When a Writer Doesn't Write
are times when you have nothing to say. You’ve just finished a
big project or you’re smarting from a series of rejections.
You’ve run dry.
is perfectly normal. Even if you’re a writer, you have
permission not to write for a while, to live life and to refill your
soul. It’s also a reminder that you shouldn’t panic if
you feel like this goes on for “too long.” Other people
may need less time than you do to process. You shouldn’t be
looking around, watching other people to determine how much time you
need to fill up the creative well again.
you’ve been doing it right, you should feel like you put
everything of yourself into your last book or project. You should
feel like you want to hide yourself because you’ve revealed so
much. You may feel like you’ve given everything to the project
and you’re going to have to reinvent yourself before you have
anything new to write. This is all normal and good.
there are writers who never take a day off. Yes, there are writers
who manage to write six books every year. Yes, there are writers who
seem to publish like clockwork, never skipping a beat.
are also wonderful writers who need ten years between books. There
are writers who write a book a year for twenty years and then
suddenly face a dry spell and don’t know how to deal with it
because it never happened before. I imagine most of us fall somewhere
editor or agent may try to pressure you to produce something new, but
if they’re good, they probably won’t. They’ve seen
lots of writers who experience lots of reactions to publication. Even
if you have a contract for your next book, the best thing to do is to
let your heart decide when to start writing again.
isn’t a widget. As much as our capitalistic world wants to
pretend that it is, a book isn’t a commodity in the way that
other things are. For one thing, if a book from author A isn’t
available, it can’t just be replaced with a book from author B.
Your fans will be waiting for you.
can’t pressure your creativity into producing the next great
book. You can nudge it and maybe you can learn some tricks to get it
going again, but it’s also all right to just say no.
then there is the problem of not writing regularly. You may not
always have time to fit writing into your daily schedule. You may be
on tour or working on something that isn’t writing for a week
or month or even years. Some writers never write on a regular, daily
schedule. They go on writing trips, away from home and regular
responsibilities. They work on outlines or character sketches in the
meantime, storing up in their minds, consciously or not, scenes and
chapters that will eventually make their way to publication.
writers work only on weekends or holidays because they don’t
have time or energy after their day job or because they have family,
church and social obligations. Some of these writers are best
sellers. Some aren’t. It’s unfair to make assumptions
about how seriously a writer takes their work based on their work
schedule. (And I say this as someone who tends to work daily, even if
I’m not always working on something for someone else).
the truth: Only you can decide if you’re writing enough. Only
you know what you have inside you that needs to come out in words. If
you feel like you’re not writing enough, you probably aren’t.
I will put in a caveat here because you may discover eventually that
your sense of being incomplete isn’t about the number of words
written on your current project. Sometimes you feeling a niggling
sense of being incomplete because you’re not working on the
right thing or because you’re not giving yourself time to play
with words instead of doing “work.” You may even find out
that your writing self needs you to experience the world in a
different way in order to write about life with all those words that
are bubbling up inside.
a writer isn’t about writing every day (at least not for
everyone). It isn’t about producing a word count. I know, I
know! I wish it was about those things. I’m great at checking
boxes off on lists.
seen writer friends dealing with cancer, mental illness, job loss,
death of a spouse or child, political terror (recently), and
caretaking for a family member who has a disability. I’ve seen
writers deal with being overwhelmed with their day job, dealing with
publisher disasters, changing agents, frenemy implosions, home
transition, and theft and its subsequent emotional trauma. Some
writers seem able to write through just about anything. Most of the
rest of us, though, can’t.
you’re in a situation where you can’t write, please
remember that this doesn’t mean that you’ll always be
there. It may feel like it will take forever, and it may indeed take
years, but at some point, things will change and you will be able to
write again. It’s also possible that you may decide that you
need to make some significant life changes in order to get back to
writing. But that isn’t always possible, and I want to make
sure that any writers out there understand that. Life gets in the way
sometimes. We are people before we are writers.
don’t give up hope in your writing. There will be time for it.
I promise you will have your chance, even if it feels so very
right now, may I suggest that you try some of the following:
a notebook and keep it with you. You may not be able to write more
than a sentence or a word or two, but think of this as a chance to
build up ideas. You can also become an excellent observer. Practice
describing things incisively with just a word or two. Jot down
emotions and how they feel physically. Practice distilling your plot
to a “pitch.” Tinker with your character motivations.
on shorter pieces. I’m more naturally a novel writer and I
only get ideas for short stories once or twice a year. Having less
time now might mean a focus on those short pieces and waiting for
the longer ones.
yourself a day to write now and then, if you can, and prepare for
that day by being one hundred percent ready to work during that
time. In one day, you might be able to get four or five chapters
written. Even if it only happens once or twice a year, it can still
feel like you’re making real progress (because you are).
other things. This may sound unhelpful, but sometimes the pressure
of wanting and needing to write in small chunks of time can make it
even worse. You may need to find something that isn’t
stressful to do. I personally do a lot of knitting and crocheting
when stressed. It doesn’t have to be good because it’s
not my profession, and that’s really blissful to my soul.
with writer friends who remind you how good you are and that this is
worth it. It won’t fix everything, but it can give you needed
steam to keep moving forward.
what is being a writer about? Well, let me suggest that this isn’t
a question that anyone can answer for you. There aren’t any
clear rules. But not writing isn’t going to kick you off the
list, any more than writing something bad will. If you can sit with
that for a while and accept that not writing and just living is also
part of being a writer, I think you (and I) will be better writers
Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison