Monday, January 20, 2020

Beating the January Doldrums

It’s the third week of January. Do you know where your WIP is?

If you’re like me, you’re looking at the goals you made two weeks ago and cringing. What happened to the enthusiasm? What happened to the resolve?

Nothing is quite so defeating as feeling like a failure. Again.

But I'm here to tell you you're not a failure.

Just stop for a minute. Take a deep breath.

What many of us feel during the first couple weeks of January is burnout. We’ve just finished the busiest and most emotionally charged two months of the year (November and December) with all the busyness, projects, money spent, decorations being dragged out of storage (and shoved back in,) too much sugar, not enough sleep, runny noses, and long dark nights.

I think you have the picture.

And then the New Year comes and we’re so READY to get back to “normal” that we makes all kinds of plans, draw up schedules, and jump into an entirely different – but just as busy and emotionally charged – season as the previous two months have been.

What suffers? (Besides our immune system?)

Our creativity.

Writing – the most cherished expression of our creativity – has become work. Hard work. The joy is gone. Slogging words onto the page is like running up a sand dune. We go to the well, but it’s dry. Maybe a few drops of water – enough to meet today’s word count goal – but it isn’t refreshing. “Who is even going to read this stuff?” asks our pesky inner voice.

The solution? Let’s refill that well.

After all, you still have the enthusiasm for your writing, right? And you know how to pull up your big girl panties and move on after a hiccup in your plans (BTW, thanks to Ruthy for that persistent image!) We just need to prime the pump.

Sometimes the best way to fill that well of creativity is to step away from the computer. Sometimes we just need to let our minds play.

Here is my strategy:

1) Reading is a big love of mine – I’m sure it’s a huge part of your life, too. For my reading goal this year, I’m revisiting my old friends: my collection of favorite childhood books. I read ten Happy Hollister books in a row before picking up my copy of Little Women. Coming up is the Swallowdale series by Arthur Ramsome, Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. And many, many more. Revisiting my best friends from childhood moistens the parched ground at the bottom of the well.

2) Outside. Breathing fresh air and getting some exercise as I walk Jack wakes up my brain. Every morning. Even when it’s below zero. There was a time when I would listen to a podcast or an audio book while I walked the dog, but I’ve learned to listen to the quiet and watch the world around me. Story ideas play through my mind as I let nature’s quiet take over. Drip by drip, the well fills.

3) I'm addicted to cross stitch. In fact, I love all needle arts. Last week I got out my smocking pleater (that has been in storage since hubby bought it for me for Christmas a few years ago) and re-learned how to smock by watching YouTube videos. The spark kindled by my daily hour I spend cross stitching was flamed into life when I set myself down to learn this skill I hadn’t practiced for thirty years. The well bubbles up to overflowing.

I know your next question: "When do I do all this stuff? My schedule is so busy that I barely have time to write, and you want me to do more?"

Just like we need to make time for writing, we can make time to refill our creative wells. Your means of filling that well will be different than mine, but I’m sure there’s something that you would love to spend a few minutes a day doing – or an hour once a week.

And just like we need to sacrifice something in our lives for writing, we need to sacrifice something to make time for filling our wells.

But the best part is that often that thing that refills our well is something social. Taking a painting class with a friend, or a cooking class with your sister, or a morning walk with your spouse. Connecting with others may be the most effective way to keep that well from running dry in the first place.

So, what do you think? What ways have you found to keep your creative well flowing?

By the way, decluttering is also one of the best ways to refill my well - and I'd like to declutter some books! One commenter will win one of my print books of their choice. Check out the list on my website (click here to find the book list) and let me know which book you'd like in the comments!


  1. Hi Jan:

    I don't think creativity is like a well. I don't believe you can fill it. Rather I think we always have the same amount of creativity on tap. Perhaps creativity is more like a sleeping dog. It wants a challenge. It seeks a reward.

    It's been long said that "necessity is the mother of invention". What the sleepy dog needs is a rabbit running across his field of vision.

    James Patterson teaches that he makes each scene its own chapter and has each scene change the trajectory of the story plot. If it doesn't, it was not necessary.

    I like to ask, "What if" questions. "What happens to my story if all of a sudden the hero is unexpectedly fired from his job? Fired unfairly?"

    "What if the heroine wins $10,000 in the lottery?"

    But those things were not in the plot.

    I know, deal with it. Surprise the reader. If you didn't know what was going to happen, the reader sure won't know either.

