Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
All writers can so empty themselves that they have nothing left for their stories or for their readers. Maybe they feel they have nothing left for themselves. They’ve so depleted their stores, moved so far below empty, that they don’t know how they’ll ascend to a normal level, much less push themselves beyond.
When you’re constantly taking what’s inside you and examining it and putting it to work in story after story, you may truly have little left. And you may not even know until you reach down one time more for that perfect phrase or emotion-inducing passage and come up with an empty page.
Sure, you can keep writing. You’re a professional, and experts of every profession can keep working even when they’re not inspired. When there’s little within other than discipline and pride. When the spark is absent.
But you don’t have to write that way. You don’t have to write the uninspired novel simply because you can, using what passes for a writer’s muscle memory and because you have a deadline.
You could instead plug yourself into a source of power or encouragement. You could charge your batteries. Fill yourself with the material that makes your writing more than serviceable, more than okay.
Not Writer’s Block
I’m not talking about fixing writer’s block here; there are techniques for that. I’m talking about what to do when you find yourself empty. Not empty of words, but empty of meaningful words. Inspired words. Layers of words that combine to make powerful story. Or maybe simply a powerful moment in one section of a story.
If you’ve been writing a while, you know you can put out a decent day’s work, no matter how tired or unmotivated you are. But you also know that when you’re empty, you are not at your best. When you don’t feel like singing, your phrases may not sing either.
This isn’t about digging deeper and pushing yourself harder. I’m talking about writers who are past that point, the point where you do dig deep, only to find more dry dirt rather than moist, fertile ground. Sure, you could write about the dry places. You could write while you feel arid or barren. You could report about things parched, about people and situations truly hollow and void, mimicking the condition of your own dry soul. But you can’t do that for long. Being empty means exactly that—there’s nothing left inside that can be brought to the surface to be enjoyed or examined by others. Emptiness means nothing is available, certainly not a fascinating in-depth examination of the nothingness.
I don’t intend to get into philosophy or psychology here, but I do want to suggest that you not forget to renew yourself. Mine your thoughts and feelings, yes. And push deep. Even work into the dry and empty places—what you’ll find there can’t be found anywhere else and can be used in your writing, just as anything else you experience can be used.
But don’t live forever in the empty place.
Fill yourself. Charge your batteries. Give yourself fuel to work efficiently and extravagantly.
If you’ve slogged away at three books this year without a break, give yourself that break. Take it any way you can.
What gets you juiced about writing? If reading great (or not so great) novels gets your motor revving, read. Read one book or read a dozen. Lose yourself at the library or bookstore for a couple hours. Get out of your world of publicity or plot problems or fact-checking or grammar issues and lose yourself in fiction. Someone else’s fiction.
Fill yourself with the good stuff, the sweet, rich, yummy stories that get you humming.
Read a book a day for the next week. Call it a sabbatical. If you’re truly empty, you need it.
If you are empty, you must do something to fill yourself.
Treat yourself to a seminar or writing conference. Check out a local writers group and drop in on a meeting. Be an anonymous visitor who soaks up everything, as if you’re hearing the messages about the power of the written word for the first time.
Get out of your head and the turmoils of your characters and into the wider world of writers and writing. Fill yourself with the breadth of writing stuff—issues and rules and trends and problems faced by the writing community.
Read a new book—a book new to you—on craft issues. Remind yourself that there’s more to writing than the one problem that’s giving you fits. Stuff yourself with advice on building characters or three-act structure or the power of different sentence rhythms or the myths of the hero. Read a book on poetry—it’s sure to give you an idea or two for adding something unexpected but memorable to your prose.
Learn what you don’t know. Get someone else’s take on an issue. Open your eyes to a new viewpoint.
Argue against a viewpoint you don’t agree with.
Search the abstract. Thumb through books on the writing life and history and philosophy and religion. Step out of the trees and look at the big picture for a while. Inhale the fullness of subjects in order to discover something new, something missing from not only your mind, but from your soul.
I’m not one who typically reads writers who solely encourage other writers without providing practical advice—I tend to focus on more practical writers’ references. But every once in a while I take in the abstract. And find myself renewed.
We need it all, the books that help us with the practical and the writers who help us with the abstract. We need reminding of art and whimsy just as much as we need refreshers on rules of grammar and punctuation.
If you’re caught in a dry place, where the words are bare and brittle if they can be found at all, take time to refresh yourself. Fill yourself with what you know nourishes you.
Go to a conference and immerse yourself in the words and the atmosphere and the enthusiasm. Gorge yourself on your favorite fiction genre. Soak in the wide world of words and story, the world outside your narrow focus.
Look up from the constricted slice of life, that of your current writing obstacle or deadline, and get a whiff, and then draw a deep, belly-filling draught, of the wider world of writing.
Get inspired. That is, stop holding your breath and breathe in something fresh. Something to give you strength. Fill yourself with more of that good stuff that you expended in writing your last stories.
I won’t tell you to inspire yourself; it’s impossible to breathe into yourself when you have no breath left.
Look outside yourself for renewal. Seek inspiration from anything and everything. You know what moves you—when was the last time you did just one of those activities that fills you with enthusiasm and that urges, compels, you to write?
Don’t try to write when there’s nothing left in your deep places. Fill those places first. Strengthen yourself by taking in the nutrition you need to write.
What you need might not be what your writing partner needs, but we each need renewal. We need charging. We need fuel. We require inspiration.
Take time to get what you need. Fill yourself. Sure, make note of the emotions and the lethargy of the empty places. You can use those in a story. But don’t remain empty. Like any system meant to run on fuel, you can’t work without the power that makes you move. And a writer can’t use up all his inspiration, all his juice, and still expect to write even more. We don’t work that way. We need fuel and spark and a balance of elements that fill our empty places. We can’t write when the nutrients that grow the words are absent, when the ground is desiccated, when we reach down and pull up nothing time and again.
Refresh yourself if you’re empty.
Try to keep yourself charged, from becoming a barren vessel.
Write rich fiction drawn from the full reservoir that is your inspired mind and heart and spirit.