The Drought


By Ramona Flightner/ @ramonaflightner

In Massachusetts there is concern about a drought. As a Montanan, who thinks a tropical year consists of 13 inches of any type of wetness, I find this slightly amusing. The past five years I have lived here we have received at least 40 inches or more of moisture, often in the form of way too much snow. However, this winter was mild, and to me enjoyable, with no snow and now we are in danger of a drought.

When I think of my own personal drought, it has nothing to do with the amount of rainfall. For me it is how much I am writing. I wax and wane between rich periods of tremendous productivity and then extreme nothingness as though I never knew how to write. It’s as though I were in the Sahara, dreaming of an oasis. Though for me, the oasis would be how to put two sentences together.

However, I have found that these periods of seemingly artistic barrenness are actually times of great personal growth and enjoyment. I don’t feel guilty about spending time with my friends or going out to dinner. My muse isn’t constantly whispering in my ear and I am completely in the moment with my friends and family. It also affords me time to do research and to fill in the blanks about the time period I write about.

During this time when I am not freely writing, I catch up on the books that I have set aside for later. I watch movies without constantly trying to piece together a scene. I don’t wake up at 4 am with dialogue that must be written down flitting through my brain. It is, in fact, a time of great peace.

However, during my periods of drought, I also live with a nagging fear. Will I ever really want to write again? I begin to wonder if I should follow the advice of published authors who suggest writing so much every day, no matter what.  Waiting for the “why didn’t I think of that before?” moment when the story begins to flow again and writing seems effortless can be hard. Yet I have learned that not to wait for that moment is to write material that will only end up in the recycling bin. For me, I would rather wax and wane and respect my writing process than force myself to write. For the writers out there, how do you cope with times when you are unable to write?

  • For me, writing comes in waves. When my characters ‘speak’ to me, I’ll spend days imagining the scene/dialogue replaying in my head like a DVD on repeat. When it feels right, I write it down. That usually last about a good two weeks. It doesn’t matter which ms I’m working on at the time, though. I am editing my second book, while outlining my third. Yet, characters from the forth book have been popping up in my head to take over. I let go, let the characters speak, and put it down on paper, then put it away and focus on the book that’s most important. Very rarely do I have down time when my brain is at creative rest. Write work on my ms everyday? I tried before, and as you said, it usually ends up being re-written, a waist of time. One thing I have started doing though is instead of working on my ms during days I’m not feeling creative, and the characters are quiet, I’ll write other stuff, like my next blog post…something totally different, yet keeps my ‘writing chops’ sharp.

    • Hi M.J.- I agree, working on other projects when my muse is silent is a great way to continue writing. Thanks for visiting.

  • Very good thoughts and I think you speak for so many writers. As I get ready to publish my first novel, my second novel is stuck in the muck–just can’t think of what to do next. The best possible option is to be still and wait for ideas to come (and they will). I’m glad to know that I’m not alone with this word drought.

  • I write journals a few minutes before breakfast. One word leads to the next.

    • Hi Michael! I agree- journaling is a great way to start writing.

  • I relate to so much of what you wrote. . . sometimes a little distance from waking at 4am with a thunderbolt of creativety or disecting movies and books is a welcome relief.
    During those drought times, I try to remember the great writing advice of Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott that it is more about being empty than being blocked. So I do “artists dates” to fill myself up and recharge.

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