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Break Out of Your Writing Rut

The marathon lifestyle promotes doing rather than watching…by adopting the marathon lifestyle you can confront your own lions, be your own hero, fight your own battles, challenge yourself. —Richard Benyo

When I got out of bed Monday morning, I felt like I’d run a marathon or something. My leg muscles were sore, and I could barely lift my arms. I’d spent much of the weekend cleaning the house—squatting to dust baseboards, bending to retrieve dog toys, and running up and down the stairs to wash and put away the laundry. I exercise regularly. Why did my weekend cleaning spree hit me so hard?

In Ten Things Trainers Wish You Knew about Your Workout, trainer and fitness studio owner Michael Sokol said, “After doing the same cardio or strength routine three to six times, your body adapts and you burn fewer calories.” The article advised switching up routines. No wonder my body was so sore—my weekend chores challenged my muscles in a way my regular routine never did.

This got me thinking about writing. I wonder what happens to writers who consistently create in a single genre? Does churning out the same kind of copy day after day help us flourish or stifle our creativity? I don’t think this is an either-or dichotomy. Sticking with a genre or niche can help us learn it deeply and well. In time and with practice, we become better. But trying new things challenges our writing chops and can help us become better writers. This quest provides six ways to challenge and stretch your writing muscles. These tools will get you out of any writing rut you find yourself in!

The Quest

Try one or all of the tools below and see how it impacts your writing.

Enter a Contest

Tackling a writing contest can challenge us to sharpen our writing skills. Between undertaking a specific writing assignment and polishing up the piece for the judges, we work out our writing and revising muscles. The Sun magazine offers an opportunity for writers to submit a short essay in response to a writing prompt. The winner gets publication and a subscription.   Or how about this contest from Gotham Writers: write a 49-word story about your worst outdoor experience for a chance to win a course. Check out the Reedsy blog for poetry contests and more.

Genre Jump

Maybe you’re an expert at writing mysteries or nonfiction profiles. Imagine how you’ll stretch your writing muscles if you try writing in a totally different genre. If you write primarily fiction, try nonfiction and vice versa. If you’ve already jumped genres, then think about playing with a new format. If you write novels, try flash fiction. If you write how-to books, take on an essay. Or try a new poem structure—a sonnet, a limerick, or an epic poem.

Take a Challenge

National Novel Writing Month was one of the best things to happen to the writing community because it turned writing a novel into a competitive sport. Of course, most people were competing with themselves, and everyone could win—but still, it was a game changer. And now, the world is full of various writing challenges. Try Story a Day or one of the challenges at Imagine Forest. Or better yet, create your own challenge, one that fits your needs. Challenge yourself to write a paragraph or a poem a day.

Take a Class

Maybe one of the best ways to level up our writing is to invite the information, guidance, and feedback of an experienced writing teacher. In a writing craft class, students can learn the specifics of a certain genre or dig into an aspect of writing—like crafting dialogue, orchestrating the plot, or creating voice. If you don’t have access to an in-person class at a local college or writing center, try one of the many online writing communities.

(I have plenty of workshops coming up this fall—and even more available to purchase. Bookmark this page to stay informed! )

Get Critiqued

Showing our writing to another person can be scary—especially when we’re asking for critical feedback. But this practice can become a helpful tool in improving our writing. As first readers, our critique partners can help us see what’s delightful and engaging about our work. They can also point out what doesn’t work, noting both content and craft problems. Hearing their point of view can help us see our work in a new way. Find a partner or a group through writing organizations, local writing centers, or online writing educational sites.

Get a Workbook

Writing exercises can be a fun way to push you into new writing territories. Use these for the times when you are feeling stuck. These can help you explore new topics, craft skills, and more. A few of my favorites are:

Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan J. Wooldridge

The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley

Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich

Game Play Tips

  • This quest takes courage! You’ll be jumping into a new ways of writing. But it also means that you’ll grow as a writer.
  • If you have another way to sharpen your writing practice, try it.
  • Reflect on how changing up your writing practice improves your writing—and repeat as needed.

For the Win

We don’t need to enroll in a MFA or a PhD program to level up our writing. This quest has taught us that when we learn a new technique, try a different genre, or get valuable feedback—we boost our skill level. Rock it, writers!

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