As I sit down to write this post, my belly full of grapes and my hair still not yet dry from my morning shower, I consider my options. I could write about the current political climate, my recent realization that I’ was complicit as a child in my church’s conservative beliefs, my theory that Trumpism is a cult of sorts, why I need more sleep, or on my recent interest in solar-punk art. However, nothing strikes me.
This is a conundrum we writers face often. We don’t know what to write. Our ideas have gone stale, like day-old French bread. But our ideas aren’t crouton material. We strive consistently to have new, innovative stories that speak in a new way, but sometimes our ideas turn out to be laundry that’s in the washer on repeat—and we can’t get that damned spot out.
Forcing creativity is not always a travesty. Working inside certain parameters can give you the opportunity to look at things in ways you wouldn’t normally. Experimenting with different styles and genres helps us discover how we can mend our writing voice.
Lately, I’ve found myself unable to write anything creatively on my own. I discovered why when I submitted my ideas for my giant, final college project that would bring together all the years of studying. It was a project that I’d independently been working on for years, but that had, as of quarantine, abruptly halted. I was out of ideas.
The gatekeeper for the projects approved mine and gave me more guidelines for my next submission. I found myself copy-pasting the instructions into a fresh word document and frantically typing away at the categories he’d requested more information on, without a second thought. This didn’t have to be submitted any time soon, but yet I still wrote most of it the second after I got the approval.
This action startled me. Was I writing? It was even of my own volition—the due date was weeks away. I’d found some sort of motivation to write, and I was damned if I didn’t find some way to keep it up.
It seems my verdict was hell, since, after that momentary burst of writing, my hands again fell silent. I wrote out assignments and emails for classes and my internship just fine, but my creative energy for my own work had stalled.
This piece of writing itself is an assignment of sorts, one I've given myself. I told myself I needed more content, which you’d think I’d have an easier time with. You’d be surprised. The options I listed above are perfectly acceptable topics for a commentary, an opinion piece with a sprinkling of insightful observation, but none stuck. I researched some cult information. I dismissed the church idea since it was one I’d already delved into, and I didn’t feel like exploring an already-stretched-out topic such as young adults and their lack of sleep.
My hesitation in choosing a topic is a prime example of the creative burnout inherent with the writerly trade. We hit a brick wall that we aren’t sure how to get past, and it sometimes takes an unexpected shove to get us back. Sometimes we develop intricate ways to ignore the wall a little longer, which is exactly what I’ve done with this commentary.
Sometimes, writing your way around the problem is an easy way to get words onto the page. It’s also possible that burnout has set in, and you need to binge a few episodes (or seasons) of your favorite show to recoup. Maybe your brain pulled a few muscles in your attempts to bench press creative ideas, and it needs to rest. Maybe you need a fresh set of eyes on the project to see things you might have missed.
Whichever the method you choose, always get enough sleep. Your brain cannot function if your body is stumbling through the day with a cartoon spiral floating above your tired head.