You just aren’t feeling it. You haven’t been feeling it for a while. The desire to make something, to put words on a page, what used to have you springing out of bed in the morning and into the imaginary lives of people you’ve never met left a long time ago.
Or perhaps you still remain diligent, sitting down every day to try, but nothing comes out. You set yourself on deadlines, to page minimums, to word minimums, to morning pages, to If You Just Wrote Every Day For Ten Minutes to FIVE GOOD IDEAS and still: nothing.
The more I write, the more I realize that sometimes, and perhaps often, there is going to be nothing.
It’s foreign, at first, to not be working on something. When the bills were paid, and the day job was done, and the kitchen was cleaned, there was always the next moment of dialogue, the revision, the next thing until now.
What are you working on? And the answer is truthfully: nothing. Maybe you know the feeling that comes next: I Have Nothing Left Right Now! But nothing is still something. Nothing is an absence.
I think writers spend so much time tormenting ourselves about the writing that we forget that for many of us, it’s going to happen no matter what. Writing is cellular. Natural. If a dancer puts away their worn in ballet shoes and puts them back on again one day the body may be stiff, but the form is never forgotten.
If we were alive before written words existed we would have found a way to tell stories anyway, just like our ancients did. You would have been the one drawing in the sand or painting on the walls of the cave. Being a writer never had to do only with the output and for the love of god can we stop with the self-imposed word limits per day if they start to make us miserable?
This advice, I suppose, is to myself more than anyone on how to continue when you are in a state of absence: pick what you like from the world around you and repeat until the absence no longer exists. Do this for as long as it takes. Pick old Western movies and bestselling romance novels, pick wildflowers that spill over onto the sidewalks on the streets. Pick only what delights you until you find the way back to the words again. Even absence can be rich, and it is calling to you.