I was speaking with a friend this week about how I just can’t write. I’m not talking about anything “good” or meaningful, I just can’t seem to get the pen to the page. It’s distressing but mostly bewildering. It’s always felt like half therapy, half refuge and now it feels like I’ve fallen into an abyss and I can’t climb out. So I’ll write about not being able to write.
It’s been an incredibly full six weeks. No shortage of things to get out of my head. I don’t know how it is for you, but certain worries and fears take up long-term residence in this head of mine if I don’t find some gentle release. Even my meditation practice has fallen away. Health has become a burgeoning issue for everyone around me. It goes hand in hand with age and we are all feeling the effects.
I have much to say about Mom’s procedure for a new heart valve (and her decline shortly after), but I still can’t find all the words. Dad is next, possibly staring down the very same procedure in the weeks ahead. And my own health feels very fluid as I change medication for my RA. Aging is not for sissies. You have to be in for a fight. The body can be amazing in how it heals, but if we think a pill or procedure alone will heal us, well, it doesn’t work that way. We have to be active participants in our own recovery. Healing is not passive.
But why can’t I write? Why does everything sound instructive or like a list? I bore even myself. I can write five paragraphs and not have a single good sentence. My friend asked if I’ve tried prompts. No, I really haven’t. Maybe my blogging friends can share a couple good ones? I’ll bank them for the many, many mornings that nothing comes. The mornings where typing or picking up a pen feel as unnatural as picking up a sword or a chainsaw.
My life lost it’s routine. My schedule is something I need to think about now. Maybe that tiny shift sent me off the rails. If you could help, I’d be grateful. Share a favorite writing prompt (or two). Help me back onto the tracks so I can let this locomotive roar ahead. Thanks in advance.
I’m so grateful to have this place ♡
I love your handwriting. Very unique!
When I get stuck, a shange of location often helps.
Sooner or later the words will come back!
Thank you! I often try new surroundings but sometimes I think I need only relax into the moment and have a little trust. And hope it’s enough 😊
Try ceenphotography.com for prompts. Look under “Challenge list” for writing and photo challenges. Sometimes you cannot write, even with a prompt. In my opinion, you can’t force creativity.
Touche’ I need to relax and know the words will come when they’re ready. Thanks for being here.
Hi, Bonnie Rae, the other commenters that suggested being gentle with yourself were so on point. I think that’s the best thing you could do at this trying time. As for getting back into the writing groove, I have 2 suggestions. First, go someplace new & explore, noting the little (and big!) things that strike you as sweet, odd, whatever. Second, while living & working at Omega Holistic Institute in Upstate New York, I learned this technique: take a sheet of paper (outside of your journal) and list a bunch of words in a column about a subject, say, media. On a separate sheet of paper outside of your journal, list a column of words about a totally unrelated subject, say, spirituality. After completing 2 long columns, place the columns side by side and read the 2 words together aloud. You can also move the lists around. I found this practice, with its sometimes outrageous juxtapositions, to be a great spur to creativity. Blessings to you, my friend. 🌞
I love these, Lisa! The adventurer in me especially loves the “go somewhere new” idea. Lately, I’ve been doing some old favorite hikes, but nothing really new. It does inspire me to be a part of a new landscape. I’ll take a stab at the columns too. I’m intrigued a little by that. Thanks so much for writing 💜
Thank you for this. I really have been feeling overwhelmed and it’s been a challenge to find compassion of any kind for myself. Having stepped deeply and quickly into the lives of others I found myself immersed in the news and it is not something I have chosen for myself these past few years. To be more aware of the depth of our divides is almost paralyzing. Thanks for the reminder to check in with myself a little more frequently. I’ll be okay. I trust that the stories will be there when I’m ready to share them.
Yes, the days I start with The News are the days that leave me jangled, at odds. What would you say to a friend who is in your shoes? Be that friend to yourself. xo
Dear, dear Bonnie Rae, I think you have gone over the whelming point (you know, when you feel overwhelmed)… and that is actually appropriate and reasonable considering what you are holding in your personal/parental life, and the fact that you are holding all this within the polycrises flooding through our psychic field at this time. You know the list! What happens beyond the whelming point is our sense of story (the ability to make meaning out of life’s raw experiences) falls apart. The words are behaving more like a jigsaw puzzle–1000 pieces falling out of the box. They won’t organize themselves into sentences and coherent thoughts, or even pretty metaphors. Being overwhelmed–which many of us are very near all the time these days–is exhausting and articulation is just too much effort. When this happens to me, I try to remember to offer myself compassion… Your sense of story is molten right now so you cannot write now. Words will solidify again, and writing will return. As you want and can, do any of these prompts offered you. Be gentle. Trust. And keep in touch. love and language, Christina
You are so right about the exhaustion, the troubling events and my molten center. The jigsaw is such a great metaphor for me. Thanks for the reminders of gentleness, trust and connection. They are the pillars even in this quicksand … *
I think you nailed it when you said that you don’t have any routine right now. Even when I go on vacation – losing all my routines – writing is the first thing to go. So I’d suggest first, finding a tiny bit of routine even if the rest of your day goes to hell. If you can, when you can.
I am big on prompts. As Gretchen said, you don’t have to stick with them, they’re a starting point. Set a timer for 10 minutes. You could be writing about cabbage and suddenly you’re in your grandmother’s kitchen and the dog is barking and there’s a prowler outside and you’re hiding under the bed.
Start with “I remember”. The next time, try “I don’t remember”. Then “I’m thinking about” and then “I’m not thinking about”. You can stop when the timer rings or keep going.
