Where’s the On Switch?
Dear Abby, I’ve stopped writing – HELP!
Writers often think that to be writers they have to be turned on all of the time. There’s this vague idea that to write must mean you’re creative 100% of the time, and if you’re not writing, something must be wrong. What we don’t realise is that the kind of prolific creation which means you write every day from natural exuberance is not a regular thing. Many writers – poets in particular – take months if not years to create new works.
When writers come to me and say – what do I do? I haven’t written in months! – it’s all I can do to say ‘don’t worry’. This is usually construed as useless but well-intentioned morale boosting, and fixes nothing. What I really mean to say is that it’s okay to not be writing. We’re not robots churning out the click-clack every single day, in triplicate, signed and dated. We’re writers and as writers we’re allowed to stop and breathe and think! Sometimes the problem is an internal pressure, sometimes it’s a lack of motivation or the ever elusive muse. Whatever the problem is – it’s okay to stop! Many authors advocate forcing yourself to write something every day, to push that natural desire to Do Something Else. I want you to remember that this is how those writers get by – you are not necessarily them! I certainly am not, I take breaks which extend from weeks to months but I always come back to writing. Sometimes that break means that I have to reevaluate what I am writing and how – style can change remarkably even when doing nothing. Sometimes the break just means that I got to breathe a little bit before starting up again, recharge my batteries.
If you aren’t writing and you really – really – want to be, try writing in a new medium. I’ll tell you all a secret; I’m starting up on prose again! It’s pretty scary, frankly, because poetry has been my heart and soul for a long time! But I’m not happy with my poetry, so I am going to try some prose and see if my style works itself into something I can get behind. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting, even if you decide to try writing an haiku or a sonnet or a prose poem rather than your usual free verse, experimentation is how we know what we like and what we don’t like.
Don’t forget that if people ask you why you’re not writing, you can always claim research. Even poets can call upon their predecessors as pillars of wisdom who they need to bow before every so often. Never feel ashamed of anything you are doing in regard to your writing style – write as little or as much as you want, as abstract or as concrete, as confident or as shy as you want. No one has the final say on anything you ever do, except you.