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

Embracing Audacity: What would you create if you had no doubts?


First the bad news: All writers deal with doubt. 

I repeat: If you’re an artist committed to your craft, you will experience doubt. 

The “what if” doubts: What if my writing isn’t any good? What if no one wants to read it? What if nobody wants to publish it?  

The comparison doubts: They’re all better than me! What am I even doing here? I’m an imposter. I’m a hack.

And the deep, dark night of the soul doubts: Maybe I’m not supposed to be a writer after all. Maybe I should quit.

And all these doubts boil down to the big one: I’m not good enough.

Doubt also comes for the musicians, the painters, the filmmakers, the actors, the dancers, the comedians, the photographers:

All of them–ALL of them--experien doubt.

Making art, especially if we are embarking on something big like writing a book, keeps us endlessly humble. Was Margaret Atwood pinching herself as she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale? I doubt it. Was Toni Morrison feeling like TheBomb.com while she was writing Beloved? Was Pollock patting himself on the back as he poured paint? Or were these three, and every artist before and after, seized with doubts and insecurity as they wondered what kind of monster am I creating?

I’m guessing the latter.

So if you are wracked with doubts, especially if you are out in the deep waters and taking real artistic risks–remember: doubt comes with the territory. 

Or does it?

A movie I love that puts doubt in brilliant perspective is Florence Foster Jenkins,which is based on the true story of the woman by the same name. Florence (played brilliantly by Meryl Streep) fancies herself an aspiring opera singer. But she is terrible. Awful. But she’s also rich, and a patron of the arts, so she forges ahead—doubt free. A sort of “ignorance is bliss” situation. And, in the course of her “career”, she records albums and even fills Carnegie Hall in New York City—without ever knowing she can’t sing.

Here she is singing the “Queen of the Night” aria: hilarious.

I would argue that while her operatic performance was not good, the standing ovation she receives is genuine–the people of Carnegie Hall were not applauding her beautiful voice (as she mistakenly thinks) but they ARE enthusiastically applauding her brazen courage. Her absolute shining, all-in heart. Despite her lack of talent, we can all find something to love in the pure audacity of her art—the child singing at the top of their lungs before they have ever begun to doubt themselves.

And, if lack of doubt made a woman like Florence bold enough to sell out Carnegie Hall, imagine what too many doubts might do to a person instead?? Most of us don’t have a team of advisors shielding us from bad reviews or paying audiences not to laugh.

Doubt keeps us from being all in. We hang out around the edges, circling the pool but never getting all the way in.

Which begs the question: What would you do if you had no doubts?

What might you write if you could be as bold and fearless in the creative arena as the child who has never learned to judge her work? Who just boldly grabs a marker and claims a piece of blank paper: I am here. I exist. 

What might you create if you could had the courage to risk boldly and fail beautifully? What would happen if you went out into the deep waters of your own artistic possibility, far enough out that you could no longer see the shore? What could you create from there? And what if feeling doubt means you’re close; maybe the stronger the doubt…the more important it IS to proceed?

Now I don’t mean to suggest we should be oblivious to the quality of our own work or make no effort to improve. But most of us are not in danger of overindulging our creativity–most of us exist on the other end of that continuum, strangling possibility because we don’t know how it will be received, drowning the seeds of potentiality with doubt because we don’t know what might grow. Most of us are battling the Monkey of Doubt on our backs, not the other way around. 

So again I ask: What would you write if you had no doubts?

And…what if you could begin today?

Wishing you radical inspiration and creative audacity in everything you do.
xoxo
Nancy