I’m not the only one. I’m not the only writer who is struggling to write during these unusual times. I see the posts on the various writer forums I belong to. Of course, some of those folks don’t have that problem. They keep chugging right along, or even find the current conditions in the world an actual nourishing environment for their work. And if I’m honest, I was already in a bit of a slump. That happens from time to time and I’ve always pulled out of it. But this was going on longer than normal. And I didn’t know what to do. All my old tricks weren’t working.
My niece had sent me one of those do it yourself memoir books. They contain questions about your past, experiences, relationships, possessions. They are intended to record your life history for your grandkids or other family. There are a bunch of these on the market, but this is the one she chose. I had been dragging my feet getting started. My handwriting is terrible. I hated to mess up such pristine pages. But the biggest obstacle was that the answer to so many questions simply would not fit in the space allowed and something in me balked at simplifying them to the point of what I thought was shallowness or meaninglessness.
So, I decided to ignore the book itself and use the questions to create long personal essays and accounts in response to the queries. The queries were in fact engaging writing prompts. I began spending a few minutes each morning creating, fleshing out and editing these little pieces. As I did so, something happened. The words flowed. With no editorial judgement, no deadlines, no comparison with other writers, I once again was awash in the pure joy of writing. Constructing sentences and paragraphs. Choosing the perfect detail. Expressing myself on the page.
And then the next thing happened. I began to remember snippets of my other work. Ideas I had wanted to develop. Projects half finished. Works in inventory that I might take another look at. I began to long to get back to my own work. Work I cared about and still had faith in. I picked one, a major project that I had barely started, but wanted to get back to. At first, I would do a little of each. A bit of an essay for the personal history, then a page or two of my project. However, I was drawn more and more by an urge to make headway on that long-neglected piece, and work on that project has now supplanted the personal history book. (I promise, I’ll get back to it.)
This is inarguable proof that the process works. If you’re stuck, write. Just write anything. Anything that you care about, or that amuses you, or that you feel needs saying. Write for the love of writing. Write without self-judgement, without thinking of the end result or where this is going. Writing begets writing. Any writing exercises the writing muscles, builds the writing habit, develops the writing skills, and reminds and reassures yourself that you are a writer, no matter what doubts you may have or how far from that self you have drifted. Before you know it, you’re baaaack. I’m back, too.