It’s a strange thing, to finish a poem. I think other writers, or creatives in general, would agree that the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that accompanies a finished piece can be coloured by fear. Will this be it? The Last Good Thing I Create? Will the muse never visit me again, am I done now? Dried up?
I often feel a bit of anxiety, especially if I don’t have something else brewing. Specifically, I’ve finished that tricky poem I mentioned last week. It ended up being longer than I’m used to writing, but still about 75 words short of the minimum for the CBC Poetry Competition. Maybe I’ll try a different competition.
But even though I’ve got a few ideas swirling, themes I see emerging that I’d like to explore more, nothing is coalescing for me right now, and that’s frustrating. So I’ve been thinking about, and practicing, a few different ways to get through this slump. I wanted to share them with you here today.
I’ve often seen the advice that reading should be a writer’s primary task. Reading other works in our niche helps us to see what’s already out there. Through reading we see what others have done before us, what they’ve done better than us. Completely immersing ourselves in poetry, or short stories, or novels or personal essays, whatever the genre, makes it possible for us to be deeply rooted in our craft, so that we can grow as writers.
Reading can also inspire us in many ways. When we read something that is so beautifully crafted it makes us ache, we can take that ache and turn it into our own attempts at beauty. Though if I’m being honest, my first reaction to reading something deeply beautiful is to despair that I’ll never write like that. But it’s important not to get caught up in that despair. Instead, we have to try to turn that into our own attempts at crafting with our own unique voice.
Reading can also inspire us in the sense that something we read can become a jumping off point. Maybe a line in a poem gets stuck in your head, and you find yourself starting a new poem from there. Maybe you’ve read a non-fiction piece that you’d like to explore further from your own perspective.
Reading exposes us to new words, new ideas, new ways of using language. It is absolutely the most important thing we can do as writers.
2. Take yourself on an “artist’s date”.
In her book “The Artist’s Way”, Julia Cameron prescribes weekly artist’s dates as a way to unblock your creativity. This is meant to be something fun that you do on your own, something outside of your usual experience. Something that appeals to your inner child, your muse.
If you’ve got kids in tow, like I usually do, every day can be an artist’s date. It’s easy to be in touch with your inner child when you’re surrounded by children.
So take all the kids, your inner kid included, to a museum, an art gallery, the aquarium. Go for a hike. Buy a disposable camera and take some pictures (and get them developed!). Build sandcastles at the beach, swing at the park. The idea is to experience new things, things that inspire your creativity in different ways. And in the process, we might be inspired by a painting, a conversation overheard, the feel of the sun on our skin.
Last week we took our kids to the aquarium in Toronto. It’s led me to reading up on horseshoe crabs, and I feel like it might eventually lead to a poem. If nothing else, I’ve learned something new.
Getting out of our heads, as artists, and as parents, is really important. Because the act of creating is often a solitary one, just like the act of parenting. We get into our routines so easily (and having a routine is great!) but sometimes we can get stuck there. I feel like that’s especially dangerous when we’re between projects. When I’m not working on something, I end up sitting at my desk, staring out at the same trees, the same street, the same dog that walks past at the same time every day, and feeling like I’m in this loop. A really uninteresting, uninspiring loop. So an artist’s date can help to lift me out of that. To see things from a different perspective, or even to try something completely new, can be magic. It takes a bit of mental gymnastics to turn your everyday with kids into an artist’s date, but it can be done.
3. Journal or Freewrite.
I try to start all of my writing time this way. Personally I aim to fill 2-3 pages with freewriting: I just write what’s in my head, no matter how dull or uninspired it might be. Sometimes what I write is related to what I’m working on creatively; sometimes it’s just a bunch of complaining about what I have to do later that day. But just getting that pen moving across the page can be a surprising thing, because occasionally something really interesting comes out. Often my freewrites have led me to a poem, as I flesh out an idea or a thought or experience, and really explore where my mind wants to go with it.
Some people like to do this using a prompt. If you Google “writing prompts”, there are endless resources available out there. You can sign up to get writing prompts delivered daily right to your inbox. What comes out of your use of prompts might just be practice for you, a way to flex your creative muscle a little, a way to get you thinking about something in a new way, or it might turn into something really wonderful that you take further. Either way, at least you’re writing something, doing the work of creating and using that part of your brain.
4. Connect with other writers.
This is something I don’t do enough of, and maybe that’s why I’m adding it here. Talking to other writers and artists is a good way to realize that you are not alone. We all get stuck, we all have downtime. I’d be willing to bet that even the best have these moments of despair.
So reach out on Twitter, or on blogs, or better yet, in person, if you’re lucky enough to have a circle of writers near you. Commiserate a little bit. Remind one another that this will pass. That last poem will absolutely NOT be The Last Good Thing You Create. There will be other poems, essays, stories. You are not a one trick pony! We have to remind ourselves, too, that writing and creating is our life’s work. It is easier to write than to not write, There will be a next thing. We just have to do the work of showing up at the page, being patient, and listening.
What’s your favourite way to get through a down time? I’d love to hear your tricks in the comments!
This post is a part of the What I’m Writing link-up. Please click through the link to visit the other participants!