Saturday, May 2, 2020

Stay In the Writing Ruts Until the Finish

by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

I have to admit that, for the last few weeks, writing has been a struggle for me. Which is strange because, like most of you, we’re having to quarantine because of the coronavirus? It’s not as if I have a lot of places to go or other things to do right now. You would think this would be the best time to focus and to write.

Isn’t it funny how, when you have more time, it seems like there’s more to do? 

Some of you who work outside of the house are getting your prayers answered for time to stay home.

However, you didn’t plan on your children’s schools being closed, too. Now you get the joy of, not only being a fulltime parent, but also, being a teacher. (What, you didn’t get an education degree when you became a parent?) And in many of our homes, it becomes a test of who needs teaching the most.

Others of you are spending more time with your spouses and you’re beginning to wonder, do you really want to retire early? Maybe we should put it off a while, years, maybe a decade?

No, having time isn’t my issue now. What I’m struggling with is trying to reset my current routine. For the last several months, I’ve been wearing my editor’s fedora as I rewrote/final edited two of my books. Now I want to put on my beanie with the propeller and begin working on a new first draft. Instead of looking at my writing with a critical eye, I want the freedom to explore and discover a whole new world, or at least a new story.

However, the gears in my brain are slipping big time. I have the focus of a golden retriever who was turned loose in a yard full of squirrels. Even laundry is jumping between me and the blank page. I’m constantly getting out of my seat to open the door to either let the dogs in, or to let them out, or to search for them throughout the house because it’s too quite. I can’t focus enough to get into the story. I forgot how to glue my seat to, uh hmm, the seat.

So, how can I get back into the writing routine?

Maybe, I shouldn’t try to go back to my old routine.

First, I need to realize that I’m not the writer I was when I began this writing journey, or even last wrote. 
Over the years, I’ve finished four books and no two of them were written the same way. Not even the two that are in a series and have many of the same characters. Since I started writing, I’ve learned more craft from experience and from taking classes and reading books on writing. I’ve tried things that failed and found new ways that worked better.

Second, my life isn’t the same. 
Even without going through a pandemic, life is constantly changing. Change isn’t bad, although it is often uncomfortable.

I spoke with my brother yesterday about how much he enjoyed working around their house with his new stepson who is a rising junior in high school. He won’t be around their house long and now is the time to make those fond memories and invest in the boy’s future.

Being quarantined with your family may make you want to scream at the walls or write to the governor for a pardon. But there will never be another time when you can be with your family the way you can now. Don’t miss what you have because you’re looking at what you’re missing.

Even if you do miss some of your writing time, accept that it is only for a season. As Cindy Sproles often says, give yourself some grace. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Still, I’ve let my current routine turn into a rut and it’s hard to jump tracks to get back to writing. How can I get out of my rut and start a new routine?

I think the visual of ruts and tracks gives us some of the answers. If you’ve ever ridden a bike on a trail or seen the old wagon trails going west, you get the point. As long as you’re going in the same direction as everyone else, riding in the ruts are easy because the previous trips have worn down the road making the ride smoother. But when you try to turn out of the ruts and go your own way, you have to not only break through the walls other’s tires have made, you have to blaze a trail of your own.

Getting out of a rut will be hard, because you are so used to the habits you’ve made or falling into, you don’t even think about them. That’s why having a routine is so helpful. Like the bike path, the more you ride the new trail, the more established the path becomes. The more the new trail becomes established, the less effort it takes to ride on it.

When you settle into a new routine, a lot of the choices have already been made— where are you going to sit, how long will you work, when will you take breaks—so you can focus more on your work at hand.

But establishing a new routine does take time. 
It may take several laps to create the rut you want. Sometimes you have to stand and peddle harder. You may have to make some corrections.  But the more you go back, the more progress you make.

One thing that is helping me is remembering I’ve been here before. Remembering starting past projects can work for you, too. Think back to when you started a tough project that you completed and how tough those first few days were. What helped you get through? Is it in your journal? Maybe you should record how you feel now so you’ll be prepared the next time you face a blank page.

Being difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be done. 
Just because that blank page sticks its tongue out and makes silly faces at you each morning, doesn’t mean you should give up and stop going back.

I plan to keep peddling. And I challenge you to keep on your project, too. Because, with a little effort, there is no limit to what you can make that blank page become.


Tim Suddeth is a stay-at-home dad and butler for his wonderful, adult son with autism. He has written numerous blogs posts, short stories, and three novels waiting for publication. He is a frequent attendee at writers’ conferences, including the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and a member of Word Weavers and ACFW. He lives near Greenville, SC where he shares a house with a bossy Shorky and three too-curious Persians. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at


  1. Thank you, Tim, for the encouragement and inspiration to blaze a new trail! The timing of your post was perfect :).

  2. I can relate to this so much, Tim. I keep asking myself 'what is wrong with me. I have time to write but the muse isn't there.'
    Helpful and timely post. Thanks.

  3. How did you know? :-) I keep telling myself I have all this time and nothing is pushing so why am I not writing and revising my WIP...Thank you for encouraging me to get out of my "rut".