Surviving a Creative Dry Spell

surviving-a-creative-dry-spell

I have been absent from the blogosphere for a while, taking a sort of mini-sabbatical. In the past two months I’ve rekindled my love of poetry, discovered the perfect banana bread recipe, and mostly just tried to figure out my next steps.

It happened like this: I was going strong, often writing 2,500 words a day. I was churning out manuscripts like crazy. Three years ago, I left my magazine writing job, and it was like all of these stories that had been bottled up for years came pouring out. And then, one day, I woke up, and that creative deluge was gone.

At first I thought it was writer’s block, but the feeling wasn’t the same. When I have writer’s block, I desperately want to write, and can’t. This feeling was different, a sense that I no longer wanted to write.

I’m a very driven person, and I need goals to focus on. Without those goals, I started to drift, feeling like I was wandering aimlessly through life, completely disconnected from my creativity. I had, in short, entered a dry spell.

I almost gave up on it, losing faith that I would ever again pen fiction. I tried to write new stories, but my imagination couldn’t cook up plots. I read articles about authors like Ursula Le Guin, inspiring tales of the creative process. It didn’t help. I still couldn’t write.

One day, I sat down in the café of a Barnes & Noble, my laptop in front of me. “Write something,” I told myself, unable to drift any longer. “Anything.” If I couldn’t write anymore, I’d decided, I would create a new goal. I dreamt up possibilities, but nothing stuck. I longed for the days when stories flowed like spring rivers fed by melting snowpack. I longed for the days when every moment held creative possibility. My creativity had always defined me, and it seemed to have disappeared.

That day in Barnes & Noble, I wrote a poem, the lamentation of a dragon whose kind have lost a war and are on the verge of extinction. If I couldn’t write fiction, I would write something else, I decided. I came home that day with hope that I could, once again, create.

I wish I could say that that day the dam broke. But it wasn’t like that. It was more the feeling of the first fat drops of rain falling on your head. A splatter here, a splatter there, but not yet creative energy in full force.

Drop by drop, my creative energy is returning. Perhaps what I felt was creative burnout, the result of penning story after story and setting completely unrealistic expectations for myself, expectations that went against my own creative process.

My plan is to publish another short story later this year, a piece titled Silver’s Stray. I’m not going to push myself to meet a lot of deadlines. I’m not going to set crazy goals. My goals are simple:

  • To really work on my author platform
  • To finish and polish Silver’s Stray and publish it by the end of the year
  • To finish and polish Spirits of Embers, a short story, and submit to at least one magazine
  • To launch my editing business

That’s it. I took a detour, saw a glimpse of what my life would be like without the creative drive that I wake to each day. It’s a drive to write something, anything—a journal entry, a spell, a story, a poem, a blog post. It’s a drive to create, however quickly or slowly. It’s a drive to give something meaningful to the world.

Have you ever gone through a creative dry spell? How did you handle it? How were you able to begin to create again?

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11 thoughts on “Surviving a Creative Dry Spell

  1. You’re weathering your dry spell creatively, Denise! I have a feeling it’s less like a dry spell, and more like a plateau that will reveal far deeper insights into yourself, which will ultimately increase creativity and calm. Welcome back! =)

    • Good point, Shan Jeniah! I actually started a new story last night, one that took me completely by surprise. It’s too soon to know whether it will lead anywhere, but I think this dry spell was my psyche’s way of telling me I needed to slow down. Thanks! 🙂

      • Sometimes I find myself watching lots of PBS, surfing the net, and playing Cake Mania – all signs of the same thing (and this week has had a lot of those).

        I think learning that it wasn’t laziness, but was a gathering time for me, has helped me be easier with the lull.

        Whether your new story goes anywhere or not, writing again is a good thing! =)

  2. Last year I was really struggling with whether or not I wanted to continue writing. I wasn’t very happy. I know writing isn’t always kittens and rainbows, but it didn’t seem right that it was a misery. So, for the first time in 15-ish years, I made the conscious decision not to write. To not even worry about it. I took some online classes, puttered around with a nonfiction project, and, after about eight months, I was ready to come back. But it was definitely disconcerting. Who was I if I wasn’t Katherine-the-Writer?

    I think you have a good plan. Go easy on yourself. Recharge. Good luck!

    • That’s exactly how I felt, Katherine. There was definitely an identity struggle in there. If I’m not a writer, who am I? Writing is my dream job, so how could I not write? It’s starting to come back, but I’m not pushing it. I’m just trying to ease back into the writing process. No crazy word counts or insane deadlines. I’m glad you found your way back. Sometimes, on the creative journey, there are detours. 🙂

  3. As one tale ends, another taked form. But the eternal struggle between good and evil rages on.

    Life has its moods, sometimes the writer has self doubt, loses his/her eyesight, computer crashes, files corrupted in flash drives and so forth.
    I have had dry spells of writing. nerves, and several other things. I find listening to music, watching flicks on my computer, youtube videos, neflix and surfing the web a little helpful in distraction. Ideas come and go 😉

    • Life definitely has its moods and its seasons. Like the weather, creative dry spells happen. I think the best way to treat them is just as you’ve suggested: listening to music, watching Netflix, and just generally filling the well.

  4. I’ve been through creative dry spells. In those times, I felt I couldn’t write anything. My latest dry spell, I felt writing was more of a chore, not something I wanted to do. At that point, I had to put down the pen. I decided to take a little break. During that time, I had to assess what was important and what I wanted to do with my writing. Ultimately, I want to get published. But it won’t mean anything if I’m not enjoying some of the process.

    • I found the emphasis on publishing to be harmful to my creative process. I’ve learned I need to focus on the story, on shaping it and polishing it, and worry about publishing later. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but our minds seem to jump right to the “finished product” stage. You made the right decision in taking a break. We need that sometimes, and if you’re not enjoying writing, a break is necessary.

  5. Goodness, Denise, I’ve been going through the same thing! My blockage is from stress. I just hope that you aren’t suffering from the same ailment. It’s frustrating, scary, panicky, suffocating, depressing for the well to dry up. I just hope it comes back. But it sounds like your creative juices are on their way girl. So hang in there and keep, keeping on! Great to see you back. 🙂

    • Karen, oddly enough, I didn’t feel the usual sense of suffocation that I feel when I have writer’s block. It was just like I didn’t want to write anymore. The drive to write is coming back, but it’s a slow process, like the snow melting and the leaves unfurling in the spring. I hope you get back in the flow of things. I’d love to read your work one day! 🙂

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