Playing with Writing

Last fall, a friend and I were both bemoaning that we were in a writing slump and having a hard time pushing through on the projects we were working on. As we were talking, the conversation somehow turned to the letter game ( a la Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer in Sorcery and Cecelia) and we decided we would play our own letter game.

The basic premise of the game is that each writer assumes the persona of a character and exchange letters with the other character. The next few weeks were a flurry of emails as my friend and I debated just what characters we wanted to play and what story we wanted to write, throwing out all kinds of absurd and goofy ideas. The brainstorming was so much fun! We finally settled on a set of twins who had been separated for the first time in their lives, one to go off to boarding school and one to live with a crazy aunt in Cornwall.

To be honest, we only exchanged letters a couple times before real life (and the projects we were supposed to be working on) took precedence. But the act of letting go, of just playing around with world-building, with characters, and with writing in general, was so freeing. It made it so much easier to go back to the project I’d been working on and to remember what I loved about it. Sometimes I get so bogged down with what is not working in a particular piece that I forget entirely about what is working.

So if you’re struggling with a writing slump, try letting yourself play around. Some suggestions I’ve heard or tried are:

1. The Letter Game.

This can be a lot of fun, but as I mentioned above, it does require another person willing to play with you.

2. Try experimenting in a different genre. 

I find that taking a break from my usual MG/YA and writing picture books (or something for adults—gasp!) really sparks my creativity.

3. Force your characters to do something different. 

I have a friend who once said she did some side writing and made her male teenaged love interest take care of a baby just to see what he did with it. So force your characters out of their comfort zone and have fun doing it.

4. Kill off your main characters for the fun of it. 

I was really annoyed with one of my stories once, so I wrote a scene—not in the same document as the story, of course—and killed off my characters. It was so fun and freeing to realize that I could do it, but I didn’t really want to. (And both my characters and I were much better behaved after that!)

5. Ignore all the other voices and let yourself love your manuscript. 

This one is so, so hard to do, but I find that when I’m worried about what other people think, my stories just aren’t as good. But when I write things that I love and I let myself love it without worrying about the other voices, it’s not only a better place for me emotionally, but the story is better.

What about you? What do you do when you find yourself in a writing slump?

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Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving.

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