Stuck in the Writing Doldrums?

In the midst of the doldrums, our writing lives come to a standstill. We stop writing, reading craft books and magazines,  journaling, critiquing, and researching.

There is actually a place near the equator named the Doldrums. Because of shifting winds and calm spots in the area, a sailboat caught in the Doldrums could be stranded for days due to lack of wind. When we’re caught in the writing doldrums, our writing boat is stranded for days too.

What causes this? The Doldrums near the equator are caused by alternating calms and squalls. Super highs and super lows. Hyperactivity and then no activity.

That’s exactly what causes the writing doldrums too.

Uneven Pacing

The cycling back and forth between hyperactivity and doldrums is where many of us live. NOTE: the hyperactivity can be writing-related or nonwriting activity. Writerly hyperactivity includes writing marathons for ten hours, getting caught up in the Twitter-Facebook-LinkedIn-Pinterest-blog frenzy, and other ways of operating in hyper-drive. Nonwriting hyperactivity can be rushing from one kids’ activity to another while juggling your day job, a birthday party, a sick parent, and your aerobics class.

Either way, you’re too busy and out of balance. This always–and I do mean ALWAYS–is followed by the doldrums where you just can’t make yourself do a thing. (Partly it’s nature’s way of making you slow down and rest.)

Is this your pattern? If so, you’ve probably noticed that the time spent in the doldrums¬†effectively wipes out how much you gained during the hyper, super active times.

The Solution

Do you get tired of crashing, of having days of no productivity that follow your super productive days? After the flurry of frenzied activity that accompanies your adrenaline rush, your bodies, minds, emotions and spirits shut down. This can be prevented though!

It takes daily discipline, but it can be done. And oddly enough, the discipline that’s called for is slowing down. You want to avoid the hyperactive days–be they writing or nonwriting hyper days–so that the doldrums don’t automatically follow.

To avoid the crash, you have to avoid the frantic days that precede it.

Balance and Pacing

If you want to have a writing career that will go the distance, your best bet is to avoid the extreme highs so you can avoid the extreme lows. Even if you can write five straight hours, it’s better for most people to stop after two hours and take a break. Do something else, something physical. Change gears. Let the adrenaline subside. You can write again later if you have time.

If you’re hyper in the nonwriting world, it may mean saying “no” a lot more often. Not everyone who asks for your assistance needs it nearly as much as you need to stop and take a few deep breaths and relax. Most of us have such an automatic “yes” that we don’t even stop to think or pray about the request. It’s only later–when we’re up till midnight trying to get our own things done–that we realize we agreed to something that we should have declined.

The Pay-Off

The writers who last, who keep producing quality writing, are usually those who have found a way to stay on an even keel most of the time. Then they can write daily, produce pages that add up over time, and still have a balanced life away from the keyboard.

Give yourself permission to get out of hyper drive, and thus avoid the writing doldrums. You’re the only one who can make that change. I urge you–and ME–to begin today.

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4 Responses to Stuck in the Writing Doldrums?

  1. McCourt says:


    You always know what I need to hear! I have been caught in the frenetic pace of life and back-to-school. I told myself that I would get back to writing once things settled down, but here it is October and I’m still just as overextended. Now I am too tired and unmotivated to write and was wondering what was wrong with me. Aha! The doldrums! (It sounds like a place from a Roald Dahl book I think!).

    I’m still working on balance (always, always), but for my writing projects, I think I’ll start trying to get back into the swing of things by working on some picture book projects. They seem a little less daunting to tackle than the novel these days (at least in theory!).

    Thanks for giving my condition a name so that I can stop beating myself up over my lack of motivation these days.

    Always appreciated! McCourt

    • kwpadmin says:

      Good to hear from you, McCourt! Yes, striving for balance is a life-long challenge as so many expected and unexpected things come along! But the doldrums idea helps me remember that instead of trying to fix the “lows” (which is so difficult), I can prevent them by focusing on bringing down the “highs” that cause them. During busy times or high pressure deadline times now, I cut back on everything that I don’t absolutely have to do, even fun things, until the pressure time is past. It works when I remember to do it! :-)

  2. Damon Dean says:

    You’ve diagnosed me to, Kristi. I am a gung-ho writer–usually at 11:30 p.m., after my day has gotten out the way…then it’s 3:30 am and I’m headed for the doldrums. The pattern follows for periods of writing too.
    I am in need of disciplined writing and still struggling to find that pattern, but with the flex I need too…

    • kwpadmin says:

      Damon, the book MINI HABITS has been a great help to me in this area. Maybe you’d find some good ideas there too. Keep looking! :-)

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