Notes From the Wasteland No. 28 ‘What Do You Do When You Can’t Write?’

It happens. It really does. It happens to all of us. Now and again. Once in a while. Every day. All the time. There are just times when we can’t write. Just can’t find the words. Or write a sentence and then delete it. A paragraph? A page? Entire sections.

We. Can’t. Write.

And so what do we do? What do you do? Me? I dig deep. I recall and remember those other times when I felt like this, when my words wouldn’t come. No matter how hard I tried. I picture those other times when I couldn’t get the words to form sentences. It used to happen a lot to me. I used to find it quite distressing, putting undue pressure on myself and then feeling like I had failed. But when it happens now I think about three things:

  1. A sentence today is a paragraph tomorrow. I can write. I have written before. I will write again. I will be satisfied with anything I can manage, even a single sentence. I will do everything I can to stop feeling bad about my (apparent) lack of progress. And then try again tomorrow.
  2. Sometimes you just can’t stop. We’ve all been there, in the flow, words forming sentences forming paragraphs. And when we’re in the flow it feels like we will never stop again. And when I can’t write I picture this flow and remember the warmth of the rush.
  3. My house was built brick by brick. In most situations, once the foundations are in place, building a house means laying brick upon brick upon brick. Writing is the same. Only in very rare circumstances do people complete novels in one go. Most of the time, we build our stories and our worlds brick by brick. This way, we can focus on the wall in front of us and not the roof that isn’t there yet.

What do you do when you can’t write?

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