Dealing with a Dry Spell: Perspective for Writers

Often my writing struggles concern wanting more time to write. Lately, I’ve had enough time, but I’m writing less—the words aren’t flowing. I’m still writing, but much less enthusiastic about what I’m coming up with. I’ve learned some ways to cope with a writing dry spell.

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1. Don’t freak out. “Dry spell.” “Writer’s block.” “Just feeling off your game.” Whatever you call it, it’s like insomnia. The more you fret, “OMG! I have to get up in an hour-and-a-half. I’ve GOT to get more sleep!” the less likely you are to fall asleep. Similarly, if you tell yourself, “I’ve been sitting here 45 minutes and everything I’m writing sounds stupid. Why do I even bother?” you’re guaranteed to shut down your creative energy.

2. Trust yourself. I know. I know. Easy for me to say. But after 25+ years writing advertising and marketing, I’ve learned that the words and ideas will come back.

Countless times, I had two hours to come with an ad concept. The graphic designer and I tossed out ideas, drew, played with words that had a ring to them, and described possible visuals. At first, most of what we brainstormed was weak, clichéd, off the topic, or all three.

We could have let ourselves panic, but we pushed away that feeling and kept going. Part way through the process, something shifted and the better ideas began to flow. I learned to get comfortable with spinning my wheels mentally. Sooner or later, my brain would engage and we’d have several viable concepts.

As long as I trusted myself to think up something, I would. Writing essays, blogs, and memoir take deeper thinking and more sustained effort—they’re harder—but the approach is the same. Trust yourself.

3. You can’t stop being a writer, so you might as well keep going. Haven’t you sworn off being a writer at least once? Haven’t you told yourself, “I don’t have any talent. No one is going to be interested in what I’m writing. I should quit fooling myself. Etc. Etc.”?

How’d that work out for you? You must still think of yourself as a writer or you wouldn’t be reading this! Whether you like it or not, your writer’s sensibility continues to notice and mentally record the funny conversations you overhear at the coffee shop. The writer in you searches for the right words to describe the colors of grasses in autumn or the texture of a beat-up sofa—even if you’re just relaying a funny story to friends. You might not be writing much right this minute, but you’re still hardwired to be a writer.

Since you can’t eradicate writing from your life, keep writing. Although there are different theories about this, I personally think it’s better to keep writing regularly, even if you only write a little bit, because it keeps you limber.

But be gentle with yourself. Don’t expect as much. For example, set a goal of doing 20 minutes per session. Let the measure of success be that you did it, not that the writing was great. Perfection is not required.

4. Trick yourself into continuing. Quite often, I’m not excited about what I’m writing, so I’m not eager to start work. Or I have no idea what to write, but I still have a blog due. Both situations lead to creative procrastination. I may feel a sudden urgent need to answer emails, switch loads of laundry, or even pay bills (and I hate to pay bills). However, I’ve promised myself I’d sit at my computer and try to write, so after a few distractions, I settle down and try again.

Occasionally, rereading what I wrote last time pulls me in. I start to see things I want to add or change. Other times I fuss with making minor edits or researching some factoids. While I occupy the front of my mind with busywork, the back of my mind begins framing new sentences. Then all I need is the good sense to stop editing and start writing down the new words forming in my head.

Another trick is to work with a writing prompts. Poets & Writers is a good resource for prompts. Evocative photos can also help you access the creative part of your brain that’s being so elusive.

Most of all, trust yourself. The words will come.

What helps you when you’re in a dry spell?

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7 thoughts on “Dealing with a Dry Spell: Perspective for Writers

  1. Pingback: How to Be a Better Writer: Be an Ant - Write Right

  2. Wonderful! I know I go through dry spells after I’ve just finished a novel. I question whether I can continue… did I just run out of ideas? Time is always the answer. I liked when you pointed out how “giving it up” is useless. You’re still a writer no matter what, so just give it time. Nice piece, Ellen!

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