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Bee Still My Writing — Why and How I’m Taking Time Off

Photo by AJC1

It’s been a hard year, writing-wise.

A book I love isn’t being loved back by anyone in publishing at the moment. This book took more of my time and of my soul to finish than I’d like to admit, but in the publishing world, that’s never a guarantee of success.

Another book that I’m revising has gotten ideas from witnessing the first book’s failure. This second book stomps its feet and sticks out its tongue as if it’s a sullen child. “I won’t!  I won’t do what you say!” it tells me every time I try to prod it into shape. “Why should I?”

Why indeed?

Add to the pile the dark clouds and political uncertainty looming over my country, and it’s very hard to rustle up my writing mojo. But if writing is optional, if no one is waiting for a story, does that story exist? And even if it does, is it worth telling?

I don’t know the answer to that at the moment, despite the fiercely insistent voice inside my head that demands I take the question back, that says that story is all that really matters, no matter what form it takes. This blog post is story. The narrative my children share when I pick them up in the car is story. The evening news, the morning headlines, the history books being written — all story.

What I do know is that my brain is tired.  It does not want to make the story, or fix the story, or somedays even be a part of the story.  It wants rest and cuddles and time in bed and hot tea. On weekends and holidays it wants champagne and maybe a chance to go ice skating before anyone notices it has snuck out of the house. It does not want to write.

I could make it (me) write. I’ve done it before. As a reporter and then as a freelancer, I’ve spent plenty of time writing when I didn’t particularly feel like it.  A deadline, my editor once said, is the best possible cure for writer’s block.  Although I don’t have a deadline for this fiction book, I could pretend, could make myself sit in the chair until the allotted number of words or pages has been met.

But I find I’m treating this situation more like a running injury. I’ve hurt myself in the past and oftentimes just decided to “gut it out” — to run injured, thinking the movement would loosen up the muscles, make it easier to continue. Sometimes it worked.

And sometimes, it made everything worse.

So I’m trying a new approach. A kind of writing physical therapy, if you will, a way to build up those muscles without actually using them for writing. My prescription includes:

More reading for pleasure. I want to reread some of the classics that always inspire me, as well as check out new books friends have recommended. I want to remind my brain what if feels like to appreciate a finely-honed sentence for its own sake.

More time spent in nature, less time on social media. To fight burnout, my brain cells need to bathe in green spaces and sunshine. (Being from New England, right now that translates into snow and cold, but the general idea still applies.) Peace and quiet, not the shrillness of the online world, are required.

A new way of looking at the world. Words aren’t the only way to tell a story. I’ve decided to sign up for an online drawing class this year. I’ve always wanted to be able to sketch — and if sketching is too ambitious, I’ll settle for being able to doodle.  But I want to be able to capture scenes and emotions without necessarily having to write them down. I’m hoping that growing my skill in this area may translate to more fluency in my writing, too, that it will give me different tools to express myself, perhaps even help me to see more clearly what I want to say.

And while I’m eschewing most forms of social media, I’m finding myself intrigued by Instagram and Pinterest and the often wordless stories that are told there. I find myself looking for vignettes to capture and share during the course of my day, which is helping me to slow down, appreciate the physical world, and get out of my head a bit.

New skills. I want to stretch my brain and make it grow, give it food to chew on that it’s never tried before.  So I’m signing up for a class in something I’ve always wanted to learn about — bee keeping. I’m thinking it will be the perfect mix of reading and hands-on work, and with luck I’ll come out of it with a new vocabulary, new skills, and possibly even some honey.  How can it not “bee” successful? (Plus, just look at the opportunity for puns!)

With luck, time, and patience, I’m hoping my writing mojo will return without being forced.

Now it’s your turn — how do you feel about your writing these days? If you’ve lost your way, what strategies are you using to bring yourself back?

About Liz Michalski [2]

Liz Michalski's (she/her) first novel, Evenfall, was published by Berkley Books (Penguin). Liz has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. These days she's downsized to one husband, two children and a medium-sized mutt.