inspiration · writing

Climbing out of a Writing Rut

I’ve been writing daily for years, but lately I feel as if I haven’t written anything worthwhile. Sure – I’ve written blog posts about family and the teaching of writing.  Sure – I’ve jotted ideas down in my Noteshelf App.  Sure – I’ve worked on a nonfiction writing project I’ve been trying to move forward for a little over a year.  However, I don’t feel like I’ve written anything that is fueling me as a writer.

I'm making my way through Shapiro's book slowly, savoring all she is teaching me about being a writer.
I’m making my way through Shapiro’s book slowly, savoring all of the things she is teaching me about being a writer.

I didn’t realize want to admit I was in a writing rut until I read Nina Badzin’s review of Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro.  Badzin described Still Writing as a hybrid text: a memoir that provides guidance about the craft of writing and the realities of living life as a writer.  Badzin is a freelance writer I’ve come to identify with so I took her recommendation and bought Still Writing.  Two days later, the book arrived on my doorstep.  I opened Still Writing and felt as though Shapiro was speaking directly to me.  In fact, once I started reading I needed a highlighter so I could mark up the lines that resonated with me so I could read them over and over.  Some lines that gave me a proverbial kick in the pants were:

  • Sit down. Stay there. It’s hard – I know just how hard – and I hate to tell you this, but it doesn’t get easier. Ever. Get used to the discomfort. Make some kind of peace with it (11).

  • Writing, after all, is an act of faith. We must believe, without the slightest evidence that believing will get us anywhere (23).

  • The further I get into this writing life, the more help I find I need (60).

  • The only reason to be a writer is because you have to (63).

That final line really resonated with me.  I have to write.  And even though I have been writing daily, I haven’t been doing the kind of writing, story writing, I love to do because everything else has been taking precedence lately. I’ve long had a dream to publish children’s picture books. That’s pretty hard to do if you haven’t worked on a draft of a picture book in over six months!  Clearly, something has to change so I can make time to write the stories that live inside my head that are yearning to make their way on to the page.

I received an email from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) announcing the upcoming registration for the 2014 Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City the same day I began Still Writing.  The conference is three days filled with keynotes and workshops with authors, illustrators, editors and agents.  It was exactly the motivation I needed to revisit the manuscript I finished in January and the one I began working on earlier this year. I was still hesitant about taking the plunge to register for the conference so I talked with my husband about it. Together we decided I should register for the conference since it would help me grow as a writer.

Shapiro reminded me of something I preach to teachers when I talk about using mentor texts to lift the level of writing in classrooms. “Reading good prose is influence” (33). As a result of Shapiro reminding me of something I tell others so often, I need to read more narrative texts to help me grow as a writer.  And I’m not talking about more picture books since I read plenty of those to my daughter.  You see, I read a lot of informational and opinion-based pieces of writing. However, I rarely find the time to read novels.  Since narrative writing is what I want to write I need to be influenced by outstanding prose.  My favorite author is Nicholas Sparks since he tells a good story and writes in ways that dazzle me as a writer. This evening I’ll start reading The Longest Ride with the hope I will be inspired to do some better writing as a result of being under the influence of Sparks’ writing.  After all, “Reading great work is exhilarating. It shows us what’s possible” (34).

photo (3)
My Noteshelf Notebooks on my iPad

I started using Noteshelf late last month.  Last week I created a new notebook called “Stories I Need to Write.”  Now I have a place to capture all of the things I want to write. And any time I feel discouraged, all I have to go back through the highlights I made in Shapiro’s book for a little encouragement.

Do you have any other book suggestions that will fill my head with the sounds of good writing?  Also, if you have any inspirational advice or ideas to help me get out of my writing rut, then please share them by leaving a comment.  

22 thoughts on “Climbing out of a Writing Rut

  1. Still Writing was also reviewed at Brain Pickings earlier this week ( I was immediately drawn to Shapiro’s wise and inspiring words: “Everything you need to know about life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write.” I’m also still basking in the glow of Kate DiCamillo’s keynote at TCRWP’s Saturday reunion and would recommend that you read Flora & Ulysses as soon as possible. It’s a beautiful book.


    1. I feel like I need to do more in that genuine attempt. Thanks for reminding me of that quote.

      Will check out Flora & Ulysses + many of the other titles mentioned here. I have a feeling they’ll all be the fuel I need.


  2. Stacey,
    So I just have been working on a post for today’s (Tues. 10/22) Slice of Life. I’m not sure I’m going to post it because it’s really lacking in voice and a hundred other things. Anyway, I decided to pop over to read a little as I ponder whether to just move on for the evening, rework it a bit, and/or post it.

    Interestingly, I stumbled upon your piece here which is similar to what I am writing today. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to write. I enjoy it. When you said, “I don’t feel like I’ve written anything that is fueling me as a writer.” I completely understood this. I feel exactly like this right now.

