Writing slumps can happen for any number of reasons. Maybe you’re down in the dumps, or maybe life’s just been throwing so much at you that it’s more important to bask in the glow of it (or process it) than even try to write it down. Being newly married, I’m not going to be too hard on myself for letting my writing sit by the wayside for a while. But as I sort the pieces of my new life and enjoy the process, I see that writing has a place here.
Through grade school and beyond I was a letter writer, often on the lookout for pen-pals to send my streams of inexhaustible thoughts. I was also a happy reader, allowed by homeschooling to explore my interests to my heart’s desire through the interlibrary loan system. College dimmed both of these healthy habits, surrounding me constantly with people so I had no need to write letters for social interaction, and requiring reading that was far from interesting or fun.
I fell out of my habit of digesting and creating words and I’m still working to undo what college did there. And slowly, I’m beginning to see that the missing ingredient is enthusiasm. Unquashed enthusiasm drives thirst for knowledge and the desire to share what one’s found with others. It also makes one want to get up in the morning! What’s the trick for finding your old enthusiasm when it’s been lost for years under bills and piles of assignments and responsibilities?
Just watch yourself. I’ll bet there are still some things that get you fired up.
Pay attention to what takes you out of your everyday going-about-your-business self and throws you for a loop of surprise, or joy, or even anger. Notice what gets you riled up, for good or for bad, and start writing about it!
I don’t know how many stressed and caffeine-pumped college students have lived within these walls, on the third story overlooking the development and the river, but for these four months, they’re mine.
Encased in brick, howling when the winds weave themselves through the cracks and gaps and under the door. In through the windowpanes. Seeping into the vents. There’s no shortage of fresh air in this old apartment building. Surprisingly, the door to the balcony remains on its hinges and the screens are still in the windows.
The matted tan carpet speaks of ages of feet pounding down little tufts of once-soft raggedy yarn. A sloppy paint job tries to freshen up old drywall. Bugs keep me company. Stinkbugs. House centipedes. House flies, only a couple of those.
When the wind is still, the laundry machines aren’t shrieking in their nest down the hall (as they are now – with my laundry), the neighbors aren’t laughing or screaming or vacuuming, and no planes are roaring by in the sky… it’s silent here.
So I turn on the bathroom fan and listen to it whir in the background.
Through the night. And the day. Sometimes I play music to fill the silence. But eventually music loses its touch.
These walls held me when no one else could. They were the place I came home to. The place I wanted to be.
Remember starting a class or even a whole college career deeply excited about your area of interest? Some kids know where they want to go in life and what makes them tick before they even step into a post-secondary classroom. They’re ready to wrestle knowledge into submission and give their all to their chosen subject. Then, invariably, structured education gets in their way.
I started college knowing what I wanted to do. “Video and writing,” I told my advisor, every semester. I finished college with an increased appreciation for how much I disliked all the things I never got into because—surprise surprise—I really wasn’t interested in them. Undergraduate college is designed to give students a “broad educational foundation,” which it does. But by the time they begin college, a good number of students are mature enough to specialize.
“Education is about readiness for life, or to put it differently, education is about knowing what you need to know to live how you want to live.” – Joshua Spell
Real education is revelation. It’s uplifting, enchanting, fulfilling. It’s not a list of assignments, not motivated by a desire to please, not a burden. Real education is driven by curiosity. In the long term, self-driven education is the only kind there is.
As an undergraduate, I commuted to college and was able to maintain some distance between work and home. Now that I live on campus, these two worlds are increasingly intertwined. Emails flow in at all hours on a multitude of projects. Peers must be communicated with or progress stalls. Some people really never turn their phone off. They allow themselves to be interrupted constantly from whatever it is they’re doing, thinking, even saying. This kills writing.
To write, one must be solitary. Alone with a pen and a story, and alone with nothing to do but wonder about your characters and think of the tales you have to tell. Social media and other phone-based gadgets have become space-fillers. Once upon a time (15 years ago), people had blank space in their lives. Waiting in line. Riding a bus. Watching a pot that won’t boil. Those blank spaces are when the mind gets back in touch with itself, and starts wandering through stories. They’re important for writing.
Writers shouldn’t be alone all the time or even most of the time, but they need to have time to process ideas. If you don’t have it, make it. Take a moment to unhook and unwind, and consider what’s important to you. Then, write about it!
College has a way of messing with your writing life. Classes and encounters with people of differing opinions give writers a rich palette to draw from, while homework encroaching on all sides makes it difficult to sit down and put words on the page of a non-required document.
Writers need to be up and about, among people, interacting with the world. But to really be too busy is death to a writer. Too much stimulus and no time to process results in many good ideas that are never allowed to develop into stories. There’s a balance somewhere between being a hermit who writes all day every day (could anyone manage that without going insane?) and being so busy all the time that to write is to choose to let something important fall by the wayside.
We all have time for what we really want to do. Make writing a part of your day, and let something else go, if it’s that important to you. If it’s not, get out there and enjoy life! Maybe a memoir is more up your alley.
I once read that the terror of stage fright doesn’t go away with practice. You just get very comfortable with being terrified. Butterflies, sweaty palms, all of it. Practice makes you able to function despite fear.
Loneliness is like that.
Move away for the first time and live alone. Wake up alone. Go to sleep alone. Experience chronic loneliness like never before. And you do get used to it. Eventually you don’t notice it so much. You function despite it. Until, one day, you find your way home, and that’s when you realize how you’ve been aching all along.
Lonely becomes normal. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle