When I first started writing, it was at a difficult time in my life and I had a burst of inspiration that appeared to be unearthed amidst the turmoil. As I committed more deeply to writing, I found that the inspiration appeared to evaporate and the first few times that happened, I panicked. I felt like I’d lost whatever it was that gave me such joy and I was approaching an end to my dream of being a writer. Over the years, I’ve found this has happened on a frequent but entirely unpredictable basis and one thing I’ve learned is not to panic and trust that the inspiration will return.
A lot of writing advice, correctly, centres on the need for hard work as a writer and how you must write even on days when you don’t feel particularly inspired or even when the work you’re doing isn’t turning out well. I understand the value of that and certainly I agree that perseverance can pay off on that score. When I was completing my MA, I couldn’t negotiate assignment deadlines around a capricious (and let’s face it, fictional) muse so I did have to keep working to a certain extent, but I must admit I never kept myself to a schedule or particular pattern of working which required a set number of hours or words, per day or per week. For some writers, this approach works but it’s worth acknowledging that writing advice is pretty much like relationship advice – all the theory sounds correct but it’s never the same when you’re experiencing it personally.
When I find myself without the urge to write, the first thing I do is remember not to panic, which only makes me feel worse and therefore less likely to write anything of merit. I remind myself of all the times this has happened before and I have come through it. Then I set about doing anything to fill up my mind in a way that might cause inspiration to come flooding back. At the moment, I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for the pure joyous beauty of the storytelling and Charles Simic’s book of poetry The Lunatic to help me keep looking at language in a way that is fresh. As I get used to a long commute, I’m also listening to an audiobook of David Copperfield to remind me of the way words conjure worlds. In doing all of these things, I am still a writer and I don’t see this as time away from what I do, it’s just time to refill the well of inspiration.
All writing advice should be taken with a grain of salt because each writer is on a personal journey akin to a love affair, it’s never the same as the theory or the experience of the next guy. Continuing to write despite how you feel might work for you and in that case, keep doing it. On the other hand, if you need a break, don’t think of it as failure. You might find inspiration from being outdoors, or from switching off your brain for a while and watching something comforting on TV, decluttering your home or going for a run. The important thing to remember is that you’re still a writer when you do these things and at some point, you’re going to get back to the blank page.