I developed a love of writing as a young teen. There was plenty of fodder since my family was not exactly pleasant to live with. My characters were all girls my age who felt unloved. All believed that they had either been kidnapped or adopted and yearned for escape. Some of them tried, actually made it one night away thanks to finding a culvert in which to shelter, but none of them got away.
After awhile these stories only depressed me, so I quit writing.
High school academics were so demanding that there was no time or energy for creative writing. I toyed with poetry, but nothing substantial developed. My poems were the same angst-filled “stories” dealing with feelings of abandonment, anger, frustration and sorrow.
My college had a literary newspaper that accepted submissions. After reading the poetry of my peers, I believed that mine was as good, if not better. After revising a few, I bravely walked them over to the newspaper office. When the next edition of the paper came out, I was disappointed that none of my poems made the cut.
I quit writing anything except for class reports.
Years late I found myself teaching high school English to a variety of students. I had College Prep students in one class and then students with learning disabilities in all the others. I didn’t know what I was doing, so leaned into curriculum suggestions I found in books and at workshops.
Before my students entered the room, I wrote a detailed prompt on the board. As soon as the bell rang, I reviewed the prompt with the class, then made them work quietly for about ten minutes.
At first, I used the time to deal with administrative tasks. Until I realized that I was not setting a good example. The next day, when my students wrote, so did I. After a few students shared what they had written, I’d share mine if there was time.
After about a week of this, I began to look forward to writing time. A particular character appeared in most of the stories. At that time her name was Mattie, short for Matilda.
Poor Mattie believed that she was unloved by her parents due to being obese, a topic familiar to my heart. She had a brilliant brother who could do no wrong, something I understood.
When I learned about NaNoWriMo, a month of writing in November, I realized that I could string together the Mattie stories into a novel.
I wrote her story during the day, then after work, added those bits to the novel. By the time November was over, I had a 40,000-word rough draft.
Over the next several years I revised and rewrote much of Mattie’s story, when I didn’t have classwork for the classes I was now taking at the university.
I also wrote my memories, painful reminders of what my life had been like growing up.
One professor loved my writing so much that she encouraged me to turn memories into a story. That work became the life of Marie Ray, a woman facing old age after a tumultuous life.
Periodically nothing inspirational came to me. I’d get stuck, no ideas springing forth. That’s called writer’s block, something I understood, knew how to move on, but still allowed it to steal words from my mind.
Sometimes after rather productive periods of writing stories, poems and essays, there’s be nothing. It was like trekking across the desert after being in a fertile valley.
Unless you’ve experienced writer’s block, you have no idea how devastating it is. You sit in front of your computer, waiting for inspiration. Perhaps you like to sit at a coffee shop and hand-write your stories. Picture yourself surrounded by busy people, a cup of your favorite brew before you, pen in hand, but there’s nothing.
Writer’s block makes you feel stupid, worthless, a reject. The longer it lasts, the deeper those feelings grow.
What makes it even more devastating is if you belong to a group of prolific writers who share work week after week. You enjoy reading their work, but it just makes you sadder and sadder when you are stuck.
The most important thing you can do when writer’s block steals your words is read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Not audio books, but actual books on paper. Savor the feel of the pages. Rejoice in the words. Think about the stories, the characters, the settings.
Soon something will come to you. It will be a germ of an idea at first, but if you allow it to dwell in your mind, it will blossom into a story, poem or essay.
The important thing it to not give up.
That’s what works for me.
I think after a long period of work on a project, a “fallow time” is good, actually. The well needs to fill back up. That’s why I love the idea of just devoting time to reading!