When the well runs dry

October 30, 2018

If our imaginations 

are like a well, what happens when it runs dry?


On Twitter there have been a bunch of writers who've sought help on this topic and as someone who's experienced the problem, I thought I'd write about my solution.


I believe our ideas come from a wellspring sourced by the clarity of what we want our book to be. Such clarity doesn't appear suddenly and authors have different methods to achieve it. Some will plan and carefully construct that clarity, others will explore until they find it. We often call them the Planners and Pantsers. Either way, we assemble the ideas and knit them together. (He said, mixing metaphors!)


The writers I mentioned on Twitter all bemoaned the same issue - getting stuck for ideas. Or the next stage on - beginning to wonder if the lack of ideas was down to there being a problem with the story itself. Some people might call this Writer's Block, the point where ideas won't bubble up to the surface and we are forced to plumb so deep that we're not certain about the quality of those ideas. (OK, metaphor back on track!)


When you're very thirsty you're tempted to drink anything, the same is true for the ideas you end up using because they're all you've got. This is the point to start searching for another well! 


I've had a story I've wanted to write for a couple of years. I got stuck with it about eighteen months ago and left it alone. I came back to it six months ago and reworked the stuff I'd already written and it felt OK. I reached a point where the story needed to launch into new territory and immediately, the same problem occurred. The well dried up. 


I've put the story away again. One thing struck me as I struggled to find where I should be going with it. This is the crucial bit. I wasn't enjoying writing the story. It was a burden, I found myself spending too much time on social media rather than writing because I couldn't face the task.


That was the point where I realised if I wasn't enjoying the process something fundamentally was wrong. I didn't know what it was (I still don't) but I'm someone who believes in trusting to your instincts. My brain had been telling me something and I'd been studiously ignoring it. As a result, that wellspring of ideas had dried up because it was my brain saying, "Stop what you're doing, you idiot!"


I'm now working on a new project and my enjoyment and satisfaction levels have jumped back up to normal again, I've been reminded why I love writing. I've also realised just how unhappy and frustrated I'd been. I admit, after working on that project for so long, committing time and effort to it, abandoning it takes courage. But that's part of the writing process.


Finally, one more tip, given to me by my fellow writer and someone I respect enormously (I can't tell you how much!!), Sarah Linley. She told me to diagnose what factors had helped me reach the levels of satisfaction I'd achieved in The Knights' Trilogy. It is such a helpful exercise and I recommend it to anyone in this situation. Identify what works best, why you get that buzz, that surge of adrenalin. That commitment to the world you've created, the characters you've birthed. Find out precisely what success means to you so that you can emulate it - in a different interpretation obviously - in your next project. And the one after that.


So, if the well runs dry. Give up trying to haul up buckets of muddy water you're never going to use! Be brave, go find a different source of water! You never know, it might not be a well - it could be a reservoir!

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