Has The Well Run Dry?

"Writing is just work--there's no secret. If you dictate or use a pen or type or write with your toes--it's still just work."

(Sinclair Lewis, novelist)



There’s little question that writing takes effort.  I have to sit down in front of that blank page or screen and translate the ideas in my head into language that will properly communicate those thoughts to another human being.  Sometimes just finding the right word or turn of phrase can be excruciating.

But other times…other times the words just seem to fly out of me.  Pages pass by without pause, and I lose all concept of the time I’ve spent working.

At least it used to be like that.  I haven’t slipping into that particular groove for far too long, and I miss it.  Because for me, the irritation of not writing is far worse than the actual work involved in putting words on the page. 


"Writing is a struggle against silence."
(Carlos Fuentes, novelist and essayist)


Seven months ago I started writing a story.  I won’t begin to claim that it was going to change to world or lead me to producing the Great American Novel.  It was a bit of silliness for my website, like so many others I have written before.  At first, the pages came quickly, but then, just before the halfway point, it all came crashing to a halt.

Was I out of ideas?  No.  I had the entire rest of the story basically plotted out.  Often when this happens, it’s something deep in my subconscious letting me know that the story isn’t going to work.  I wish I knew how that part of me operated.  I have friends who write who will throw away entire completed pieces because they realize after the fact that it’s not working.  I seem to come to that conclusion in the middle without consciously realizing it, and then the word generator shuts off until I can come up with a new plan for the story.  That usually takes a day to a couple of weeks. 

It’s been seven months.


"Writing is hard work, not magic. It begins with deciding why you are writing and whom you are writing for. What is your intent? What do you want the reader to get out of it? What do you want to get out of it. It's also about making a serious time commitment and getting the project done."
(Suze Orman, finance editor and author)


Lately I’ve wondered if it’s possible to run out of creativity.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but I can’t deny that something has changed.  I used to write several stories a year.  Plots would just appear out of nowhere.  How about having this happen to X character?  What about a world where Y exist?  A few days to a few weeks later, BOOM, story’s done. 

Well, maybe not BOOM.  I still had to do the writing work, but it was fun and possibly way too easy.  My favorite part was always what I’d call the avalanche.  I’d be working on a story and then suddenly everything about it would just fall into place.  I’d know the exact sequence of events, the scenes, even most of the dialogue.

I finished 24 short stories in 2001 (Yes, I kept records).  In the last three years, my output has been five.  Total.  Five and a half if you count the one I’ve been stuck on for the last eternity.  The ideas just don’t seem to be there anymore.


"People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it."
(Harlan Ellison, science fiction writer)


I suppose I could blame the upheavals in my life.  I’ve had increased responsibilities at work, my marriage ended, and I’m taking care of two kids full-time now.  But really using them feels more like an excuse than anything else.  I do get free time occasionally.  More and more now that my kids are getting older.  When I get this time to myself, though, sitting down to write barely crosses my mind. 

I could blame TV, video games, and the Internet.  They’re such distractions.  Why would I write when there’s new Doctor Who or Sherlock to watch?  And when I was cranking out stories in 2001, the Internet wasn’t anything like what it is now.  Those excuses are crap, too.  There are always distractions.  I did a tremendous amount of writing when I was in college.  Setting aside actual classwork, there were always things happening, shows and movies to see, and video games to play.  I may not have had a Playstation 4, but my roommate’s Super NES served us quite well (Why do I feel that I’m mere seconds away from shaking my cane and demanding that these damn kids get off my lawn?).  Despite all of that, I wrote…a lot.


"Writing makes no noise, except groans, and it can be done everywhere, and it is done alone."
(Ursula K. LeGuin, novelist, poet, and essayist)


I can’t and won’t blame the outside world for my lack of output.  This is all about me.  I don’t have the inspiration to write, and I don’t know why.  I haven’t heard my characters’ voices in my head in months. 

In trying to understand this drought, I’ve been thinking back to when I’ve felt my most creative, and I’ve determined that it’s when I’ve just been creative.  Creativity begets creativity.  While writing one story, I’ll come up with ideas for the next one.  It’s been a self-sustaining process in the past. 

Now I just have to figure out how to get it started again.  I think the first step will be to cut myself off from the world for a little while and focus in on the story I abandoned all those months ago.  Those characters are rattling around in my brain somewhere, and I need to reconnect with them.  Together we’ll figure out how this story ends.  I have a feeling that it’s going to be a bit harder than it used to, but hopefully I’ll be able to jumpstart my creative engine again.


"Writing is hard work; it's also the best job I've ever had.
(Raymond E. Feist, author)


-Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter 


Quotes taken from “What is Writing?” - http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/WhatIsWriting.htm


“BrainyQuote – Raymond E. Feist Quotes” - http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/r/raymond_e_feist.html