The start of every New Year tends to get us thinking about our year ahead, making plans for what we want to accomplish, vowing to do better, whatever that ‘better’ is. Maybe one of those vows (or resolutions) should be to do this kind of thinking and re-evaluating periodically throughout the year instead of lumping it all onto January.
Writers have an isolating mental life and need to be reminded often of their goals, or maybe just clarify them and be re-inspired periodically, like feeding your pet regularly. Today’s post is for the writer (rebel writer, if you will) who does not do well under the heavy-handed instruction given by some authors that tell you to push through when you are stuck.
I have four writer girlfriends who have been struggling in the past several months, myself included. Sometimes our lives get in the way of writing, sometimes the plot is stuck going nowhere or we get frozen for some other reason. (I usually attribute 'writer's block' to not knowing our characters well enough.)
I follow the train of thought of Hemingway, who says that occasionally our writer well goes dry when we are written out. At that point we need to step away and do something else while allowing it to fill again before attempting to continue. Trying to push through during those dry periods usually means we will end up either heavily re-writing, being discouraged by all sorts of self-talk that we are not really a writer; telling ourselves that we are amateur, unfocused or some other derogatory, self-denigrating nonsense. You wouldn’t be writing if you weren’t a writer. (And if you don’t write regularly, you are not a writer—just trippin' in some illusion you have about ‘being a writer.’) Harsh, but honest.
Let me add, writing regularly may not mean on your novel, short story or current creative work, but can be some other kind of writing that keeps you thinking, creating, evaluating, etc. And read—lots—in the style, genre you are writing in as well as any other reading that inspires and grabs you. It all feeds that well.
Now Hemingway didn't exactly say you should stop for long periods of time (I added that). His words from
A Moveable Feast:
When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing you were writing before you could go on with it the next day. It was necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything. But afterwards, when you were empty, it was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again. I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.
For me, pushing is a losing, frustrating battle. It works better for me to be flexible and move onto something else, while observing, listening, sensing all that is going on around me. The synchronicities are there in our environment that will feed us, speak to us and give us answers if we only pay attention. It can be a fun exercise to consciously look for those words, sights, sounds, even smells of inspiration that will come while we wait to be filled up again.
New Year’s resolution: Keep writing and fill the well, but listen to my own inner voice, my muse, on when to do each.