For me, writing often doesn’t feel that great; in the space between flashes of inspiration is me swearing at my manuscript and regretting my life choices. Struggle is normal, but when I have several difficult drafting days in a row, it means it’s time to step back and reassess. When I’m struggling, I find the following three questions tend to help me break through most slumps:
1. Have I read anything good lately?
It can be hard to find time on top of working my day job, writing, and somehow feeding myself, but if I go long enough without reading anything stimulating, my creativity grinds to a halt. I love short story anthologies as a method of squeezing in bites of inspiration, and nonfiction often gets my gears turning again. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press, 2017), The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu (Saga Press, 2020), as well as speculative fiction journals Fusion Fragment Magazine and Apparition Literary Magazine are particular favorites.
2. Do I need a “good think?”
Idle daydreaming activates creative networks in the brain—it’s why we often get our best ideas while driving or in the shower. I always feel guilty (and anxious) taking my writing time and doing absolutely nothing with it, but more often than not, giving myself permission to just sit and ponder helps me over the hump.
3. Do I need a break?
The human brain only has five hours of focused concentration in it, which we use for things like our jobs and housework—and if we push past that, the need for recovery is cumulative. Sometimes the answer really is to just turn off my laptop and allow my brain to recharge.
—Maria Dong, author of Liar, Dreamer, Thief (Grand Central Publishing, 2023)