What to do when the creative flow slows to a trickle

So, yeah, the last six posts were reruns from 10 years ago. Two reasons for that. First, I recently rediscovered the pre-Wordpress edition of this blog, still hanging out there and containing stuff I’m glad I wrote, so I thought it would be fun to re-share and reclaim some of it.

Second, wow, I hit a wall. Wow, the walls you hit sometimes when you write for a living. 

This is an odd one. I’ve been cruising along at the day job, type type typing away and getting ’er done, but sit me down with my journal and favorite pen, place me in front of a novel in progress, or even open up a blank screen to write a blog post, and blam! It’s an ugly sight. Or rather, there’s nothing to be seen. A vague scribble — OK, at least I write down the date — a blinking cursor after “and then she …” or simply a blank screen that won’t unblank. All during National Novel Writing Month; oh, the irony.

And so I peek back at what I was writing in olden times, and it seems better than whatever I might have written during this lull. 

There is a time for every purpose under heaven, and there are times when the flow slows to a trickle and there are times when the flow is a raging river. Beat yourself up too much over the trickle — OMG OMG OMG I CAN’T WRITE OMG I CAN’T WRITE OMG WHAT IF I NEVER COULD WRITE IN THE FIRST PLACE OMG OMG — and the next thing you know, you’re over in the corner drinking Yuengling and watching Season 6 Episodes 7 through 11 of something you don’t remember 10 minutes later.

But beat yourself up too little over the trickle, and the trickle dwindles to nothing. Back in 2011, I wrote only one post between mid-July and the beginning of October. That’s what happens when you let it. At some point you have to say, “I don’t care if I write about not being able to write, I have to write something, anything, to get the flow back.” The alternative is three or four months go by and everyone, beginning with yourself, thinking WTF.

It’s a comfort to know “real” writers have moments like this, fighting The Resistance or The Dip or self-doubt in general, and not just wannabe shmucks like me. I imagine John Milton sitting at his desk with paper and quill thinking, “Who the bejeebers is ever going to read an epic poem about the devil organizing a revolution against God? For crying’ out loud, everyone knows how it ends anyway.”

Those are the times you get up and walk away. No, really. Get out in the air, take a walk, notice that the sky is still big and beautiful, the birds are still singing, and holy cow is it colder than it was a few days ago. And while you’re busying yourself not worrying about it, all of a sudden you have six ideas for blog posts, and not only do you know what she does next but you know how the story ends, and you can’t wait to get back to your writing station to get it all down.

The trick is to know the difference between the Yuengling-and-binge-watching stepping away and the rest-and-recharge stepping away. In a book I just read, Be a Writing Machine, Michael La Ronn said he sits up and takes notice when he dips belong a certain range of words per day for two days in a row. That seems vigilant enough: Everyone has an off day, but two days could be the beginning of a bad habit.

In other words, see you tomorrow with another something new.

2 thoughts on “What to do when the creative flow slows to a trickle

  1. I’m proud to know the references to The Resistance and The Dip, and I’m also glad to know that I’m not alone, that we writers are united by the common enemy. Anyway, wishing you all the best with it!

Leave a Reply