by Eleanor Parker Sapia
Over the weekend, you watched the umpteenth YouTube video under the guise of researching for your work in progress. Congratulations, you now know more than anyone about the history of toilets, the sketchy death of Marilyn Monroe, and about the bedroom activities of the British monarchs.
In a 36-hour period, you managed to walk by your writing desk and not actually look at it, or the contents on top, namely your laptop, the lamp, assorted pencils and pens, notebooks full of research material and important research links. Twice you’ve straightened the stack of books at the left-hand corner of your writing desk, which includes how-to writing books, a dictionary, and a thesaurus. Hell, you even bought ‘The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression’, and made a special trip to the dollar store for new highlighters and more notebooks in snazzy colors and designs. You can never have enough highlighters and notebooks. I know this. Everything is perfect and lined up, yet you aren’t writing.
Your calendar is clear, the house is cleaner than its’ been in months, and the laundry is caught up. You’ve said ‘no’ to invitations for lunch, drinks, and catching up with friends over the weekend, and you alerted family and neighbors that you’re writing. The ‘Please do not disturb’ sign is taped to your front door. The conditions for writing couldn’t be more ideal, there’s no time like the present and all that jazz, yet it is now late Sunday evening and you haven’t written a word all weekend. Why?
This type of dry spell is especially troublesome when our homes and relationships are in turmoil, when bills and taxes are due, or when we can’t see a way forward. It doesn’t matter what’s happening: we can’t write, but we wish like hell we could to alleviate the guilt.
Yes, this has happened to me, more than once, and to most writers I know; it happens to the best of writers. But what’s going on? Is it a case of writer’s block? Does writer’s block really exist?
I personally believe writer’s block is a real thing, but I call it my ‘dry spell’, as the word ‘block’ denotes a complete and utter blockage that I might need several sticks of dynamite to get through. I can get through a dry spell.
When a dry spell manifests in my writing life, it often comes at the heel of one thing: FEAR. Most writers have experienced the paralyzing fear of failure, fear of rejection and ridicule, and the fear of the unknown, which can lead to self-doubt, low self-esteem and confidence at the time of the dry spell—a real vicious cycle.
Here are few ways to combat the writing dry spell, while keeping your story at the back of your mind:
- Do something else for twenty minutes.
- Take a walk or short drive.
- Thumb through a magazine, searching for the perfect book cover idea, story idea, or new character.
- Write a blog post or article on a completely different topic.
- Go to a coffee shop or diner to journal about what the heck is going in your life and interior life.
- Call a trusted fellow writer or good friend that you can commiserate with on the dreaded dry spell.
- Read a good book by one of your writing heroes and heroines.
- Read a bad book and write down ways you’d improve that book.
Don’t give in to the dry spell for too long. Take a break if you need it, but come back to it. Slow and steady will win that race. Try one these suggestions:
- Consider that you might need an outline rather than writing by the seat of your pants;
- Rewrite your outline; flesh it out;
- Write a short biography of each character in order to get to know them better;
- Write three synopses: the elevator ‘one liner’, the short synopsis, and the 4-5 synopsis (this worked for me not too long ago);
- Avoid negative people (always!) until you feel stronger;
- Keep writing.
Puerto Rican-born novelist Eleanor Parker Sapia was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her passion for writing. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago a second time.
A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s bestselling historical novel, is described as “…a true work of historical depth and artistry.” Eleanor has two adventurous, grown children and currently lives in wild and wonderful West Virginia.