Turning on the Faucet
Updated: Feb 13
Writing or painting or making music is unpredictable. Sometimes the words flow from your pen or the pencil seems to do the drawing for you. Sometimes, its like you woke up and lost all your powers. You struggle to get any semblance of flow and the paragraph staring back at you is embarrassing. What happened? How do you get it back? Were you just imagining your talent all along? Is it just luck?
No. It's not luck. Ok, I take that back, sometimes it does seem very much like luck or a muse at your shoulder or whatever it is you believe in. But it isn't always luck or even mostly luck. Mostly, it's hard work. And you are in complete control of that.
The truth is, the bad days are going to come. So, how do you get past them? You just keep working. You just slog through and get it done. Even if it's not best. You just write or paint or dance and keep doing it. You are encouraging the flow by keeping the channel open. It's like opening the faucets to keep get the air out and waiting for water. You force yourself to complete a scene, even when you hate it. You just keep going and eventually the air clears and the water flows and all that was good is back again. Unless it isn't.
Every once and a great while, for me it's every couple of years, its not air in the pipes, it's that the well has gone dry. You're mentally exhausted, emotionally drained, you've been taking a sledge hammer to the concrete of this story for two weeks and noting is breaking.This is when you need to stop. This is when you say -- two weeks-- no writing, I'm going to take a break. No writing coach worth their salt will tell you to do this. Why? Because not writing for two weeks goes against everything we are taught. It's an easy way out. It gives in to the voice inside our head that leads us to distraction. But I'm not encouraging you to stop working, I'm just telling you to work on something else. I'm telling you to dig the well deeper.
You need to gather resources. Think of it as going to the grocery store. You can't make beef bourguignon without beef or red wine or those little onions. You need to pull in experiences. You need material to draw from. Notice the world around you and do things you've never done before. Concentrate on that first sip of coffee. Narrate your way to the bus stop in your head. Hunt for lady slippers in the forest. Go to a hockey game. Ask yourself some questions. How does a woodpecker fly differently than a red-tailed hawk or a great blue heron? How does the light shifting from sunrise to sunset change the way things look? How would you describe the way gas smells to someone who has never smelled it before? What does smelling gas feel like in your nose, your throat, your head? Get your feet wet and your hands dirty. Live a different life, if only for an hour. Fill up on all those experiences and come back to the story. It might not be easy at first, but just keep going and you will get there.
No one can run on empty-- not even writers.