    That's hard to do.

    I know but it's not boring. And it can often make the creative juices flow! Even out of a dry rock.

    Here's a warm up exercise: Provide some answers to this question:

    "What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?"

    Think about it. What quests would you go on?

    Give that slumbering creativity a challenge. Allow it to flow freely while allowing it to stray into areas that will help your WIPs.

    And yes, I'd like to be in the drawing for "Hannah's Choice".


    1. Great comments, Vince! I love the image of the sleepy dog and the rabbit!

      You caught the idea of why I find my "play" important to my creativity - it takes me out of the path I've been following and shakes things up a bit. It wakes up my brain and I see my story from a different perspective, which in turn brings up "what if" questions I had never thought of.

      And you're in the drawing!

    2. Jan, I have this happen, too. By switching perspectives I gain more insight and new ideas and just the chance to look at something through an altered lens. And I don't know why we don't just automatically see all of this, but I don't. I have to bounce it off someone or think it through.

      Brains are funny things.

  2. Jan, so nice to hear from you and such good words for a winter morning. I've been getting a lot done on my WIP because of the weather and car troubles which have kept me at home, but it hasn't come easy. It's a complex story with a lot of moving parts and quite frankly, scares me.
    I'm plotting the heroine's part and pantsing the hero's. I know her really well because she's been in two other books as a secondary, but I don't know him that well. This will be interesting.
    January is, well, January. I tend to watch too much TV and eat too much comfort food. But the holidays are over and the bills will come due. Not necessarily financial, but Things To Be Dealt With.
    Doing something else creative charges me up. I like to bake and work on my dollhouses. But this time of year what recharges me the most is getting out of the house. it's a paradox that I have this job (WHICH I LOVE) which requires me to spend long hours at home at a desk, yet sometimes I can only do it when i get away from the desk. The trip that refreshes me the most is a day trip to Boston. For some reason the city opens wells I didn't know I had and makes me want to get home and back to work. Ironic since the bulk of my work is small-town, Oregon Trail and prairie.
    I can also relate to the childhood books, which are why many of us become writers. Betsy Ray and Laura Ingalls Wilder WERE writers, so there's that.
    I'll check in later. I'm home most of the day today for a combination of reasons.
    Kathy Bailey

    1. I love that - "Things To Be Dealt With." Debts that have nothing to do with finances...and a lot to do with too much pampering of myself. :-)

      And you're right - Betsy and Laura were both writers, and they were my childhood besties. No wonder, since we have so much in common!

      You know, Kathy, it's too bad we didn't go to elementary school together. Can you imagine?

    2. Yeah, I can imagine. Someone who would have "gotten" me.

    3. Just like Betsy, Tacy, and Tib!

  3. I always knew you were braver than I am, Jan, when you say you get out and walk every day. I know how cold it is here and I admire you for doing it :)

    I've had a couple of emotional years and the well has been tapped. Starting is always the hardest part for me, but I always feel better when I'm working on something. Now, although life has just thrown another curve in the road, I think I'm able to start a new project as part of the therapeutic process and the resetting of my well.

    And I agree that productivity in another creative area can help. I love to pull out my yarn and crochet as a way of creating with my hands and letting my brain work! No need to put my name in the hat. I love your books, but my shelves are overflowing with things to be read right now!

    1. LOL! It IS cold here this morning, isn't it? But that's one thing about having a puppy - he needs to go out and he needs his exercise. I do too, so it's a win/win situation!

      This year promises to be another emotional one for you, but I think you have the right idea - writing can be very therapeutic. No loved ones are hurt when you can express your deepest feelings through your characters. I'm keeping you in my prayers!

    2. I am so sorry to hear about the "curve" you were thrown. Hang in there. If nothing else works, journal it...

    3. Thanks, Jan and Kathy. This group and the encouragement of so many of you are a lifeline. Blessings!

    4. You know those curves can turn into blessings eventually. Even the worst ones, the ones we wouldn't choose if they put a plate of options in front of us, can be a blessing in retrospect. Not always... but they often help us increase our stamina or our core strength.

      I know I say this often, but I think of how Mary stood with Christ throughout that trial and scourging and the walk to Calvary. How she stood at that cross. A simple woman, a heartfelt woman, a mother... and she set the bar high for all of us.

      What a blessing she must have been because we all know how that would tear us apart.

      Emotional years are draining... Praying for you, Glynis.

