Bored with your writing project? Or terrified to face it?

One of the cleverest smokescreens in writing is creative apathy.

This is the point with a project where you suddenly get bored or lose interest in your writing. It tends to crop up at key stages in your writing project, like midway through or even just shy of the end.

When you hit it, you’ll start thinking maybe you’re just not that interested in this project and maybe it’s time to move on to something else.

But is that your highest truth?

I call creative apathy a smokescreen because it tricks you into thinking you’ve lost interest. It obscures the fact that you’ve encountered resistance to your project. It sends you off on a tangent, looking for other projects, wondering why you’ve lost interest, thinking maybe you never should have picked the project in the first place.

In my experience working with writers this creative apathy usually comes up as a response to either fear or creative burnout. The latter, creative burnout, comes about from pushing ourselves too hard or too long and becoming creatively exhausted. The former, fear, happens when we bump up against the places in our writing where we feel uncomfortable.

This fear could be as simple as being afraid to do the hard work, not knowing what comes next, or not knowing how to solve a story problem. It can be triggered by not having enough information about how to proceed with a task.

The fear can also arise from beliefs about your ability and talent, like a belief you should already know exactly how to do something before you even try.

I find that many, many writers hold this idea that writing should come naturally. That it should be easy, and that if it isn’t, it is a matter of a lack of talent or ability.

Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success*, suggests that this belief demonstrates a “fixed mindset” – that we have everything we are capable of having from birth, that we cannot improve or increase our skills, etc. She contrasts this with a “growth mindset”, which says that we are capable of more if we focus on learning and applying ourselves.

I was struck by this comment she made:

“People are all born with a love of learning, but the fixed mindset can undo it. Think of a time you were enjoying something – doing a crossword puzzle, playing a sport, learning a new dance. Then it became hard and you wanted out. Maybe you suddenly felt tired, dizzy, bored, or hungry. Next time this happens, don’t fool yourself. It’s the fixed mindset. Put yourself in a growth mindset. Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.”

What if the next time you feel bored with a project, you consider the possibility that fear is coming up and sending you into a fixed mindset place – the very opposite of creativity – and instead choose to believe that you are capable of solving whatever problem you’re avoiding, even if it means getting help, brainstorming longer, or doing research to help you tackle it?

In other words, what if you adopted a perspective that said, “I can do this, somehow, even if I can’t see how yet“?

Perhaps it helps to also hold the belief that if you conceived of the project, you are also capable of seeing it through.

Your turn

Do you fall for creative apathy or forge through it? What’s your approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.




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  1. Commenting on Bored with your writing project? Or terrified to face it?
    Right now I am researching characters, situations, movies, whatever, for a transgender superhero screenplay. I keep researching. There is no writing yet. I feel like Festus (illiterate) in an episode of Gun Smoke where he and Doc (intelligent) argue about writing and reading. “How do ya know the writin’s right?” I can’t get out of the researching stage which is drudging along. I am interested in creating this screenplay. I am terrified that I might not know how. With an MFA, I feel I should have all the tools. My research stalls because I can’t find Bird Cage, or Flawless scripts. I even looked for To Wong Foo… I did find Rent. (I’m making excuses.) I get frustrated. I do intend to write this screenplay before 2014 is over. Thanks for quoting Dweck.

    • You’ll get there, Arleen! I totally forgot about To Wong Foo until you mentioned it. :)

      I like what Steven Pressfield says on the subject of starting before you’re “ready” and also the research diet he recommends in “Do The Work”. Check it out! You might find it helpful.

      In the meantime, I’ll be rooting for you!

  2. Donna Ritter says:

    Thank you for the timely advice. I am at a crossroads with the book I am writing. I believe my issue is fear of failure which rides with the perfectionism theme. I have several other ideas for writing projects that are trying to tug me away from finishing the book. What a struggle! I am thankful, Jenna, to know this is fairly common among writers and that I am not alone. I am printing your article and will refer to it when I start feeling the urge to stray from what I have started. I now look forward to today’s writing session with encouragement from you!

    • Yes, fear of failure and perfectionism go hand in hand. And that “Bright Shiny Object” syndrome is a doozy, isn’t it? Everything else looks so much better!

      You’re definitely not alone, Donna, hang in there and get it done. You’ll be so glad you did. :)

  3. The writers I work with commonly report that writing is the hardest thing they do, but also the thing they love the most and the thing they can’t not do.

    Also, your comment, “I find that many, many writers hold this idea that writing should come naturally. That it should be easy, and that if it isn’t, it is a matter of a lack of talent or ability.” reminded me of an article that reported a very similar attitude among bright girls about their abilities:

    Bottom line, it’s good for us to remember that creativity is a process that can be enhanced and even evolved by working with it — especially by creatively stretching beyond our comfort zones.

    • Daria, yes, it’s the same for me. It’s hard and I wouldn’t give it up for ANYTHING. Ever. And yet there are still these fascinating moments where I find my Inner Resister saying “I’m bored with this! I’m over it!” Total b.s. but hilarious at the same time. :)

      I like the article you linked to. I wonder if Dweck would say that’s true for ALL bright girls and ALL bright boys, or if she would now make a distinction around growth versus fixed mindset. It seems like the kind of feedback girls were receiving versus the boys influenced their mindset.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. I wanted to comment on this bit of your post: “Think of a time you were enjoying something – doing a crossword puzzle, playing a sport, learning a new dance. Then it became hard and you wanted out.”
    That is so me! :)

    These days I’ve applied what I know about how the physics of the brain’s activity works to reassure myself that when it gets really hard or totally confusing — that’s the time I’m likely on the brink of a break-through. I can’t predict when it will happen, of course, but it feels like such a shame to give up just when my brain is about to make the leap to another level of understanding or creative solution or… It keeps me going just to see what will emerge from the Creative Struggle of a brain re-organizing itself!

  5. Hey cutie! I have nominated you for the Sunshine Award. Please go to my blog post this month to find out all the details.
    Hugs and kisses, Terri