It’s probably no secret that I’ve been in a bit of a writing slump lately.
Something about the deadlines that came with my low-res MFA program, and the knowledge that when I met them someone would be there to read my work – and even tell me how to make it better – made it oh so easy to churn out the words. But filling the blank pages of my many Word documents hasn’t been so easy post graduation.
Granted, since graduation I have moved and renovated a house, which was quite the time suck. But now that things have settled down – have been settled down – I have an almost physical itch to get writing again.
The trouble is, I can’t make myself do it.
I’ve sat for hours looking at screens and notebook pages, making dates with myself to produce something. Anything. But nothing ever comes. I can revise, I can write queries, I can submit, but for the life of me I can’t force out any new words.
So how do writers get out of a block like this? I began to ask myself some questions. Was it the work in progress that I had in front of me? Should I try starting out with something else? Did it really matter what I wrote, as long as I was writing?
Perhaps unfortunately, I believe the answer to that is YES. It matters very much what I write, and it matters very much what you write. There’s a big difference between what a writer can produce, and what they should produce. We’ve been given the gift of communicating truth through story, and we should be using that gift to tell the truths we were meant to tell.
But how do we figure out what story we need to write?
To start off, I took a good long look at my bookshelves and made a list. There are so many books to read, to enjoy, to love. I’m not denying that. But there are some books – different for every writer – that are special. Some books make our hearts hurt when we read them, and for me, I think it is because those are the books that convey a message that resonates within me on a deep level. It’s always hard to choose favorites among books, but I forced myself to narrow my list down to a dozen books that truly stir my soul. The ones I can’t help but take down from the shelf, flip through and read snippets of just for the reminder of how that book makes me feel. My dozen books are:
- Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
- The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
- The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
- Flags in the Dust by William Faulkner
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
- My Antonia by Willa Cather
- The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Once and Future King by T. H. White
- Til We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
- A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
- The Essays of E. B. White
What’s the point of this list? It provides a collection of books that get me right in the feels. It allows me to look at them all in one place and think about why that is. What do these books have in common? What is it about them that – although they are so different from one another – causes the same reaction in my chest?
These books are about longing for something that once was, and was lost. Longing for something that has not yet come. Longing for glory to be restored. Desperately hoping to restore, or to save, something pure and good that is in danger. They are about love. Love of a world, and love of others, and both the destruction it can cause and the power it has to save. These books make my heart hurt with the sheer beauty they contain. They remind me that this pale earth is not my home. It is a shadow, a passing thing, a dim reflection of the glory that is to come. They soothe the pain of good things that are no more with the hope of the good that has yet to be.
I want to write a book like that.
Oh, I know. That’s a tall order.
But knowing the message, knowing the goal, is a good first step.
My next step is to attempt NaNoWriMo once again this year. I haven’t won NaNo since 2013, and I’m pantsing it this year, which takes me far from my writerly comfort zone. I don’t know if I will win, or if anything I write will be good.
But if I write something, I’ll be satisfied. If I write 50k, I’ll be thrilled. And if somewhere deep inside those pages is a paragraph that holds a glimmer of the truth that I read books to find, then just maybe I’ll be on my path to writing again.
Best of luck to this year’s participants! For more information on National Novel Writing Month, visit nanowrimo.org.