Handling Dry Spells

Every writer goes through dry spells.  Some people call this phenomenon “writer’s block,” but I think writer’s block and dry spells are two different things.  Writer’s block is when you are working on a story and keep hitting a brick wall.  You have a scene you need to write, or an assignment to finish and you just sit and stare blankly at the screen.  You want to write, but the words just don’t come.

In contrast, I think of a dry spell as a time when your very creativity dries up.  It’s not that you don’t know what to write or how to write it, but rather you don’t even feel like writing.

Personally, I find dry spells far more terrifying than writer’s block.

My longest and most horrific dry spell was during college.  My entire life was consumed by school and work.  Wake up at stupid-o’clock in the morning, drive an hour to school, spend the day being tortured, drive another hour to work, collapse at home late at night with none of your homework done, then repeat the next morning.  I was a physical, emotional, and mental wreak.

Normally, when things got tough, I’d retreat into writing to keep myself sane, but during that time, I had no desire to write.  My creative drive puttered out; no dreams, no stories came to me.  The worst part was the few times I attempted to write and, when my characters spoke, all that came from their mouths was my own flat monotone.  Feeling your characters turn to cardboard beneath your fingers is the worst feeling I have ever experienced as a writer.  And I had no idea when, or even if, they would come back.  For all I knew, college had ruined me as a writer.

Time has shown that college did not completely destroy my creativity, but it certainly has become much more sporadic.  Even though college is over and the workload in my daily life has lessened, it is still very rare for me to feel a genuine desire to write.  Most of the time, I have to force myself to sit down and write, or make a strict schedule in the hopes of accomplishing something creative.  Unfortunately, forcing myself to write didn’t really help.  In fact, it might have made things worse.

I have very hard on myself when it comes to writing.  Because it is my one talent, my one passion, my one chance to be more than what I am, when I don’t reach the goals I set for myself, I get very depressed.  Thanks to NaNoWriMo last November, my goal of finishing a novel became much more realistic.  I could see the light at the end of the tunnel for my pet project The Mariner Sequence.  Many mainstream novelists can turn out a new novel each year.  I wasn’t quite that optimistic, but I thought that finishing a first draft that I could then edit would be a reasonable goal to accomplish in a year, and, if I kept up the pace set by NaNoWriMo, it was achievable.

Unfortunately, I did not keep up with NaNoWriMo.  Not even close.  After that single, hectic month, I didn’t write until April’s Script Frenzy rolled around, and during that month, I worked on Astral Rain rather than The Mariner Sequence.  Since April I have worked sporadically on The Mariner Sequence, but my year is nearing its end and I can see my goal of a complete first draft slipping away.

Granted, that doesn’t mean that first draft won’t get done.  But I am tired of having half-finished projects lying around.  I’ve tried setting a writing schedule, but, due to my own laziness and lack of self-discipline, that idea fell through, and the little bit that I have managed to write feels stilted and lifeless.  (That’s my opinion; I’ve had people praise work that I thought barely qualified as a rough draft, so make what you will of those conflicting opinions.)  I’m stuck in a dry spell where I can write, but I generally don’t feel like it.

So far, I’ve seen three possible ways out of a dry spell: 

1)  Use force.

Set a strict schedule to write and sticking to that schedule can get writing done.  However, you run the risk of making yourself hate an occupation or hobby that you supposedly love.  I was trying to do this with The Mariner Sequence, and it only succeeded in alienating me from the story and writing in general.

2)  Wait for inspiration.

With inspiration, you can wait for the dry spell to pass, like I did during my college years.  I set my work aside and waited for a time when my creativity returned.  Sometimes it only takes a little while, but if you’re like me and want to have more than one book done before you die, simply waiting might not be feasible.  If inspiration does strike you, by all means follow it!  But don’t expect to come with any frequency or consistency.

3)  Follow inclination.

Okay, so you don’t feel like writing today.  That’s fine, but what are you drawn to that day?  What kinds of music, images, sounds, feelings are going through your head the most?  Whatever you are inclined towards, write about that.  Yes, it might feel rather forced at stilted at first since you really don’t want to write, but there is the chance of having the images become their own fuel that will push you into inspiration.  At the very least, you’ll get a few hundred words done, which is more than you had yesterday.

I think that, if you are suffering from a dry spell of creativity, following inclination is the best middle path between the extremes of forcing yourself to write, and not writing at all in the hopes that inspiration will strike.  It isn’t as rigorous or mentally exhausting as force but you’re still getting something done.  Lately that’s the course I’ve been taking, although The Mariner Sequence has completely eluded me.  Inclination led me to start working on one of my other stories that has been on the back burner for a while.  Since The Mariner Sequence is demanding a break, I’m following my inclination to work on DragonFriend for the time being.  DragonFriend is still fantasy, but it’s a more lighthearted juvenile fiction that doesn’t require the insane level of detail that The Mariner Sequence needs.  (At least, not at this point.)  I can still just have fun playing around with DragonFriend without the worry that a potential debut novel inspires.  Hopefully doing this will give me the creative break and fuel that I need to continue working on The Mariner Sequence at some point in the near future.

I guess the bottom line for dealing with dry spells is not to rush things and not to be too hard on yourself.  Creative folk have a habit of being neurotic, so it’s easy for us to beat up on ourselves when we aren’t exactly where we think we should be at that time.  We need to relax, take breaks, and work on something else until our enthusiasm returns.

After all, we should be writing because we love to, not because we have to.

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