    5. Thanks, Ruthy! Mary is a great reminder to us all in how to walk through hardship and love with all you have. And yes, blessings can come through even hard times. God doesn't waste anything.

  4. G'morning, Jan! I like your suggestions! I'm not brave enough to go out and walk in subzero temperatures, but I've been walking more recently, sometimes outdoors and sometimes on the treadmill. :)

    I guess we're kindred spirits. When I read that decluttering refills your well, I may have done a bit of a happy dance to discover i'm not the only one!

    As for your books, if I win, I'd like a copy of The Roll of the Drums.

    1. Jeanne, I agree with you and Jan. I think better when I've cleared out the mess -- emotional, my house, my desk. Doesn't happen often enough.

    2. You know, moving is the great declutter...until you move into the new house. For a short time last year, all of our clutter (what we didn't give away or sell) was safely organized in boxes.

      But when you want to settle into the new house, all that clutter needs to find a new spot. Uff da!

  5. Jan, you said, "What many of us feel during the first couple weeks of January is burnout. We’ve just finished the busiest and most emotionally charged two months of the year (November and December) with all the busyness, projects, money spent, decorations being dragged out of storage (and shoved back in,) too much sugar, not enough sleep, runny noses, and long dark nights."

    Boy, oh, boy did you hit the nail on the head with that paragraph. And it does make us long to get back to our norm. Cleaning my office is usually one of the first things I do. Clearing off my desk. Then, it's back to work, because the next deadline is looming.

    Wonderful post, Jan. Thanks for putting things in perspective.

    1. I hear you Mindy and I've got to clean my office area, including my computer storage. Too much stuff left from too many projects.

    2. Clearing and decluttering is one of my favorite ways to get back into a fresh routine - but you wouldn't know it if you could see my desk!

      Yes, this post was a glimpse into my real life!

    3. A messy desk is the sign of a productive writer. A clean one belongs to a procrastinator. ;)

  6. this is a great post. there can be so many things that stop my well of creativity. Sept-Nov it was my husbands health for example. my well just was dry. it is coming back i think partly because i am praying about it coming back. and then a friend had her first baby and that brought all kinds of things to the fore front of my brain. and then my great niece was having her third birthday and my sister (her grandmother) asked if I could sew a tote with a zipper for her. well that helped fill the well also. God works in wondrous ways when we are in constant contact with Him.
    I would love to read one of your books: A Home for His Family
    quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

    1. Lori, love the idea of the tote and wish I could sew. Don't you find that doing a good job in one creative area sparks an interest in another? That's probably why God invented hobbies...

    2. So many things happen that distract us from our writing! Important things. Things we can't just put aside until later. But I take comfort that God knows everything that happens, and He can help me prioritize what is most important.

      Praying for your well to fill to overflowing!

  7. What an interesting post, Jan. I love your idea of refilling the well by reading the books that made you a reader in the first place. The Happy Hollisters were definitely those books for me - along with every horse book ever written!

    I just turned in a book, so I was looking to relax and read, but the ideas for the next book are perking too much, and I just can't seem to settle in. Plus waiting to hear from my editor isn't exactly relaxing!!! :( But I do get to read with my students each day, so I guess I'm still filling that well.

    I was reminded recently of how much I used to enjoy needle arts. I always found it so soothing to sit and sew. Your smocking is gorgeous. You've inspired me to dig out some old projects.

    1. One thing that helped get back to sewing is that when I organized our new house, I dedicated a corner for my sewing machine, cubbies for fabric, patterns, notions, etc., and a folding table to set up when I need a work surface. It doesn't take up much room, but it's perfect. Everything is out, in sight, and ready to go.

      And those childhood friends...I'm spending my evening hours with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy this week. I had forgotten what a wonderful story it is!

  8. Great post, Jan. I finally got Christmas decorations put away but still need to put back the things I take away to make room for Christmas! Still trying to sort out my schedule.
    Please put me down for The Sound of Distant Thunder.

    1. Sorting out the schedule! It's a constant battle for me, and something I work at every day because it seems to change every day. But I'm getting better at carving out my writing time and keeping it sacred!

      You'll get your house in order. :-)

  9. Hi Jan, great post as always. I've been decluttering and it really does wonders for stress and creativity! I feel like there's space to breathe.
    I would be ecstatic to win An Amish Christmas Kitchen.

    1. Thanks, Lee-Ann! And you're so right about decluttering. I love feeling the space around me instead of piles that are calling me to take care of them.

