Assorted Things To Do When Your Writing Feels Dumb
First off, I like to start with the simplest things and see what happens. Personally, I have this weird mindset around writing on a computer. Everything is arrayed in straight lines, automatically formatted to a certain degree, and all the same size unless you click some buttons. It's constricting, in a way. So when I'm stuck, and actually most of the time I'm drafting something new, I prefer a pen and a notebook. I can write ideas in the margins, draw lines connecting things, put an asterisk with a reminder about something, or whatever. Also, if I write something stale, I can just stop write there and try different variations. For example, I'll write something like,
"For days, all he'd been thinking about was the house." "All he'd been thinking about for days was the house." "His obsession with the house had been deepening for days."
Whatever, you get the point. But it just feels easier to halt in the middle of writing on paper and try something than bizarre than it does when on a pixelated document on a screen.
Another idea: Ever noticed if you're commenting on someone else's work that you suddenly become this brilliant editor with ideas on how to fix and reimagine everything? It happens to me. Why? Well, every writer has different blind spots, so we naturally fill in gaps for another writer. To mimic that feeling, it's common advice to put a piece away for a while and look at it later with fresh eyes. Totally sound advice, except... sometimes when you put something away for too long and pull it back out, the ideas have ossified. It feels like what's there is just... there. So one small trick I like to do is, rather than try to make changes in the document itself, I'll make all notes in comment boxes off in the margins. That way, it doesn't feel like I'm mucking up all the work I've done, but instead merely commenting on it all. And often I find I'll start a little note in the comment box, and suddenly it's a paragraph long and filled with tasteful description and new fresh dialogue. Then I'll go back later and actually replace the boring stuff I was commenting on.
Comment boxes are also really nice for asking big questions: "Why isn't this working?" "She's feeling deprived but doesn't want to show it. How could I as the writer show it?" "What questions am I raising and/or answering in this scene?" So you can begin to have this little conversation with yourself. In daily life, conversing with yourself can get you put into a mental health facility, but in writing it's actually a good thing!
Of course, it's not always as simple as changing media. But the notebook can be a symbol for a more general principal that can be really helpful: make the work feel more like play. There's lots of things written on this, but simply writing "Play today" atop a blank page or draft you've been staring at for days without progress can really help. How are you going to let the magic in if you're utterly serious all the time? So often, we approach writing in this very goal-oriented way, and for me, my unconscious goals are often things like "Write something profound and world-changing today." Think about that. That's insane! It's actually funny when you acknowledge it. Why put that kind of pressure on yourself? You've sat down and begun to write: that's the real work. No need to be clinical about the actual writing. You can clean it up later if you really need to.
Other ways to be playful: Look at photos as you write to really get a feel for a setting. Do writing prompts from books like The 3 AM Epiphany, or order the Writer Emergency cards that John August makes. (I actually haven't used the cards, but I've heard him talk about them a lot and they sound like a lot of fun.)
One of my favorite things to do is to identify other stories or books that accomplish something similar to what you're trying to do and analyzing why they're so damn good. Reading with the goal of figuring out why something works will totally change how you read it. For example, one time I asked a bunch of writer friends about passages from books where there was a fistfight. Because how do you write about a character's thoughts in such a chaotic moment? And how do you describe the actual physical movements in interesting ways that don't sound like you're simply drawing a diagram ("Joe's right hand hit Bob's left cheek, sending him backward nine inches. Joe stepped to his right, ducked, and swung..." blah blah, blah, boring.) Well, guess what: OTHER PEOPLE WAY SMARTER THAN US HAVE ALREADY DONE THIS! So read, figure out what's cool that you think you can steal, and go for it.
This next idea isn't so much a writing trick as a psychological one: Recognize the down period for what it is -- a period of time, a phase, that will pass like any other. The only caveat is that the pain of hating your writing is more like that of a sore lower back than a stubbed toe. There is nothing to do about a stubbed toe. You simply wait until it no longer hurts. I suppose you could take drugs, but in the long term this isn't a good solution to toe problems or writing problems. But if you have a sore back, resting might help, but you will heal much faster if you actually change your behavior. Sit up straighter and start to slowly build the core muscles that will allow for better posture in the long-term. Get a massage that relaxes you but might also hurt a bit. Become a little more active so you're not sitting in the same position all the time. See that -- metaphors!