When it comes to writing, the only thing harder than getting started might be getting re-started. There are circumstances that pop up from time to time that preclude all writers from writing. Sometimes it's as relatively simple as time management challenges presented by work or personal matters, something that can often be overcome by re-organizing one's schedule. Other times it can be something that's downright crippling, like the dreaded writer's block. Recovering from situations like that are as mentally difficult as an athlete returning to competition after recovering from an injury. Until you're doing it again, there's liable to be a nagging doubt that you ever will. Somewhere along the line, the writer is liable to encounter someone who is trying to be genuinely helpful by referring to the metaphor of falling off a horse and jumping right back on. But what if the horse wandered off on its own long ago, never to return?
That's what it can feel like sometimes for writers staring down an empty page. When inspiration is gone, it sure feels like it's never coming back. That sounds like a completely irrational, self-defeating thing to say, and maybe it is. However, when so much inspiration comes from within, if the writer feels they have an empty tank and just can't seem to summon any, there's actually some logic to it. As a result, we can find ourselves in such a scary place that the fear and depression and all the other bad feelings that result actually become more difficult to overcome than the original circumstances. Here are four things I do when I find myself in these unpleasant situations.
1. Re-connect with your inner rock star - When I hear writers say things like, "I wrote some stories and poems or whatever but I don't know if they're any good or not", I call bullshit. It's good to be humble, but come on. If on some basic, primal level you really didn't think you had stories to tell and that you could tell them in a unique and entertaining way, you never would have written them down. Need proof? People who sincerely believe that about themselves never do it. By all means, don't turn into a preening, pain-in-the-ass narcissist but find some way to stroke your ego at least a little bit. Even if it's something as simple as identifying yourself as a writer when somebody asks you what you do. I started doing that about three years ago and I'm amazed at how quickly and drastically things changed for me. Sometimes reminding yourself of the fact that you're better at this than most people (and if you've ever written anything at all, you are) is enough of a boost to get you going in the right direction. You know you're a badass. There's no harm in acknowledging that to yourself.
2. If you don't feel like writing, don't - I know this is contrary to just about every commonly held belief about the writing process that says "sit down, every day, and write something, no matter what!" but if you know that doing so will cause you nothing but frustration, don't do it. Now, there IS merit to self-discipline and pushing yourself against your own will could be what you need. But there is NO merit in growing resentful of something that should be a passion and looking at it as mandatory labor or worse, as a form of punishment. I think the answer is to split the difference. Sit down, every day, and try to write something. If it just isn't working, stop, get up and do something else and come back to it another time.
3. Spend time in the company of other creative people - I would recommend this to anyone, struggling or not. I hang out with a lot of actors and musicians. Sure, that's mostly to meet girls, but I also get a tremendous benefit from seeing creative people produce. When talented people love what they do, you can literally feel the passion behind it. Associate yourself with creative people whom you aspire to emulate and inspiration will literally rub off on you.
4. Keep calm and stay receptive - It's highly unlikely that you've lost your ability. What you're going through is probably a temporary situation that will correct itself eventually. Remember this basic scientific fact: human brains are stupid things and sometimes they behave (or misbehave) for no good reason at all. If yours is currently misbehaving, that's not a reflection on you or your talent. Let it wander around out there, maybe getting in a little bit of trouble, possibly involving indiscreet encounters with strangers of questionable character, before it comes back full of shame and begging your forgiveness. In the meantime, keep your eyes and ears open for stuff you can use when it returns and decides it wants to stop fooling around and get back to work again. I'm a big believer in carrying index cards (as well as stashing them around the house and in my car) so I can jot down notes for things and then store them for some future use. It might be a particularly vivid visual image, a snippet of overheard conversation or the germ of a very vague idea or some other thing that doesn't have a lot of value to you right now but could come in handy later.
Clark Brooks http://clarkjbrooks.blogspot.com
Follow me on Twitter: @clarkbrooks