should work (oh look, I think I just found the subject of my next Medium post…).
As someone with over a decade of experience in the writing industry, from covering the music beat for national publications to composing 5-star fantasy novels, I yearn to weave soul within my words.
Which leads me to my next point: in order to get out of a writing rut, we need some purpose to drive us. Motivation is strongest when it has a solid reason to move.
For me, it’s writing about things that matter, whether those things are stories that inspire or exploring the tough questions. Posts like the one I’m writing now tap into something deeper than “5 Ways to Make Chores More Bearable” or “10 Reasons You Should Build a Custom Home”.
Beyond the click bait that helps put food on the table is a voice that can inspire, challenge, and make people feel. When I feed that, even those seemingly empty assignments can take on a new life and come easily.
Bottom Line: You Need to Feed Yourself
When we pour ourselves into our work, we forget to feed ourselves. Not just physically (though let’s be honest… it definitely happens), but mentally and creatively.
In the words of Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, “I think it’s more about just holding onto yourself and your energy, just to keep seeking out life and getting new experiences. The day you become old is the day you’re not looking for new experiences anymore. You need that; you need to do things that keep you alive.”