Waiting for the words

You may have noticed that I got off schedule in my blogging. I’ve been de-stressing. I decided to quit the numbers game … I’m not watching my blog stats or Twitter follower counts. If any of you leave comments, I’ll know you’re still reading … and if you don’t, I’ll still assume you’re reading, but have nothing to say. I had forgotten how “de-stressful” cello music can be until Lydia Sharp shared this video on her blog yesterday. So I’m sharing Cello Suite No 1, “Prelude” by J.S. Bach with you and suggest you let it play while you read this post.

Part of my stress was caused by worrying about not writing. I have two novels, two poems, and one short story started, but the flow of words had stopped on all of them. Some of you regularly write from prompts. Christi Craig usually sets aside Wednesdays on her blog to share her results of this method. But for the most part, using prompts has not worked for me. I try. I read one prompt and get nothing, then I go to another site and read that prompt, but still nothing comes to me. I can force myself to write something, but my heart isn’t in it. So what works for me?

Most (all?) of us in the U.S. observe daylight savings time, so on Sunday we rolled our clocks back one hour, and when I woke up at my usual time on yesterday morning, it was still dark outside. A short time later, I stepped out on the back patio just as the sky began to lighten over the mountains. The scent of damp earth wafted up and brought with it a memory of waking in my grandparents’ house.

Then, my writer’s mind began to play with that memory. I was not a little girl; I was a woman. But that woman was not me; she was a woman who had fled something. This house was not her house, yet it wasn’t the house of strangers either. And so it went.

As soon as I could, I sat down at the keyboard and began to write. I worked in spurts, writing until I didn’t know what was coming next and then doing laundry, or vacuuming, or reading while I waited for more to be revealed. By the end of the day, I had written 2600 words. It seems a complete story. Maybe the best I’ve written.

I think, for me, it’s best not to force the writing. That’s not to say I do nothing while I wait for new inspiration. There’s always something to edit, or story ideas to jot down, or blog posts to write. But creatively, my mind balks at being forced. If writing prompts work for you, use them. If they don’t, look—and listen—for inspiration elsewhere. And wait … it will come.

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37 thoughts on “Waiting for the words

  1. Boy did I need this today. Thank you!
    The music is lovely.
    I, like you, have trouble writing from prompts. The results seemed forced and never very good. I always thought that meant there was something wrong with my creativity or imagination. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one that has trouble with this.
    We had to set our clocks back too and the sunrises have been beautiful this week.
    Have a relaxed day. 🙂


    1. Thank you, Dayner. I though the same thing, that I must not be a good writer, if I couldn’t come up with something good on prompting. But then, part of my de-stressing is to stop comparing myself to other writers.

      I love watching sunrises, they’re so full of promise.


  2. I’ve tried to write from prompts, but most of the time what it produces is pure poop.

    Generally when I start a new project it’s because I’ve been inspired by something. This raw inspiration does indeed produce my best writing. Now, I’m not saying that going back and doing a little rethinking and planning later doesn’t help polish the piece.

    But as they say, you can’t polish poop. There has to be a little brilliance hidden in there somewhere. I just don’t seem to get many stokes of brilliance from prompts.

    Your day sounds lovely to me and in my eyes a writer’s dream. The music is beautiful. Thank you for this little piece of heaven today.


  3. I am someone who can not force creativity. If something doesn’t come, it just doesn’t. If I can’t find the right words to express some great idea, I let it go for the time being. Although an idea might be brilliant if the story doesn’t want to be written there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it. I may not like it but that’s the way it is. I try not to worry about it.

    Now that my novel is out there, it seems as though the pressure is on to produce another. But I need to shake that thought and write what needs to be written, not the story that I think I should write.

    I’ve never used a writing prompt but I’m almost certain it wouldn’t work for me. I’m beginning to see that I really do need to be inspired to write.


    1. I’m so relieved to hear you all saying this. I will stand proudly among those writers who don’t use prompts. And wait patiently for more words to come.


