Lately, I’ve been having a problem with my writing. I hesitate to call it writer’s block, but even this blog post took far longer than it should have for its relatively short length. It’s not coming up with ideas that’s the problem; it’s growing those ideas into fully realized stories.
Ursula K. Le Guin has talked in a number of interviews about the concept of “composting” a story idea: letting it sit in your head and decompose or transform into something different. Sometimes you have to wait for the story to be ready to be written, and there’s no amount of pushing or pressure that will speed the process. Author Patrick Ness has also talked about letting one idea sit in your head instead of writing it right away so it can attract other thoughts that strengthen the original idea.
I have a small collection of post-it notes on my desk that have a sentence or a few words of story ideas. I have a handful of Word documents with stories in various stages of development. Yet these all refuse to become complete stories at the moment. The levelheaded writer in me knows I need to give them more time to compost and/or attract other thoughts. But I’m getting impatient. With all these ideas sitting around, I want one of them to take root already. I’d like to have more stories to submit to calls and contests, but at this point I’ll just take feeling productive.
I’ve had this kind of blockage or lull before—I don’t define it as writer’s block, although I suppose I’d be justified. For me, writer’s block is not just when I can’t write but also when I have no ideas. When my mind is just blank, that’s when I get worried. Right now I’m frustrated, but the fact that ideas are still coming at least lets me know my creativity remains active. I just need to be patient.
When I hit lulls like the one I’m in now, I have to remind myself that sometimes being a writer doesn’t involve the physical act of writing as much as it involves reading or brainstorming or outlining or editing. I’ve never bought into the general American belief that output (in this case, published stories) is directly related to productivity and/or quality. But sometimes fighting against that pervasive idea is tough. Funneling my creative energy into another type of project for a time doesn’t transform me from a writer into a slacker.
There are times to push through these blockages, but there are times when they aren’t blockages at all; I’m still learning to tell the difference. Sometimes the lull is a necessary part of the creative process, a time to go out and have experiences, read as much as possible, work on other projects or have interesting conversations—all of which may encourage a story seed to start growing.
But in the meantime, if someone invents some story-kickstarting creative fertilizer, please let me know.