    There are several different types of writing I like to do. However, my time is limited. For this reason, I feel like I either need to get a definite plan or begin to really decide what kinds of writing I want to do and can fit into my life. Then, like you’re trying to do here, I need to start to work a plan to move toward what I think is important for me to accomplish as a writer.

    Right now. I guess I just know I like to write. I also know I have soooo much to learn. Like you, I know I need to really start to move toward the types of writing that fuel me as a writer. Thanks for sharing your quest and your story.

    I will be thinking more about your words, “Clearly, something has to change so I can make time to write the stories that live inside my head that are yearning to make their way on to the page.” I’ll be trying to find the changes I need to make.

    Thank you!


    1. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who feels like this, Cathy. I was starting to feel like I was some kind of strange being, going through the motions of writing without being fulfilled by it. Your words help me remember I’m not alone here. Time is truly the biggest factor. It’s hard to squeeze everything into a day and a week. I value 8 hours of sleep a night. If I didn’t, then I’d know where to find the extra time. If I didn’t mind using the TV as a babysitter for my daughter, then I could get another hour of writing in a day. But I do mind, so there goes that hour. (Sigh.) I’ve come to realize I have to prioritize my own writing. I’ll update you on how it’s going once I figure it out!

      BTW: I successfully registered for the SCWBI conference in NY + the Friday writing intensive, where I’ll get to meet with an editor and an agent. That means I have some serious revision work to do on my manuscript. I’m so excited by this! Plus, since I wrote this post, I started working on some more writing in my Noteshelf app!

      Keep me posted on how it’s going for you too!


  3. There is a book I’ve had for a long while, use it for myself, & have for students, too. It’s here on Amazon, Stacey: It seems to be out of print, but still available in the used books. I read & re-read it. As for reading your own mentor texts, I love EB White’s essays, fiction by Anna Quindlen (or her essays), and, like Tara, Anne Tyler. Best wishes! Sounds like the SCBWI came along at just the right time!


  4. I think that rut if filled with many of us, struggling to climb out. I have downloaded a sample of Dani Shapiro’s book and I may need a copy too. I went to hear Ann Hood speak last week and will hear Anne Lamott speak next week, looking too for something that pushes me forward. I love the noteshelf idea. And this is the 3rd time I have seen Steven Pressfield mentioned in the last week – may need to check that out too. Struggle on my friend!


  5. Stacey, I love this post. I, too, am reading Shapiro’s book and loving it. I can totally relate to the last quote you listed: “The only reason to be a writer is because you have to (63).” I get that. Book recommendations: a classic that I return to is Anne of Green Gables. Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe…I get lost in the prose. A Simple Thing by Kathleen McCleary, and Big Stone Gap (series) by Adriana Trigiani! I’ll be checking back for other book recommendations! Happy Writing!


  6. I love the way the Noteshelf looks like. That must be a nice App. It was exciting to hear about what you are thinking about as far as your writing life right now!

    I just noticed the new header for the blog. I was wondering what the new look might be like since the miles apart wouldn’t apply anymore. I like the typewriter!


  7. I related to this so much, Stacey, and not just because you mentioned my review. I also feel too often that I’m not writing something substantial because everything I do now is essay by essay. I like each essay and work hard on them, but there’s no unifying force at this point.

    I love the quotes you picked out from the book!


  8. Stacy, I only wish you could pull the stories of your life – right now – into the books of a living adventure with Isabella. So many of your small moments are so rich in the power of love and learning. They seem like such clear kernels of stories to me….I think you have the seeds…it’s the time that is the variable! There are so many connected hours in a day…and so many pulls…


  9. What type of books are you looking for? YA, Adult, genre? Let me know and I’ll work on a list. For middle grades my two favorites for beautiful and flawless writing this year are The Real Boy by Ursu and Center of Everything by Urban. And thanks for sharing – go write!


    1. I’m open to all levels. I am thinking about rereading some of my favorite chapter books (e.g., Esperanza Rising) I used to read to my students. Any lists would be appreciated.

      ‘Til then, I’ll look into the Ursu and Urban books. Thanks!


  10. Stacey – This topic came up last night during NCTE’s Twitter chat, and I compiled a list of strategies that people tweeted they use when in a writing rut! I’m blogging about it this week!! See? All the signs in the universe are pointing to you must write this book! 🙂


  11. Finding the time to write always battles the need to write in my life, Stacey. You make a great point about also making room for the type of reading that inspires stories, and gets one over that writer’s block. It’s wonderful that you have a go to author – for me, it’s Virginia Woolf and Anne Tyler, they open different writing veins in me. I received the SCBWI email too…and am still mulling over it – good for you that you took the plunge!


  12. I always find reading fiction helps me break out of a block. Also, if you haven’t seen Steven Pressfield’s interview with Oprah on resistance, it’s wonderful!!!! It will make you feel better for sure!!


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