Help! I’m not writing: what do I do?

QUESTION:
Help! I’m totally blocked and haven’t written a word in too long, except in my daily journal which is more morning pages right now. How do I begin again?
~Sheila

Sheila!
Thanks so much for this right-to-the-heart question. I know you speak for many writers out there. You are SO not alone.

And I’m not just saying, “High five sister, you’re not alone!” I’m saying I totally and deeply empathize, and you are in the normal albeit sucky part of the creative process. As heartbreak is to love, the fallow season is the natural yang to the high of creation. The only way to avoid it is to never create. 

So high five for being in the arena at all. Most people would rather pretend they aren’t creative than go on that insecurity roller coaster.

But yes, the “not creating” part of the process raises all our fears and leaves us shaky and off balance. That’s real. And I don’t have a magic answer, but I do have a couple of reframes and some suggestions that might make navigating this time a little easier.

First some sleuthing: Why are you in this fallow period? It didn’t happen without a reason. Sometimes if we can figure out why something is happening, it helps us have compassion and put things back into context. For me, this phase often coincides with the end of a large creative project or push. Maybe you just finished a project or you’re coming off a very prolific period? Maybe it wasn’t a creative project but one that still drew on your creative energy—the culmination of a large work or school project or event, a large purchase or remodel, or maybe even a life cycle shift—death, birth, divorce, retirement, relocation.

So if can be helpful to discover (this can happen in your journal!) a clear precursor to this non-writing period—if only to give yourself some grace and get out of the shame/blame cycle. Too often we beat ourselves up for not writing when there is actually a good reason.

BUT understanding why you are there doesn’t solve it, I get that. And here my advice is not magical either, but there is unfortunately no other way:

Eventually we have to take a baby step back into relationship with our writing. A BABY step—smaller than we think is even worth it. I often suggest journaling AS a first baby step, and you’re already doing that. Daily, even! How many stuck writers aren’t even journaling? Show of hands? My point. Journaling is a fantastic first step because we begin showing up for the regular practice of looping words into sentences and spending time inside the maze of our minds. 

Keeping baby steps as small and non-intimidating as possible is super important, so I suggest stepping up what you are already doing in your journal. You could write a letter to your writing and/or ask your writing some pointed questions. Or, to kickstart inspiration and get outer-focused again, you could spend an entire day noticing and recording the many beautiful, strange, unique things in your world. Or you could make a list of all the stories you intend to write someday–I love a good list and I find this process will very often pop a hot idea.

Outside of the journal, when I’m blocked or sluggish I like to reread favorite books. You know, THE favorite books that made you want to be a writer in the first place.

And then step away from the page and go see some art, visit a garden, listen to some music, and trust that your new ideas are coming, especially now that you have let them know you are ready.

Bottom line—don’t panic! There is nothing I trust more than the turning wheel of the creative process—fallow periods are always followed by fertile ones, summer follows spring—if you stick with it. So keep showing up and ask:

What is one tiny baby step I could take towards my writing today?
(Then take another one tomorrow.)

Wishing you overflowing creativity!
xoxox
Nancy

Do you have a question about flash fiction, travel, writing, the creative process, craft, the writing life…or anything else?

P.S. I’ve had SO much fun sharing my travels, writing inspiration, creative discoveries, retreat photos, food poisoning and more! I love sharing the adventures with you xo

First Stop: Spain–CHECK! (photo from Spanish Retreat Salon Night! Full retreat wrap-up with photo gallery coming soon!)
Next Stop: Bristol, England and the 4th Flash Fiction Festival!
August: Final 2022 Flash Fiction Retreat in Grand Lake, Colorado!

Continue the adventures on:

Instagram and Facebook and Facebook Retreats Page 


Save the Date: Upcoming Workshops and Retreats


Flash Flood: Write a Flash Novel
August 22-September 2

Going Short: Beautiful Flash Fiction Part II (NEW)
(can be taken independently of Part I)
September 5-9

(Details here. Registration for both opens August 1) 


The Flash Novel Mastermind: a 12-week incubator to get your manuscript across the finish line
September 13-December 2
(Pre-requisite: Flash Flood. Registration and all details Sept 1)

AND
If you’re ready for some radical inspiration, a creative adventure to energize your spirit, and camaraderie with your creative community, then get on the waiting list for 2023 Retreat Early Access and announcements this fall! 

Chatting about flash fiction on the Reading and Writing Podcast

Speaking of flash fiction, thanks to Jeff Rutherford for inviting me to return as a guest on the Reading and Writing Podcast!

On this episode we talk about the changing landscape of flash fiction, the re-release of Going Short, and what it was like to narrate an audiobook in one day! We also have a lively discussion around the emerging flash novel as a form–one of my favorite topics, especially with After the Rapture releasing for pre-orders at the end of the summer!

22 minutes LISTEN NOW

Ready to Virtual Retreat with me in Spain? Ask me a question:

Consider this a personal invitation to join me on my teaching and scouting adventures this summer to Spain, England, and Colorado!

If you have virtually traveled with me in the past, you know how much I LOVE traveling/writing and sharing inspirational discoveries, photos, and the strange workings of my brain when I spend too much time alone! (And I’ll be scounting future retreat locations too: shhh!)

And I’m excited to give you a sneak peak into what goes on during a Flash Fiction Writing Retreat–without interrupting all the privacy and creation happening, of course!

So hang out with me and other amazing writers this summer! It’s the next best thing to being there in person!

Follow the adventures on:

Instagram and Facebook and Facebook Retreats Page

And (NEW!) since I will be creating lots of content all summer, I would love for you to Ask Me A Question (like these) I can answer for you while traveling…and it might even end up in a future workshop.

This can be a question about flash fiction, travel, writing, the writing life or process, craft, what I’m reading: you name it. I will try to answer all questions LIVE in Spain–we’ll see how it goes!

First Stop: Spain! (photo below from my scouting trip in 2021).

“See” you on the other side!

Happy traveling and writing, ya’ll!

xo

Nancy

Saturday, May 21: Virtual Workshop at the Writer’s Digest Short Story Conference

I’m excited to be presenting for the second year in a row at the Writer’s Digest Short Story Conference. This year I’ll be talking about one of my favorite ways to write flash fiction: using the power of implication to manipulate found forms. Come for the whole weekend (and some replays are available for conference participants).

This will be one of my few virtual workshops until the fall: I’d love to “see” you! xo N

From the website: Writer’s Digest is pleased to present an exclusive virtual conference for short story writers! On May 20-22, our 2nd Annual Short Story Writing Virtual Conference will provide expert insights from SEVEN award-winning and best-selling authors on the finer points of how to write a short story. Spend the weekend learning techniques for honing your craft skills, marketing your short fiction, editing, and getting the tools you need to advance your career as a writer from seven different published authors*, then (if you choose) submit up to 500 words of a short story to an editor for critique.

All details and full lineup:

May 20 – May 22, 2022, Short Story Virtual Conference

Nancy Stohlman: Literary Squatters: Using Found Forms to Write Fresh Flash Fiction

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET Saturday, May 21

See you there!