      You're in the drawing!

  10. *Writing – the most cherished expression of our creativity – has become work. Hard work. The joy is gone. Slogging words onto the page is like running up a sand dune. We go to the well, but it’s dry. Maybe a few drops of water – enough to meet today’s word count goal – but it isn’t refreshing. “Who is even going to read this stuff?” asks our pesky inner voice.*

    This paragraph is profound. Also, get out of my head! I've been slogging and laboring and hearing the footsteps of an upcoming deadline since Jan 1.

    Today, I'm taking it a bit slower, basking in some sunshine (finally) and trying to take some deep breaths. It's been crazy around here for weeks, and it got crazier on Christmas Day. ;) I don't see it slowing down until...September, maybe? :D

    1. You need that sunshine, Erica!

      And I'm so sorry that my son made your life even crazier on Christmas Day. ;-) Okay, I'm not sorry. Not even a little bit. You would have teared up just like I did when my daughter told one of her pre-school Sunday school students that she got a new sister for Christmas. How wonderful is that?

      Cheering you on as you face your wonderfully crazy-busy months ahead!

    2. I love this exchange!!!!!!!!!

      And weddings and babies are the MOST FUN CRAZY OF ALL.

      Beats the heck out of funerals.


      Just sayin'.....

    3. Awww, that is so sweet! And yeah, I'm not sorry about the extra crazy busy we got on Christmas. :)

  11. Your observation about January burnout was right on target--and it made me feel so much better to recognize it for what it is. I'm also glad to hear I'm not the only person who finds a lot of comfort in rereading old childhood favorites! Reading has always been such a blessing for me--but I've found now I read more critically and with less enjoyment--a carryover from trying to edit and improve my own work, I think. Rediscovering that joy is definitely something I want to do--there's something about reading other writers that energizes me and reminds me of why I love to write in the first place. I second your remark about getting outside, too--that always helps--as does time spent chatting and laughing with good friends. Thanks for this post--I loved it!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Laurel! I knew I wasn't the only one facing the January stress.

      And reading...the thing I love about reading children's books is that I can turn off my critical reading skills and immerse myself in the story. I walk past my bookshelf and get a little giddy at the delights awaiting my reading hours this year! "My Friend Flicka" is there waiting for me...oh, how I love Ken and Flicka!

  12. My creativity dried up several years ago when I was going through some stressful things. I started seeing a counselor and asked her why I couldn’t do the things I loved. She said when we constantly give to others and no one fills our cup that our creativity can dry up. I love all things crafty. Today I decided to cut up my scrap material to make a rag quilt. I watched some videos and I’m going to attempt it. Have a blessed evening. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Yes, I've had the same thing happen - stress on top of stress, and it just sucks the joy away.

      Enjoy your quilt, Lucy! Don't you love the videos that are available to help us learn (or re-learn) to do things?

    2. Lucy, I'm so proud of you! I can't wait to see it!!!!

      And ditto what Jan said about videos... what a wonderful time this is!

  13. You had me at smocking! I love smocked tops and dresses for little girls. I loved Polly Flinders dresses. :) I'm such a sap for old things and pretty needlework, Jan.

    And yes, we need to fill the well sometimes. If we don't prime the pump, how do we draw water?

    Thank you for this and the reminder of how much I love smocked dresses. :)

    1. I love smocked things, too, Ruthy! Such a simple craft, but it turns out so elegant. I hope to get this little outfit done in time to share the process on the Yankee Belle Cafe next week!

    2. Well, it's gorgeous. I love it, Jan!

  14. Beautiful smocking! I used to crochet and knit, most often in winter. My daughter and I took a dumpling making class last week that was fun and added water to my well. I went to the movie--first time in years--and saw Little Women! Be still my heart! So many memories of reading LIW as a girl. More water in my well. I spent the weekend with family and three grandchildren!!! So much joy and laughter.

    Plus I have a story outline I'm eager to write!

    Lovely post, Jan! Great advice!

  15. I enjoyed this post and all if the comments. We all need a time of rejuvenation and doing something we love or learning something new has always inspired me. I find my thinking clearer for what I need to return to. I just read The Roll of the Drums but I haven't read the 1st book in the series, A Sound of Distant Thunder.

  16. Thank you for this lovely Post I would love to win your book A Sound of Distant Thunder! SARAHTAYLOR601973(at)YAHOO(dot)COM


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