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I don’t know about you, but some days I sit down to write and think, “Well, that’s it. I’ve run out of ideas and words to wrap around them. I suppose this is the end of my writing life. Better look into worm-farming for income.”
So maybe vermiculture is not what you would choose as your back-up plan; worm farming is not for everyone. But I suspect that if you’ve been writing for any period of time, you’ve had these days when you’re pretty sure you’ve spent your lot in terms of words.
Today, I am having one of those days. So consider this post evidence of me taking my own advice: write anyway.
If you feel your well is dry, if you feel like nothing you have to write is original, that your characters are flat, your plot dry, and your word choice banal, write anyway. Not because your writing that day will be brilliant (although it may well be), not because you’re a masochist who needs to power through everything even on devastating days, not because you’re bound by some sense of “should” or what “real writers” do. . . but because writing is probably what will save you today and because Annie Dillard’s advice about “Give it all. Give it now.”* is true.
When we write out of the dryness of ourselves, we paradoxically tap a vein of life that runs through every person. Writing on our wordless days is a way of reminding ourselves that we, too, get depleted but that we can be refilled, and it’s a reminder to hold grace and gentleness for all of humanity who feels this way, too.
So here are a few things you can write about when you feel like you have nothing to say:
- Write about what you have already said and feel like you need to say again.
- Write about what you don’t have to say.
- Write about the way your chest or your hands or the outside of your right thigh feels.
- Write about something that angers you or softens you or feels like it pulverizes your heart.
- Write about that book or film or TV show that makes you cry.
- Write about what you want your words to do to me, or to him, or to her. (Check out this great film on that theme.)
- Write about how your character makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
- Write down every word to describe that flower you say when you were outside yesterday.
- Write about that memory from when you were tiny that comes all the time and you don’t understand.
- Write about a word, all its translations and definitions and connotations.
Sometimes, especially on days when our tongues are parched, we need to go in and pluck a thing that is so far outside of our usual – be that our work in progress, or our subject matter, or even the language we choose. Sometimes, we just need to write for the absolute, bare sake of it and forget about all that we want those words to weigh. Sometimes, we need to just let them fly.
So if you feel, like I do, that all you have had to say you have already said, lean into that shadowy dryness and believe this – we are not done yet, and we will never be.
*By the way, this is my favorite writing book of all time. It’s beautiful and true and rich, and it was one of the last books my mom gave me before she died. I treasure it.