Does this sound like you lately:
You’re sitting down, ready to write. You think of a creative and catchy way to open your piece. The first thing that pops into your mind resembles something you did a little while ago. For some reason, it’s the only thing coming to mind, and you shrug it off and write something else as a placeholder to come back to. You’re sure you can come up with something better.
A few sentences later, you build up a sentence so you can really drive the point home with the right insertion of a word. You search your mind for that word, but all that pops up is the usual array of words you’ve been using for a while. After minutes of not being able to satisfy that vernacular itch, you sigh and go with a usual word, almost letting yourself down in the process.
To your horror, as you keep writing, you get this feeling that you’ve written this before. It’s this feeling in your gut that you’re trying to write something different, but you just can’t draw from that always-reliable well. You scan your piece and come to a startling conclusion:
Everything is starting to look the same.
It’s called the writer’s rut, and it’s even scarier than the infamous writer’s block.
See, with a writer’s block, you notice it right away. You’re writing and then suddenly, without warning, it’s like something dams up the space between intelligent thoughts and your hands. You get that “Oh God where are the words WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?!” feeling. Sure, it sucks that a 6-year-old who watches too much TV could probably write more flowing prose than you right now. But, the wall eventually breaks down, you write something fantastic and move on.
With a writer’s rut, the danger is in not knowing you’re IN a rut. Most times, there’s no one there to tell you that everything you’re writing is the same. When you write, you go back to the same phrases, word choices and paragraph structures over and over again. Most people mistake this for consistency, but the line between consistency and complacency is thin and very easily wandered over. Your pieces suddenly lack that zeal and punch they used to carry. Some people can be stuck in this rut for years, never realizing that their work doesn’t have that spark or edge that it used to.
If you’ve been there, don’t worry. I’ve been there too, and I’m here to tell you that you can fill in that rut with new sentences so colorful it would make a Dr. Seuss book describing a gay pride parade look as bland as your mother’s church cookbook.
All you have to do is get another voice in your head. Someone who can give you a 90cc infusion of new perspective, STAT!
Here are my top five suggestions to help you get in another frame of mind and break out of that writer’s rut.
Or graphic novels. Whatever. Call them what you want, but these are what I usually turn to first when I catch myself getting stale. When you think about it, this should really be a writer’s dream solution. You have some of the best storytellers in the world writing polarizing and ever-changing dialogue. The beautiful drawings can set an entire scene, influencing the context of what each character says. There are hundreds of characters in the Marvel and DC universes, so SOMEONE will appeal to your interests (but I swear, if you pick up an Aquaman comic, I will question everything you write forever). Comics are creative, beautiful and extremely entertaining. Plus, they’re only 20-30 pages a pop, so it isn’t much of a time investment, either.
Suggestions: Anything Deadpool, Batman: Year One, Marvel Civil War, and more here.
In the fast-paced, social media-guzzling world we live in today, sometimes you have to condense everything you want to say into a couple of words. Not only that, but you’ve got to make those few words catchy enough that the guy browsing Facebook while he’s on the toilet at work will stop his thumb from scrolling just long enough to do a double-take at what you said. The writers for these short comics are masters at that, taking one idea and condensing it into a clever 3-5 panel cartoon. Browse a couple of these and you’ll get your wit and brevity back.
Suggestions: Calvin Hobbs, Far Side, Get Fuzzy, Foxtrot
Descriptive Fiction Series
Listen, if you’re stuck using the same words over and over, reading a descriptive fiction series will restock your arsenal almost instantaneously. When those authors are cranking out 700+ page books, chances are they’re describing things pretty intimately. When you read an exceptional passage in one of these classifications of books, you should be able to close your eyes and see the world as the author imagined it. The cool part is, your writing will get more descriptive and colorful without you even knowing it after you’ve read these books.
Suggestions: Song of Fire and Ice series, Lord of the Rings series, Wheel of Time series, Harry Potter series
Without sounding too much like John Madden, classics are classics for a reason. They’ve withstood the test of time, reverberating through the years with superior overall writing and sharp messages that make a permanent home in the inner-most recesses of our brain. Reading a classic is good for your writing because these guys and gals are literally the masters of the written word. The other cool thing I find is that it takes me back to a mindset of when I originally read these books, which was around high school/early college. Personally, these were some of the most freely-flowing years of creativity for me, so entering that mindset can sometimes lead you to a way of writing that you’ve forgotten.
Suggestions: The Republic, Odyssey, Les Mis, 1984, Frankenstein
A really smart guy once told me “If you can’t see something well, try on someone else’s glasses.” Not fully getting the advice for years, I confused a whole lot of people by taking their glasses and yelling “I MUST SEE THINGS!” Obviously, that’s not what he meant. Sometimes the simplest way to get out of a rut is to see something you think you know in a different light. There are so many others like you in the world, and their take on a subject can open your eyes to a new way of describing things. To do that, you’ve got to go out of your own reading pattern and find the unusual, for that is the way to truly open your mind to the new.
Got any other cool sites/things you like to read? Let me know in the comments section.