Writing can bring us pain at times. But not as much as the pain of not writing. Not-writing is a pain that bores into your psyche, drills into your bones, your soul. You can’t just not write. Yet when you sit at the task behind the writer’s curtain, nothing comes.
What do you do? What do we all do, we who call ourselves writers even when we can’t write, when all we have to offer is this pain? Our wallet of ideas, words, images, characters, plots, metaphors, similes…empty.
We need a writer’s bank account to draw on.
During the fat times, when we’re bursting with ideas, when the energy of writing is flowing like an eager river, tumbling, rushing over boulders and dirt, gathering up everything in its path—during those times when we have more writerly goodies than time, we need to bank them. Save them.
I call these write-aheads.
Then, when the lean times come, and they do come, we have something to draw on. We open that folder of write-aheads and read a few documents, and find one that sparks something, and we tweak it. Noodle it. Expand, revise, mold it.
Invest in some good story prompts.
Write a list of them yourself, or buy, borrow, or steal a book of them. Here’s one: The Writer’s Idea Book. Grab a prompt and write fast for five minutes. Grab three and link them together, quick, quick, for fifteen minutes. Sprint to the finish line, then take a breath.
Whew! Fifteen minutes of writing. Better than none.
Read. Other writers have provided words. Take them in. Absorb them. Let them entice you, excite you, stimulate your thinking. You’re filling the account with juice. Take their words, write them down, let them be a springboard to rebuild your own account. You’re not claiming the words as your own, you’re borrowing, so you have something to work with. See what avenues they lead you down. See what they collect. See what grows.
Ask for a loan of support.
Tell your tribe of writers that you’re flat broke and you need some advice. They’ll be eager to expand their experience by sharing it with you.
“Yes, I’ve been there, too. Here’s what I did…”
Do your writerly banking elsewhere
Sometimes it takes going off the beaten track. Writing something foreign to you. A song lyric. A radio drama. A haiku. Doesn’t matter if it’s good or if it’s something not even a blind man would want to see. Doesn’t matter. The important thing is to throw some words on the page and fire up new neurons in the brain. The old ones need a rest.
You’re not alone!
Above all, know you’re not alone in this pain. We’ve all been down that road, kicked the dust with our round-toed sneakers hoping for a little rain, a little somethin’ somethin’ to unbreak the dam.
It’s not a mirage ahead. There’s a real well full-up with ideas. You’ll stumble into it again. Have faith!