In the past I might have gotten depressed over a lull in my work, but I’ve come to understand that these quiet moments (a more gentle and accurate term than lazy or uninspired) can be as essential to the writing process as those “butt in the chair” days.
Sometimes lulls are due to outside demands—after all, none of us are writers only and occasionally other responsibilities can, and should, take priority. At other times lulls are self-imposed, a clearing out of the system. Recently I had a student who threw herself into the creation of a character, entering that beautiful, agonizing manic state where she could not stop thinking about, and as, her character. When she finished her story, she felt she should get started on the next one, but thinking about other characters felt like a betrayal. She needed to take time off in order to say good-bye, reset, and begin again.
My current lull hasn’t been entirely circumstantial, nor entirely by choice. After spending five feverish months working on the first draft of a novel, I sent it off to my group of trusted readers with the intention of using the weeks before meeting with them on revising short stories. But we meet tonight, and those story files have remained closed. Unlike my student, I didn’t feel like I was betraying anyone. Inspiration just never struck—maybe I could have forced it, but I didn’t feel inclined to try. Instead I used the hours I usually spend writing in the park, reading a book that had been in my to-be-read pile for far too long and taking occasional breaks to watch the people sitting near me, the others rushing past. Another morning I wandered around one of my favorite parts of the city and bought the season’s first strawberries at the farmers market (those berries made me so happy, I texted my husband immediately and used more than my allotted exclamation points). One afternoon I walked through an area I’d never explored before, even though it runs right into my neighborhood, and reveled in its gritty beauty. I left my cellphone at home and paid no attention to the time. As I walked, I found myself taking deep breaths; I went way beyond the point where I thought I would turn back.
A lull doesn’t have to be a source of frustration or guilt; it isn’t a void, whether it lasts days, weeks, months, or even years. What it means is you’ve take a moment to step outside your own head and live your life. For writers, imagination is our greatest resource; we are compelled by the worlds we create and that’s why we struggle so to capture them in words. But every now and again, it can be helpful to step away from the computer screen, close the notebook, get your butt out of the chair, and look around, to let your imagination reset, open, and begin again.
My yoga teacher encourages us to observe the space between our breaths. It takes a conscious effort to notice and appreciate something so unconscious. But that space is there—that stillness, as essential as the inhale and the exhale, holding us and letting us go on living.
You can learn more about Courtney at her website: www.courtneymauk.com