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When the Writing Well Runs Dry

August 29, 2012

I’m sitting here on a pleasant summer evening at my computer, looking out the window, wondering what I’m going to say in this blog about the wonderful world of writing. I have no profound words of wisdom. No pointers. No new ideas. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Besides, haven’t we said it all to some degree in this blog about being writers, becoming writers, and how to write? Probably.

Then again, isn’t this every writer’s dilemma, feeling we have nothing left to say?

I’m not just talking about writer’s block. We all know what that is.

No, I’m talking about something deeper – when it feels like the writing well has literally run dry. Perhaps we’ve been writing most of our lives. I have, most of it non-fiction. Employed as a staff writer for various publications and organizations, I cranked out feature after feature, press release after press release. You get the idea. I was musing the other day about my lifetime word count since I started my journalism career at the tender age of 21. It must be staggering, not equal to the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy, but it surely feels that way.

Now that I’m writing my novels, I really thought I’d be swimming in that creative well and I’m stymied by what has come upon me these past few weeks. I want to call it writer’s malaise but that could just be an excuse for laziness. No. It feels more like I don’t have another thing to say and never will.

Is it because I just finished a novel – and a “dad-blasted durned” good one as Loreen my quirky Southern heroine might say – that I feel I have nothing left? That might be it. I worked hard on that women’s fiction/mystery although it was fun, too, especially writing in a way I never thought I would. Funny. I usually don’t do funny. So maybe switching up my style did me in.

No, that doesn’t feel right either.

Perhaps it’s life circumstances causing this word-dearth. Family obligations, the health of our loved ones, finding work – any of life’s challenges can tug at us from all sides, and sometimes there just isn’t enough energy left to wax poetic or prose on paper.

In the end, maybe answers aren’t needed as to why the words dry up. Maybe it’s OK to be exactly where we are. Maybe, just for now, it’s OK not to meet a word count or get that chapter finished. Mind you, I’m not giving myself excuses here – or you for that matter – but what I am saying is that sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to take a break, tell ourselves that it’s OK to stop, step back, breathe for a bit.

Maybe we need to acknowledge and accept that there’s nothing there – at least for now. That doesn’t mean the words are gone forever. They’re resting. As perhaps we should.

If we call ourselves writers, then I do believe that eventually we find our way back to our words and whatever we feel called to express. We tell our stories.  And in hindsight, wasn’t that time wandering in the writing wilderness, with nothing to say, deepening our resolve about who we are,  making us and our stories more real to our readers?

And here’s the irony. As I started writing this blog, I felt I had nothing to say. But I told myself, dig into the bottom of that well and just write about where you are, in this moment. See what comes up. Surprise. It seems there is always some reservoir we didn’t know existed. A trickle of creativity waiting to gush forth into a larger stream. It catches us off guard and affirms the one truth that no matter if the well is empty or full, we are, by choice, always writers.

Have you ever felt dry as a writer? How did you overcome it and what helped? Do you have trouble giving yourself permission to step back from writing for a time?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2012 8:30 AM

    Ah, but you say “nothing” so beautifully. Thanks for the reminder that that empty-well feeling is shared.

  2. August 29, 2012 8:46 AM

    Thanks so much for your kind words, Sandy. I hope other writers reading this blog will share if they’ve had this experience and what they did with it. Their thoughts will help us know that we’re not alone when the writing well runs dry!

  3. August 29, 2012 9:14 AM

    Your well has obviously not run dry, Marielena, it’s just replenishing itself. Looking forward to reading your new book so much.

  4. August 29, 2012 9:23 AM

    Thanks so much, Sharen, for your kind comments. The feeling is mutual and I so look forward to reading your book as well!

  5. August 29, 2012 5:04 PM

    It is amazing how we can be totally dry one moment and for no visible reason the pump starts again and tons of fresh water come pouring out. The mind is so vast, such a mystery – I’m always ready to hear what another writer is going through – we all have the dearth times – different people call it different things. I think we all know what it means… Thank you for sharing your thoughts… Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  6. August 29, 2012 5:28 PM

    And thank you, Thelma, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us. Because our writing process is so solitary, we tend to forget that other writers out there are going through those “dry spells,” as well. So whatever we call those dearth times, it’s nice to know that we’re not alone. And that the writing well will eventually fill again. All the best in your writing. 🙂

  7. August 29, 2012 10:59 PM

    Sometimes, writers also fail to have an idea about what to write. The word counters will help them know how much they need to squeeze out to be able to finish their work.

  8. August 30, 2012 7:30 AM

    Yes, sometimes ideas just aren’t there either! But after a time, when we’ve re-grouped and are refreshed, we find them again and tackle that word count. Thanks for stopping by with your comments, Chris.

  9. Gretchen Haertsch permalink
    September 6, 2012 11:21 AM

    This blog is absolute proof that the well is never really dry. Kudos on the completion of your novel. It sounds great!

  10. September 6, 2012 11:55 AM

    Thanks, Gretchen! I love the quirky characters and storyline in my latest novel. Fingers crossed an agent does as well. 🙂

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