We live in a cyclical world. The seasons change. The Earth rotates around the sun. Our leaders serve terms and are replaced. The young grow old. The economy rises and falls. There has always been and will always be a natural cycle to our lives.
We don’t doubt that winter’s bare trees will eventually sprout leaves again. Why do we doubt that a spell of difficult writing will eventually turn fruitful?
We’ve all been there. The words aren’t flowing. Letters look like hieroglyphs. Our characters evade us, and our plot lines twist and tangle like intertwined necklaces. We are creatives, which means our work is dependent on a variety of factors—our health, our mental state, our emotional state. Some people call these dry spells “writer’s block.” I prefer not to use that term because it is so often used as an excuse to not write, and at the end of the day, our productivity is wholly dependent on one thing: writing.
Dry spells happen, but you know what makes turns them from dry spells to droughts? When we stop writing.
Even if the work is hard. Even if it feels like you’re fighting your characters every step of the way, never stop writing. Keep churning out words. Keep writing, even when you know that you’ll delete every single word of it during revision. Because writing shit is always preferable to not writing. If you get down enough terrible sentences, eventually you will find a good one.
My dad says, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.”
If you keep writing, keep putting down words, eventually you will stumble onto something good—a great sentence, a plot idea, a character revelation. But if you don’t write, if you give up when things get difficult, you will never have the opportunity to stumble across that nut.
We trust in the seasons, that winter will fade into spring. We have to trust in our writing just the same. Believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that dry spells—when writing seems more difficult than neuroscience—will pass. The words will begin flowing again. That’s the only way writers make it through the dry spells to the oasis.
As an athlete, I kept a journal. After each practice or game, I would write down what problems I had, what I felt, what changed from the day before. I might note that the ball seemed small while I was in the box. I couldn’t track the rise ball. If I found a mental or physical cue that helped me fix that problem—say, getting my foot down earlier—I would write that down, too. Because everything is cyclical. Eventually, I would have the same problem again, and I could flip through the journal and remember what helped to fix it last time.
If you find yourself easily discouraged by dry spells, try keeping a writing journal. It doesn’t have to be in-depth—maybe a sentence each day, or bullet points. Note when you’re struggling, and note when something clicks that helps you through it. Then, next time, you can look back and either try to replicate the change, or simply find reassurance that something will change.
The dry spell will end. They always do.