Words rush ahead, fling themselves onto the page and dare you to keep up. At least, that’s the way it seems when writing is going well. Scenes flash by in HD, rippling across the mind’s eye as the story unfolds.
As much as I love those days, they aren’t typical of my writing life. Many days words drip out a few at a time, forming a slowly widening puddle on the page. Sloppy phrases, sluggish sentences, and clichés meld with occasional bursts of brilliance as I struggle to find the right way to express a blossoming idea.
I know I’m not the only one who experiences creative cycles. Just read all the #amwriting tweets to find people elated by their run of 3500 words or bemoaning the curse of writer’s block. Euphoria and desperation. The two extremes.
Whose fault is it when my words stutter to a trickle or skid to a stop? Mine, of course. It’s nice to shift the blame to a reluctant muse but truthfully, I know where the muse dwells. Author Nora Roberts has said, “You’re going to be unemployed if you really think you just have to sit around and wait for the muse to land on your shoulder.” She should know. Since 1981 she has written 209 romance novels as Nora Roberts and has also been published as J.D. Robb, Jill March, and Sarah Hardesty.*
The dream of being published won’t materialize without effort. If we want to be real writers then we must write, regardless of whether the story comes easily or, as Earnest Hemingway has said, “it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” When the going gets tough we have to use whatever it takes to keep moving ahead. If drilling and blasting don’t seem to work, we may need to nurture the muse.
- Refill the well. We can’t keep emptying ourselves indefinitely. Find creative activities that enrich, such as reading a book that inspires and motivates, visiting an art exhibit or museum, taking a short course in batik making, sketching, quilting, gourmet cooking….
- Prime the pump. Success begets more success. As much as I dislike writing exercises, if I force myself to do ten minutes of free writing on the first word that comes into my mind (or, if nothing does, the first word I put my finger on in the dictionary or verse in the Bible), I have to admit my brain function perks up. Once I start writing it’s easier to keep writing.
- Join forces with a friend. Issue or accept a realistic writing challenge and hold each other accountable. It’s always hard to admit defeat when you’ve committed publicly to a goal, and easier to achieve one when there is friendly competition and encouragement.
- Schedule specific writing breaks. There’s no harm in taking a short-term hiatus for refreshment or other priorities. The danger is in making excuses for the reason, or for procrastinating beyond the allotted time. Pencil in specific stop and start up dates on your calendar and stick to them.
There’s no other way around it: if we want to be writers we have to write regularly, and not just when we feel like it. The responsibility to do so is entirely our own.
“The only person holding you back is you;
everyone else is merely watching.”
What does it take to get you writing again when you’ve stuttered to a stop?