What I Learned From NOT Writing

writing dry spell

Sometimes life happens and finding time to write becomes challenging.

Maybe you’re struck with a personal tragedy OR work ramps up OR you welcome a child or grandchild into your life. Maybe you’re mentally in a poor place and find it difficult to summon even an ounce of inspiration and drive.

Personally, I recently hit a writing dry patch because of a three-ingredient cocktail: I got married, my business hit a growth spurt, and summer arrived in Minnesota. Those of you who live in green-all-the-time, temperate climates may have difficulty understanding the last reason. When summer rolls into the North Woods states, there is a tremendous amount of energy and activity that comes with it. We try to cram all our music festivals, bike rides, river tubing, picnics, and food fests into four or five months. This year, I was so swept up in the fervor (along with marriage planning and writing* for a bucketful of new clients), that I completely neglected writing for myself.

For three months.

It’s embarrassing to admit my negligence and it pains me to be disengaged from the novel I’ve been working and reworking for the past three years (Although I heard somewhere that your third novel is the hardest. Maybe I took that totally subjective assertion to heart a little too much?)

Fortunately, my writing dry spell hasn’t been for naught. I’ve learned a thing or five that I’d like to share with you.

  1. It Doesn’t Get Any Easier

Each day away from your notepad or laptop is another day you’re not practicing your craft. Writing is just like any sport—if you don’t take the time to practice, your abilities begin to slip. You begin to feel clumsy and less mentally agile.

  1. Not to Mention, You Lose the Thread of Your Story

Not only does your writing deftness suffer during writing droughts, but (if you’re working on a novel or novella) your story suffers. You begin to lose track of characters (What was Simon doing in the last chapter? Does he have brown eyes or green eyes? What was his cat’s name, again? Mr. Meow? Purrdita? Ah, hell.) and you also lose the rhythm of the story.

After long periods away from my works in progress (WIP), I’m forced to go back and re-read several chapters, or even the whole darn thing. When you write every day, you avoid that kind of time-sucking nonsense.

  1. But Time and Distance CAN Be Healthy

There are a few times when it can be beneficial to step away from your WIP. I’ve found that if I need to do a major developmental edit on my writing, it’s a good idea to step away from it for a while. That way, when I do approach it again, I am less attached to particular scenes or characters; I forget how long I toiled over this description about a garden or that bar fight. I’m better able to, as Steven King says, “kill my darlings” when I no longer perceive them as darlings.

  1. Distance can also open you to new ideas

When you’re not completely immersed in your writing, you may stumble across ideas for new characters, scenes, and plots twists in your day-to-day living. Even if these ideas may take your WIP in a new direction, I’ve found that you’re more likely to consider them when you’ve had some time to distance yourself from your story. When you’re deep in your writing, it may seem daunting to derail your story and take it in a different direction, but when you have distance, you’re better able to view your story as a whole and understand the benefit of a major plot or character change. It’s like viewing a route on Google Maps, versus taking whatever turn you feel like while navigating your car.

  1. Not writing = not great

When writing is a huge part of your identity, it’s tough to endure a dry spell. During the past three months, I’ve often asked myself, “What, oh what, am I doing with my life? Isn’t writing who I am?” It could be my inner tortured artist bubbling to the surface, but I think my emotions stem from something more than that. Writing is not a hobby or something I pick up on the weekends and forget about during the rest of the week. Writing is part of the fabric that composes my being. It’s who I am.

I’ve learned a handful of useful things during my writing drought, but mostly I’ve realized that I’d rather be writing. Sounds like a bumper sticker, but it’s true. I’d rather be writing than wishing I was writing or thinking about writing. And, as I noted in point number one, it doesn’t get any easier to jump back in and start writing again. Maybe I should start today. Or right n…

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