When you can’t write or revise, read.

This will be a short one, because I’m feeling flattened and hollowed out. It’s the endless pandemic with its grief and worry; it’s the end of a tough semester throughout which I juggled too much and burnt myself out; its the approaching holidays with their stressors and reminders that my mom is dead and my family is scattered. Blergh.

So, now that I have some time to get a bit of writing and revision in before the start of the spring semester, I find myself with no energy to do so. Creative thoughts seem to run, head first, into a brick wall. My brain is a blank Word document, complete with blinking cursor. And that makes me feel like a bad writer–not the quality of my writing, but bad as in not dedicated enough to my craft. I don’t get up early or stay up late to write. I don’t have a day in the week set aside for it, though I keep meaning to do that, to make a schedule and stick to it.

Instead, I have been reading. Reading for fun (mysteries), reading for work (excellent manuscripts for Leapfrog Press), and reading my own works-in-progress. I’m feeding all of these words into my subconscious. Or that’s what I think I’m doing. Hoping that something will click, that I will come up with an idea for a way to remedy a problem in an existing draft (I’m talking about you, ghost story). And I think it’s a not-that-unlikely possibility.

I wrote a story in grad school that I loved and that hasn’t worked ever. I love the characters and the setting. I love the narrative voice and the dialogue. I even love the plot. It’s basically a one-sided conversation in the present moment, narrating events that are also happening on the same timeline, but a step behind; so on Monday, the speaker is explaining what happened Saturday, etc. It has always been clear in my mind, but on the page, it’s a damn mess, and no one knew what was going on. Recently, I read it again, just for fun, and got an idea. Why not give it a really obvious structure? Label the days? Indicate the speech of another character, the side of the conversation we don’t get to hear? And I may have solved it; I may have pulled this story back from the clutches of story death. Then again, maybe I didn’t; maybe it’s too much of a schtick, too gimmicky. Or too odd for the collection I’m working on, since it’s the only story with a weird structure. The only way to tell is to workshop it and find out.

Okay so this wasn’t that short. Oops. Back to my point, reading is always a part of writing, so if you’re doing that, you’re not doing nothing for your craft.

Here’s hoping that all those words I’m feeding into my soggy, tired brain will arrange themselves into good ideas I can put on a page, and soon.

One thought on “When you can’t write or revise, read.

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  1. Nice one. I myself have found success in doing different types of writing when I’m in a rut. So for instance, I’d write a letter to my pen-pal, and oftentimes that helps me get started on my main project once more. Anyway, thanks for this post!


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