Dry Spells Perspective #3: Andrea L. Mack

photo: Claudia Osmond

I like to write every day. I can’t always do it, but I know I’m happier and feel more alive when I’ve written something. Writing is what I turn to when nothing’s going on and I want to have fun creating characters, worlds and worst-case scenarios. Writing helps me sort my thoughts and share feelings. It gives me a sense of purpose and a sense of accomplishment. It brings order to my day. So when a dry spell hits, it’s a big deal.

Dry spells frustrate me. I want to write but I’ve got nothing. No new ideas bubbling up. No genius fixes to solve challenging plot problems. Words that I do manage to eke out are dull, bland, boring. My mind is as blank as the page in front of me. Every bit of creative juice has drained away.

It’s probably good advice not to push too hard. Walking away from the blank screen can seem like it’s taking you further away from what you want, but there’s something to be said for replenishing the idea well. Take a vacation from writing. Walk in the woods. Take deep breaths. Appreciate nature.

Dry spells are unpredictable. They can last for a couple of days or many weeks. Sometimes, there’s a legitimate reason, like the aftermath of a family crisis. You can tell yourself it’s understandable to need a break. Maybe it is time to try a different creative pursuit to spark the idea-generating side of the brain. Or maybe you’re just so tired at the thought of coming up with fresh new ideas that all you can do is flop down on the sofa and watch Chopped re-runs.

When I’m feeling really empty, I sometimes find it useful to take a course or workshop. New perspectives on the craft, even just to remind me of what I already know, can ease the frustration of a dry spell. Sometimes, it can even mean the end of the dry spell by inspiring new ideas or techniques.

One of the worst things about dry spells for me is how, if I can’t generate any writing momentum, doubts and insecurities start to creep in. I worry. I’ll forget how to write anything good. All the work I’ve done will be wasted. I’ll never write anything worth reading ever again.I crave the sense of accomplishment that comes from solving a writing problem, but I feel like there’s a wall between me and what I want to do. I get kicked back into a bog of self-doubt and lose faith in my abilities. Why did I even think I could be a writer?

This is where patience is important. Acknowledge that it’s okay not to be writing. They might not talk about it, but other people do have creative dry spells. Even though I’d like to be sitting at my computer every day clicking away at the keys, that’s not always how it works. In the meantime, it’s better not to add to the pressure.

One thing that gives me comfort is reading through my many writing notebooks. I see how I’ve struggled and how I’ve learned. I re-discover ideas I’ve jotted down. I notice when I’ve been discouraged before and gotten past it. Eventually, little flickers of ideas begin to return. Here and there. Maybe not all at once. Maybe not as fast as I’d prefer. But if I’m patient, and have faith, I know the creative spark will come back. It always does.

ANDREA L. MACK writes fiction picture books and middle grade novels. She reviews books on her blog, That’s Another Story, from the perspective of a teacher and a writer. Andrea has been a judge for the Cybils Awards and her published works include many books and articles for educational publishers. When she’s not writing, she teaches kindergarten. Andrea grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario and now lives in Mississauga. You can find her at http://www.andrea-mack.blogspot.com

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