For the last 20 years, I have taught writing. Over this time, I have talked a lot about the writing process, a series of steps writers take to create a piece of writing in a manageable amount of time. It generally follows these steps: brainstorm, outline, draft, edit, and publish.
The writing process can help a person get from an idea to a completed essay, but it doesn’t take a writer through the day-to-day work of being a writer.
Writers do a lot more than follow a series of super-organized steps to polish an essay. We live our lives, we go to work, we find love, we appreciate the outdoors, we fall down, and we strive to achieve life goals. In between all of these life events, we write.
But what happens when life falls apart? What happens when we don’t feel like writing? How about when we have nothing to say? What about those days when the words aren’t coming to us, when we have the dreaded "writer's block"? What do we do then?
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I think there is a writer’s cycle that more closely mimics the reality of the writing life. It goes something like this:
First, you collect information. This includes reading, observing, and engaging with life.
Next, you practice. This includes attending classes, writing in a writer’s notebook, and doing practice prompts.
Finally, you write, edit, rewrite, and revise each piece until it is publishable.
In the years that I have worked with writers, I have heard many people disappointed at themselves for not writing all the time. I actually think not writing at times is OK. It's part of the greater process that writers go through.
We don’t always have something to say. We don’t always have something worthy of a story or an essay. But we do always have a place within the writer’s cycle, and we can engage wholeheartedly with another part of the process.
Reading hones our writing skills. It puts us in touch with professional writers, it gives us published pieces to evaluate and understand, and it connects us to literary works. Observing and engaging with life allows us opportunities to see situations from different viewpoints, think about how characters would react in different scenarios, and better connect our writing to how real people interact.
As writers, we improve through practice. Every time we take a class, we learn something new. Every time we drop an idea in our writers’ notebooks or write a practice prompt, we play with ideas without feeling obligated to complete a story for a publication.
Once we have collected and practiced, we write. And in those moments when we have something to say, on those days that the words are flowing and the story is laid out before us, we can collect our thoughts on paper. Those are the situations where we can write, edit, and revise until we produce quality writing that connects to other people, which speaks to our readers.
So, if today the words aren’t coming to you, read a book. If you don’t feel inspired to write, go out and observe the world. If you feel cooped up or bored or lonely, take a writing class and do some practice prompts. And when the words have built up in your creative bank, you will be ready to write.
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