Whether you’re a new storyteller or an old one, you will eventually encounter the dreaded storytelling slump. Up until that slump, writing was coming easily, or if it wasn’t, it was at least still enjoyable and your work was turning out to resemble something you may someday love, until one day it wasn’t anymore.
Storytelling slumps seem to come out of no where, often appearing right after you’ve said to someone how happy you are with your work or something of that sort. Getting into them seems so easy, effortless, and with each day you’re stuck in one, the harder it seems to get our of your slump. Which begs the question – how does one get out of a storytelling slump? Do you power through it or take a break? Do you toss your project all together and take up a less exhausting hobby like baking? Or do you work tirelessly on the same piece until it’s right?
While your gut reaction may say one thing, before you can decide, you first must determine what sort of storytelling slump you’re in in order to fix it.
What does it mean to be in a storytelling slump?
When broken down, storytelling slumps have two distinct forms: one having to do with a story you are working on and one having to do with your ability as a storyteller. Understanding which category you’re in may be quite easy at first, but that doesn’t make getting back to a productive writing life any easier.
1. You’re having difficulties with a particular story
Otherwise known as writer’s block, this type of storytelling slump happens when you arrive at a point in your story where you either don’t know what to do anymore, don’t know how to get around a certain plot hole, are having trouble with characterizations or histories, and so forth. The ways you can be in a storytelling slump are innumerable, but one of the number one reasons? You just don’t love your story right now.
You probably don’t love your story because it’s not working for you in some way. Things are hard, your characters feel wrong, the plot is too fast – the list goes on and on. And while you may have gotten out of one slump or another just by pure willpower, that doesn’t prevent a laundry list of future problems in future stories from emerging. So with that in mind, it’s best to start preparing for future slumps before they even emerge.
As a storyteller, writer’s block and these types of storytelling slumps will always come your way, no matter how good you are. Developing a strategy now to tackling those blocks and also learning to expect them will not only help you better prepare for them but also embrace them as an organic part of the process.
2. You’re having trouble telling stories at all
The other storytelling slump you can be in is the type where you are no longer writing at all. Just like with writer’s block, all storytellers have times when they are not writing anymore and feel deeply ashamed. In fact, many people get into the secondary type of slump because of the first one. They let a roadblock in a story stop them from progressing until one day they aren’t writing at all.
If this is the case for you, before you can even get out of your slump, you need to understand why you’re there in the first place. Is it because you’re afraid that you won’t write anything good? Is it because you believe you’re not a good writer or were disappointed with your last project? Is it because you don’t think you have the time? Is it because there’s an unfinished manuscript hanging over your head? No matter what the reason is, you need to define why you are struggling to write, then from there come up with a game plan to tackle this slump.
Lucky for you, I have listed a few ways for you to get started below! However, besides these strategies, doing other things like finding a writing community, developing a schedule or specific goal for your projects, and most importantly – taking pressure off yourself to be a great writer right away – will certainly make getting out of your slump easier. Often the fear of failure keeps us from writing at all, but once you accept that great writing comes with editing, you will hopefully feel free to write as many awful stories as you’d like. Because believe me, every writer’s first drafts are bedridden with problems in every direction. You can’t avoid them, so there’s no reason to let them keep you from writing!
How to Get Out of Your Slump
Despite the fact that are two different types of storytelling slumps, I’ve found that the solutions to both are surprisingly similar. If you are in the first type of storytelling slump, your solutions will be a bit more specific, whereas if you’re the second type your solutions are bigger picture ones, but overall they remain relatively the same.
Talk Out Your Story to a Friend
Before you try anything else, bringing your problem to a friend or family member who likes to read or watch movies, can be immensely helpful. Talking it out to another person, even one who hasn’t read your work, often works better than receiving handwritten notes because you get to work together and brainstorm. Furthermore, as the writer, when you’re in a discussion with someone about a plot hole, you are forced to talk through everything in a way you probably aren’t doing when you’re thinking in your head.
A great way to do this is to go on a walk with your friend or go to coffee. Put your phones away and just discuss the story. There shouldn’t be any pressure on a solution, just an emphasis on another perspective that might stir some new ideas later.