Some others (I could send you a very long list, but that would overwhelm you): Inheritance. Morning routines. The ghosts in your life. A time you lost your power. A time you regained it. Caught in the act. Resistance. What have you survived.
As for lists, I love them. Make a list of lies you’ve told (or were told to you). What are you sick and tired of? List all of your teachers. And so on. You’ll find yourself going off on a tangent about one or some, and then you’re writing.
And, I love William Stafford. Lowering my standards is my mantra…. Also Anne Lamott. Bird by bird. And shitty first drafts. You’ll get there. Be gentle with yourself in an ungentle world. xoxoxox
Nancy, these are great! I think I knew the routine being lost was a bit of a revelation for me even as I wrote it. And yes, there are ways to slowly create that tiny bit of time. Like planting a seed, methinks. Oh, and writing about the ghosts, brilliant. Bird by bird, indeed. Thanks for always showing up here for me. I so appreciate you.
This post was writing!! And quite brilliant…
One source of prompts: Patti Digh. She has a free daily text with a prompt. I found out about her thru her racial justice course. https://www.pattidigh.com/freebies/
And the other replies have great ideas too.
Even a little a day will help!
Love and gratitude to you!
I signed up! Thank you for that connection. I am compiling a list of ideas and arming myself with choices for those times when I feel stuck. It’s been such an odd stretch of time. Thanks for being here, Bailey.
Brilliant last quote. I’ll be reading you even if you’re quiet, with nothing but your awesome company of life. I say don’t force it. When you feel like writing, you’ll write. Priorities shift, it’s only natural. I don’t do prompts as such but I do respond to weekly (photo) challenges such as Thursday Doors. In April I’ll be writing a poem a day for NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). They provide interesting daily prompts. Interested?
Thanks, Manja. I love how you respond to those prompts and even the photography ones hold such rich story. Not sure I could write a poem a day, though I was full of poetry in my reckless youth !
We cross paths were certain people in our lives that we never forget about. You are one of those people to me.
I read a quote recently that I just love and it might just be the perfect one for you today.
Here it is:
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.
— Anne Lamott, writer
Hope this helps you, dear friend.
I adore everything about Anne Lamott! Great reminder and it’s such a simple thing. I think of you two often, especially as “the boys of summer” begin their season. The connections I made at the PO were some of the most meaningful in my life. Thanks so much for checking in. Love to you both♡
Oregon poet William Stafford was once asked how he dealt with writer’s block. “I lower my standards” was his reply.
Oh, I really, really love that. I’m a bit of a quote junkie and this one is perfect. I forget that my journal writing isn’t seen by others and I can just “let ‘er rip”.
This Sunday I’ll be facilitating a group of parents of school-age children who come together simply to talk about their lives in this moment. My not-original “prompt” (or maybe the wrap-up): What is saving your life today?
A twist on Gretchen’s writing what’s out the window: Fix on something you see and have a conversation with it in writing. “Leaf, how are you feeling about spring?” “Leaf, I see a bit of brown on your edge. What do you think about that?”
What is saving your life today? I really love this one. I think I could use it every day to find some gratitude. Thank you for that.
Open a blank page and start with “I just can’t…” fill in that blank. Start the next entry with “I just can’t” and fill in that blank. etc etc. Fill a page, a paragraph or a whole journal, until no other “I can’t’s” show up. Or “I dont understand why…” and fill all those not understanding sentences in. Once some of that negative juice leaks out, try “I can’t wait until” and fill in a page or a paragraph, starting every sentence with that mantra. One sentence each, quick and clean, or quick and dirty. Let your freak flag fly! Sometimes, this is the kind of journal you BURN when you are done…* With love and gratitude…*
These are great ideas. “Let your freak flag fly” … who doesn’t love permission to do that? Thanks for sharing these. I know you are a prolific journal writer so I’m guessing you’ve hit a few walls of your own*
Oh, I think you did the perfect thing: wrote about not being able to write. I think I learned that from The Artists’ Way (a million years ago when it was the popular book to be into). Or just write a single word over and over “nothing, nothing, nothing,” or whatever you have to do to keep your pen making marks. Even though nothing that you perceive is “valuable” is being written, the practice of writing – as you know – is good for your brain. Keep up the habit, even if the magic is gone. Hugs and love to you. It’s a hard time for you and it totally makes sense that you’re floundering. It’s ok. You’ll come through just fine on the other side. But who knows how long that will take. You are strong enough to get there.
Thanks, Crystal. I’m making a list of these ideas and will try every one. I can ordinarily pour myself quite unceremoniously out onto the page but I feel so stuck. Thanks for being here.
I suggest you start with just looking out the window and write what you see. Keep the pen moving, no judgement. Or look at one of your photographs and write whatever comes to mind. Keep the pen moving, no judgement.
That may be the hardest prompt for me. It does get my mind wandering about longing and wishing I was somewhere else, but then I get thinking more than writing. And thinking is never, ever good for my writing.
So write where your mind wanders to. That’s the point. You may start writing about the forsythia and suddenly you’re writing about wishing you were at a lookout tower and then you’re writing about why you aren’t and then you’re writing a childhood memory. It’s not meditation where you try to block outside sounds or watch them go by and gently bring yourself back to the mat. Let the pen go wherever it goes.
Yes. Giving permission to a wandering pen. I like it! Could it really be so simple?
Sorry to hear of your frustration. Maybe just stop trying for a couple weeks. You have many writing friends so they will be able to pass on some good advice, or prompts, as you say. Whatever you do don’t ask Fran Lebowitz, LOL.
Haha … I love what she says about writer’s block. Fear of writing is a thing. But she’s also inclined to call herself “lazy” and it does feel like that sometimes. Three cheers to lounging! Thanks for writing!