When the word well runs dry

When the word well runs dry

I’m sure I’m not the only person this happens to: Stuff starts happening in life, and the creative waters just dry up. There’s so much on your mind, it’s impossible to make up new problems for your characters to solve–you’re too busy trying to solve your own. That’s where I’m at right now. Planning a wedding, trying to get a kid into college, stressing over a partially written novel with a workshop deadline, various financial concerns, day job nonsense–it’s like each of them is a stone tossed in the well, until all of the water has been displaced, and my mind is just a dark hole full of rocks.

It’s terrible timing. I have a little free time on my hands right now, with John traveling, and I’ve sat at the keys two nights in a row unable to find anything to say. This was supposed to be my super-productive time.

The problem is that when I’m not writing, there hardly seems to be a reason to get up in the morning. Seriously. I’ll think melodramatic things like “What’s the point? I can’t write.” I did exactly that this morning. I lay there and thought about my novel and short stories in progress and just couldn’t find it in me to care about my characters’ troubles and goals, and decide what happens next.

So I decided to fix an old, broken story instead. It was the second story I trunked. Reading it now is pretty painful–there is some really terrible writing in there! But the heart of the story is good, and I think it can be saved. I’ve been at it for a couple of hours now. This is something I can probably have out the door by the end of the week, and I think that will go a long way toward helping me feel less useless.

I don’t know whether it’ll do anything to free up my mind for new material. That might only happen when these other life things get resolved.

What do you do when the well runs dry?

7 thoughts on “When the word well runs dry

  1. holly lisle, one of my teaching heroes, has a fabulous exercise on reconnecting with your muse. it works every time for me. the trick is to DO it :)

  2. I relied heavily on Holly’s wonderful essays for a very long time. I don’t remember that one–I’ll have to look it up! Thanks!

  3. Sometimes, I think it’s ok to give yourself permission to step away and refill the well. A planned non-writing day. In extreme cases, tell yourself you’re not allowed to write today. Funny, but this seems to wake up the Muse –

  4. Something John’s sister suggested to help me with my poor characters physical presence in stories has helped me and many other ways. I go sit at Barnes & Noble and write about the people I see wandering around, making physical notes about movements, gestures, nervous habits and the sad, often tragic, mating habits of the teens.

  5. I found that the “write every day” mantra doesn’t work for me. I have days where there are other priorities and if I try to squeeze in writing, it won’t turn out to be worth the effort at that point. I tend to work in larger blocks of time every 2-4 days. But my work schedule is also just weird.

  6. Picking up an old story is a great way to keep going, but maybe you need something completely different to get your creative juices going.
    Try looking at some photos or prompts not related to what you are writing at the moment. See if that helps you get warmed up.


  7. I so hear you about feeling unproductive during “super-productive” time. And I sometimes work on trunk-stories on those fallow days, too.

    Sometimes I will sketch the characters and something about they way the are standing or the clothes they are wearing will give me a character insight. Or I might draw a scene from the story. It’s a way of thinking about the story that sometimes jiggles words loose.

    Sometimes I have to remind myself that Story is what happens an Active Character Responds to a Situation by writing, “John looked at the list of his published friends and sat down at the keyboard.” Um, yeah, I also have many pages of “It was a dark and stormy night.”

    Sometimes I remember the TED talk by (I think) the author of “Eat, Love, Pray” who said that there’s a difference between the modern (American) notion of being a genius and the ancient Greek notion of having a genius. … and that it’s the author’s job to be there. Er – on those days I usually start out “The Muse arrived with a gun to shoot down his dreams…”

    And sometimes (usually in mid-Winter) the best thing I can do is stare into a Very Bright Lamp and reach for the chocolate.

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