Though having someone read you work is great, talking has the benefits of forcing you – the storyteller – to talk out the problems too. And while I like to caution people from sharing first drafts as I believe those should be read only by the author, if you feel that would better suit what you need, then feel free to do that. For future drafts however, I always encourage you to hand your draft to a friend or a trusted reader and ask them what they think. Don’t mention any problems or anything you need help with right away, but hear how they react. Listen to the strengths they find and the weaknesses, and then if they still haven’t addressed the area you are having trouble with, then ask them for help. The reason I suggest waiting to tell them what you are having issues with is because often that gets in the way of an organic reaction that might tell you more than telling them what you need fixed. If you do the latter, they might actively search for problems that aren’t there!
On the other hand, if you’re having trouble writing period, then talking to a friend, especially one who believes in you as a writer or who has also been through the same slump as you, can work wonders. You can implement the same techniques above and use your friend to get at why you might be in a writing slump. Be honest and unafraid to say things like “I don’t like writing anymore.” You’ll find that having someone to say these things to will awaken you to what you really need in your writerly life.
Revisit Your Favorite Stories
If you are feeling stuck in a piece you’re working on or can’t seem to motivate yourself to write at all, it never hurts to return to some of your favorite stories. These stories don’t need to any way resemble yours, but instead should instill in you a love for storytelling or an inspiration to emulate something about those stories. Maybe you reach for your an author who really influenced your style or a playwright who influenced your dialogue. Or maybe you reach for that movie that first made you want to become a screenwriter. Or maybe you reach for someone you’ve never read at all or other works by your favorite storytellers you’re less familiar with. Whatever you choose, be sure to enjoy it and savor the great things about it. Remember what makes you love storytelling.
After all, sometimes as writers we forget that half of our job is to continuously engage with stories by other people. Especially if you haven’t been writing a lot lately, finding stories that inspire you are a great way to get back on track. If you have trouble remembering to to do this, create a weekly schedule using my Storytelling Syllabus to become more intentional in your story consumption. Additionally, be sure to mix it up! If you’re writing a short story, look to a video game for inspiration. If you are really feeling unmotivated and are slacking in reading too, try watching a film or reading a play or short story to get you going.
Which brings me to my next point…
Change Up Your Medium
If at this point you are surprised that I am telling you one of the best ways to see your story in a new way is by changing the medium, you must be new here. Hop on over to my about section to learn about my belief in learning to write in all genres, then go download your free 50+ workbook on all the mediums.
If you are not surprised however, you know I believe wholeheartedly that sometimes trying out your story in a new medium might bring to light issues and sometimes strengths to hone in on you would have never seen before should you have continued to work in the same medium. Or, if you’re having trouble writing all together, trying a new medium can become an exciting and fun challenge that is less stressful than writing in the medium you a proficient in. Some of my most creative works were in my playwriting class where I was less aware of rules and standards and what people considered “good” and that relief can do wonderful things for you!
Also, keep in mind that writing your story in a different medium doesn’t mean you have to write the final draft that way. You can write a scene in your novel as a play to get through it quickly, or write the ending to your movie like a video game script to explore all the options. Or you can even write a separate scene you don’t even intend to include in your piece all together. Often when I write screenplays, I’ll write short stories from my characters’ perspectives to gain better insight into their mind. These short stories are never something I share with other people or find very good for that matter, but they do teach me a lot about my screenplay, something I am not sure I could discover via screenwriting. If you are having trouble with one aspect of your story, I highly encourage you to download my Storytelling System ebook and flip to chapter two where I detail the strengths of every medium!
Write a New Story
Sometimes, all of the above can only do so much and you still feel stuck. Maybe your current work in progress seems to have no solution and you’re losing motivation, or maybe you are not writing at all because you don’t know what to write in the first place.
Just like with any difficult problem in life, sometimes a break can solve all your problems in ways we cannot understand (it truly feels like a miracle when it happens, trust me). And while relaxing from writing all together might sometimes work, other times it’s better just to set your current project aside and tackle something new, especially if you haven’t been writing in months.
If this is the case for you, look through your notes and idea journals for something to write about. It can be anything. It can be a short scene in a movie, a quick two-page play, a novel – just try to do anything to separate yourself from your current work in progress or to get you back into the writing habit. If you’re short for ideas, I have an entire post on how to discover new storytelling ideas, but even just doing writing prompts is a great place to start.
No matter what though, know that every great writer out there has suffered from the storytelling slump. What makes them great though is not their ability as a writer, but their perseverance through the tough parts. Had they not persevered, they would not be great. And so it can be for you too.
Are you in a storytelling slump? What ways are you going to try and overcome it? Tell me in the comments below, or tell me how you’ve gotten out of previous slumps!