Monday, 25 February 2013

When The Chain Breaks

In my last post, The Chain Commands, I talked about how to get into the habit of writing every day - but what if it goes wrong? When you break your chain of writing days, how can you get back on track?

1. Just do it.
In the words of a famous sportswear brand, sometimes all you can do is push yourself to get something done - just do it. Write something. Anything. Don't worry about how little you write, or how terrible it is. Write the world's worst haiku: it doesn't matter. It's the act of writing that signals 'I'm writing again' as opposed to 'I haven't written for days'.

2. Add the next link.
Do the same the next day - write a haiku that's even worse than yesterday's. Why? Because once you write two days in a row, you have a chain. Instead of a single link that may never join with another, you have started the chain of writing every day again.

3. Write something different.
I wasn't merely being facetious when I suggested you write the world's worst haiku - I find it effective because I don't usually write them. Or any other kind of poem. Allowing yourself to write something different to your usual style/genre/subject/whatever removes the pressure. Instead of sitting over your notebook with pen quivering, you can scribble some words and have fun. Try writing a segment of screenplay, a fable, a sonnet, a character's to-do list, flash fiction, a description of a dark and stormy night...

4. Do something different.
If you're stuck in a rut writing-wise, your life in general is probably stuck in a rut too. When I'm trying new things - or even learning new things - I tend to feel inspired and more motivated to write. Shaking up your routine doesn't have to be dramatic - a bungee jump may work, but so could a walk somewhere you haven't been for ages. Or cooking a new recipe for dinner. Or visiting a charity shop (especially if you challenge yourself to buy the most interesting item you can find under a certain price).

Brainstorm or ask a friend to suggest something if you get stuck. You could also try writing activities on pieces of paper and pulling one out of a jar. They could say anything: do a salsa class, talk to a stranger, make a dress using only materials you already have in your home, go on a swing, participate in a (non-writing) competition, count how many types of animals you can find around your home town... The weirder, the better!

5. Make a game of writing.
There are thousands of writing exercises that are fun to do - so try some! Open the dictionary at random, select a word and write whatever comes into your head. Make flashcards with various words on them and create sentences, or use the word order to create a story. Tell a story through a different medium - like drawing, photography, plasticine models, sock puppets, music, mime...

The idea is to create a springboard. You may think the writing that results from these ideas is stupid, but writing rubbish is better than not writing at all. However, I find that the exercises that seem most ridiculous are the ones that generate the best ideas. Having fun can be motivating in itself, but the ideas you produce will motivate you further and before you know it, your chain will (like a certain brand of toilet paper) be long and strong!


  1. Thank you, Hayley, for a really inspiring post and just what I needed today! Fantastic ideas. x

  2. Lovely, positive advice. We all get stuck in a rut sometimes, or trapped in a negative frame of mind, but the only person who can change it is ourselves. Off to bungee jump from the top of the nearest high bridge! x

  3. Thank you, Joanne and Joanna! Glad you like my advice - I'm trying to follow it myself...

  4. Very inspiring advice, as always - thanks Hayley. Great new photo!

    1. Thank you, Rosemary! I thought it was about time I updated :-)

  5. These are all very good tips, especially number 1. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started; once I start writing, it's a little bit easier to block out everything I'm worrying about. Unfortunately I'm not able to write fiction every day, though, because I have two jobs and a dissertation to write. But I do make a commitment to writing fiction on certain days, so that I get something done every week. And it gives me something to look forward to.