There may come a day when someone pulls aside the writer’s curtain and sees a desk and a chair, and they’re both empty.
Where’s the writer?
Gone even from herself. Or himself.
It happens sometimes.
You’ve pushed a baby into the world and that screaming miracle of flesh requires every ounce of attention. Your lover stops loving and tells you on a Saturday morning in a cheap diner over weak coffee, both hands cupping yours on the table, that he’s found someone else. Or the opposite: that commitment phobe you’ve dated for seven years pivots to you at a rock concert and shouts over the music, “Let’s make it legal.” Maybe a big rig hits your parked car and you have five days to purchase something to drive before the insurance company stops footing the bill for the rental, and you spend every available hour searching for a vehicle you can afford on your meager salary.
Something knocks you back on your heels and you stop writing.
That’s okay. Your energy is required elsewhere temporarily. The key word being “temporarily.”
But when “not writing” becomes a habit, it becomes a problem. You start to dry up inside, a little more every day. Without the juices of your creativity flowing, you crack. There’s an itch inside that you can’t scratch and it drives you to look elsewhere for relief: in other people, or the bottle, or the refrigerator, or reality television.
And then one afternoon you realize that folding the laundry seems more important than getting back in that saddle. You barely make out the flick of the horse’s tail as it flees over the distant hills.
Whatever your art: writing, painting, dancing the rhumba, singing arias, designing clay pots, decorating a house, baking cupcakes—whatever it is, you’ve got to get back to it. You’ve got to find a way to get your foot back into that stirrup. A minute here. Five minutes. You’ve swung your leg over. Fifteen minutes. You’re starting to trot. Thirty. You can breathe again. Forty-five and you’re hitting a gallop. The words are flowing. Maybe the ride is rough, but it feels glorious. You’re back in the saddle, behind the curtain.
Here are eight tips to help you get there:
1 Go to the library, or a bookstore. Let your fingers trace the spines of a row of books. Feel the tingle. Pick one up. Luxuriate in the heft. Open it. Smell the pages. Read the first few paragraphs. Allow the words to settle into your heart.
2. Online, or in person, seek out other writers. Give advice. This will get your juices bubbling again.
3. You might need to call that runaway horse back first. I write about courting the muse here.
4. Take a look at your to-do list and ask yourself: what’s the priority? (Hint: it’s not social media, or checking your emails.) Your soul knows. Check in.
5. Not enough time to write? Well, you could track everything you do for a day, jotting on a piece of paper the starting and ending times for each activity. You might be surprised at how many precious minutes you spend unconscious at the computer, or in front of the television, or engaged in chores. Or you could skip that exercise altogether and pull out a timer and set it for fifteen minutes and sit down and write.
6. Take baby steps. Squeeze in five minutes of freewriting on the subway. Ten minutes journaling before bedtime. Fifteen minutes jotting ideas for a novel while you wait for the potatoes to boil for dinner. Let that writerly self claim those pockets of time.
7. Promise yourself a reward after finishing a project. “I’ll do the laundry, after I write 300 words.” Can laundry be a reward? If you’re a responsible person who feels obligated to accomplish such tasks…yes. Or if you’ve been in resistance for a very long time.
8. Set your alarm for fifteen or thirty minutes earlier, and do your writing the minute you roll out of bed. Okay, you can go to the bathroom first. Maybe brush your teeth. But then park that fuzzy-headed bronco back in the saddle and take up the reins.
I want to hear from you! What’s helped you get back into the writing groove when life has knocked you out?