I’ve always been a writer.
When I was little, I loved coloring in my Barbie fashion coloring book, creating a story in my head to tie all the seemingly unrelated pictures together. My toy cars all had personalities and names (before Pixar ever used the idea, thank you very much). I acted out stories in which I was a singer, or a missing princess, or a valiant warrior in front of the mirror when brushing my teeth. When I was seven, I wrote and illustrated my first book, The Caterpillar Family, about a family of caterpillars who went on a picnic and found an abandoned castle.
I have always been creating stories. I thought I always would.
So I was blindsided when my seemingly endless stream of creativity dried up, leaving me in a creative dry spell that lasted nearly three years.
After finishing my third novel the year I graduated high school, I told everyone I would continue writing with the goal of someday seeking publication. Despite that, my novel writing came to a dramatic, fizzling halt. Every new novel I started, I outlined the story and built the characters, only to quickly find that I was bored. For a while, fanfiction was the only thing I could write, and actually helped keep me from giving up writing entirely for those years.
I felt broken. Telling stories was my biggest passion in life, and I couldn’t do that anymore. Soon, even writing fanfiction became a struggle. I didn’t know what to do.
What do you do when the spring of creativity dries up?
Give everything back to God.
It sounds really cliché, doesn’t it? “Just give all your problems to God and everything will get magically better.” And while that isn’t quite (read: at all) how it works, giving my writing over to God was hugely instrumental in getting back on track. I told Him how terrified I was that I would never write again. I told Him how important telling stories was to me. And then I told Him I would write everything for Him if He would just help me write again.
Just like Abraham, I had to give Isaac to Him before I could get it back.
Something in my heart started to grow after that. Something that felt like freedom. I discovered how much I love folk and fairy tales. I discovered that retellings of those stories make me very happy.
And then I picked up yet another depressing, dark, “realistic” fairy tale retelling, and I discovered something: I hated that darkness. I hated that the endings were so often “there’s no hope in the world; the end.”
I wanted to change that. I wanted to share the hope I find in fairy tales with the world.
I had found my passion again.
Find your passion.
It goes back to the oft-quoted saying “Write what you want to read.” When I realized that what I wanted was a story like The Lord of the Rings, a story full of darkness and pain, but also radiant hope and light, I found my passion was telling that type of story. I also discovered my passion in general for folk and fairy stories from any and every culture, for telling and retelling them, sharing them with people, and discovering new old stories. Finding my passion regarding reading stories helped me to start writing them again.
Ask yourself what you get excited about. Is it a certain way of telling stories? Is there a common theme in your favorite stories that might be something you want to write about? What makes you upset? One of my biggest peeves is the perception that fairy tales are outdated moralistic stories written for kids. When people say things like that, I can’t stay quiet. Find what that is for you, and then write about it.
Let fear go.
Looking back, I realized that part of what caused my dry spell for so long was fear. The last novel I wrote before the dry spell, I hated by the end. I was afraid of that happening again. I was afraid of putting so much effort into a story only to find out by the end that I hated it. Learning to give that over to God, and to not hold so tightly onto my writing, released me from so much fear. It’s hard to write with your fists closed.
Acknowledge that you don’t know everything – and that’s okay.
For a while, I felt like I didn’t have anything new to learn about writing. I had already gone through OYAN twice and been to several summer workshops, so I thought I didn’t need to learn anymore. I was so wrong. There will ALWAYS be more to learn. There is no shame in that. There is never shame in continuing to grow. Keep asking questions. Keep seeking out new ways to write.
Try New Strategies
Just because something worked for you in the past doesn’t mean it will work for you forever.
And that is also okay.
I have a confession to make: I don’t outline my stories with the OYAN curriculum anymore. I’ve discovered that I am a seat of the pants writer – Outlining takes away the joy of discovery for me now. I haven’t always written this way. I used to write without an outline before OYAN, and it didn’t work. But now after outlining for years, it doesn’t work for me anymore. Try new ways of writing. Don’t say you can’t do something a certain way until you’ve tried it. Everyone is different. What works for someone else might not work for you. What worked for you two years ago might not work for you anymore. Don’t get so stuck in a certain way of writing that you aren’t open to trying new strategies.
Listen to Rafiki from The Lion King. Learn from the past, let it go, and move on. This goes back to my point on letting go of fear. I had to let go of the story I had written and hated before I could move forward.
Never stop reading.
I came up to Mr. S one workshop in tears,, and asked him if he had any advice on how to get out of the dry spell. He said to keep reading (something I wasn’t really doing at the time), to find books that were similar to what I wanted to write, and read them. I didn’t think that was very good advice (going back to the thought that I already knew everything – so wrong), so I didn’t for a while. And then once I did, I discovered that it was actually excellent advice. Once I discovered Howl’s Moving Castle I started reading ferociously again, and it started feeding and waking up my creativity.
Write outside your comfort zone. It could be as simple as writing in a different POV or tense than you’ve always written in, or it could be daring to write a main character who is vastly different from you. If you never try anything new, you’ll always be stuck.
Just sit down and WRITE.
Spending forever researching and learning how to be a better writer will never help you if you never try to put things into practice. Let yourself be imperfect. Let yourself write messily. It’s like Mr. S says in the curriculum, let your baby be born ugly, red-faced, kicking and screaming. Just let it be BORN. You can fix it later. You will always improve – unless you don’t write. Reading books on writing, going to conferences, and reading blog posts are all good, excellent ways to learn – but unless you actually sit your rear in the chair and put all that into practice, you’ll never actually improve. Let your head knowledge become heart knowledge, and just write. Messy, imperfect, badly, and then fix it.
Because it can always be fixed. It can always be rewritten. Writing is one of the freest art forms in that way. Unlike putting paint on a canvas – once it’s there, it’s there and you have to work with it – with writing it’s so easy to hit backspace or cut out something or add something new.
The fear of imperfection is crippling. Don’t let yourself be crippled.
And don’t forget to have fun.
Have you ever gone through a creative dry spell? What helped you to start writing again?
Hannah McManus is older than all of the Disney princesses (which still weirds her out) and has been writing since the age of nine. Since then, she has written five novels, a handful of short stories, and possibly too much fanfiction of both novel and short story variety. When she is not writing (and sometimes when she is supposed to be,) Hannah spends her time reading, cosplaying, cultivating her Pinterest empire, and searching her backyard for faeries. She blogs weekly at https://hannahmcmanus.wordpress.com.
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