  4. Let me join the throng of non-prompt writers.

    I have been trying to get my butt in the chair to write a set number of words every day, and I find that more useful. But it means I have a rather substantial pile of reeeaaaallly uninspired and uninspiring writing.

    When I can write and pull something from real life that takes my breath away and/or leaves me panting — then the writing has more life to it and is worth something (I think).


    1. That’s why I don’t even try NaNoWriMo. I know I wouldn’t use 90% of it and yet I would have wasted a whole month on it. Why purposely write garbage?

      I need inspiration to write. I’m just fortunate that I’m inspired often enough that I don’t really ever have writer’s block. And yes, when you write from the heart, and not just the mind, the result shines.


      1. I apologize if it seems I meant all NaNoWriMo participants end up with garbage writing. I meant only that I would because that’s just so foreign to my method of writing


        1. Well, I have LOTS of NaNoWriMo garbage — but because I forced myself to write and NOT EDIT SIMULTANEOUSLY (this is veryveryvery difficult for me and a great gift of NaNo for me) I also ended up with a small pile of salvageable stuff (I hope). But I know what you mean.


          1. Writing without editing is one of those “rules” I dismissed immediately (sorry, Anne Lamott, the S.F.D. doesn’t work for me.) I can’t move on to the next line, even, until I feel the first is fairly solid. That doesn’t mean I don’t often revise that line later, but it has to be “pretty good” the first time or I can’t focus on writing the next lines. Editing rounds are difficult enough; I truly don’t think I could face the “first” one if I knew I had tons of junk to clean up.


  5. Linda,

    You know I love writing prompts (most days, anyway). But, while I may be able to punch out a decent quick write, my problem lies in tying a whole novel together.

    We each have our strengths, weaknesses, and catalysts for inspiration. The key is to recognize them and, like you said, not compare ourselves with others.

    I love your description of how one smell revived a memory and sparked a story.


  6. Yay! No forcing. Just “stay open for business” as Gordon Lish said. Some of my best writing has come after I “got out of the way”–and took a shower or got in the car to run an errand. I just love writing.


    1. I like that quote, Cynthia. Jennifer gave me the idea I should write “Patience” all over my writing space. Maybe I should add “Get out of the way!” too.


    1. Everything. At the moment, I’m thinking the problem is that I can keep an entire short story (especially a short short story) in my head as I write; although, I can keep only a few scenes of a novel in mind, and those scenes aren’t always beside or directly related to one another. So, for a novel, I leave out important details that tie scenes together and then become frustrated with my incompetence.

      I prefer novels. It’s just that plotting is one of my weaknesses, and that becomes more evident the longer the story is.


      1. Ann, I second your comment here. I want the story to play out in one long typing marathon. Writing a novel takes a lot more patience. Though I am making progress (I hope you are, too).


      2. I, too, write scenes out of order and then have to connect them, but though I don’t start with an outline, I do have a general idea where the story is going. Of course, often the story veers off in a different direction than I planned, but that’s great. So, I plot, but not religiously. After you write your scenes, you might want to try jotting them on index cards so you can move them around, if needed, and see what details you have or need to write toward? I felt overwhelmed about halfway through my last novel and this technique helped me sort things out.l


  7. Great post, Linda.

    Sounds like your story is fantastic – I love it when that flow happens.

    Once in a while I look at prompts on line. If something comes it does, if not not. I never force it. I cannot. I am completely with you that creativity cannot be forced. The editing can, but not the creation.


    1. Well, I think my story is a good one (don’t know if it warrants fantastic.) What others think is yet to be seen. 🙂 But I do love it when a story comes easy like that.

      You know, for a long time I’ve felt quilty for not doing everything suggested in writing manuals, but I’m going to forgive myself now. What works for one writer doesn’t necessarily work for all. I’m going to quit confusing suggestions with “laws.” 🙂


        1. I think this is one of the things you learn with experience, isn’t it? At first you try to follow all the rules, but eventually you start asking why. When you don’t have an answer that makes sense, you have to pass on that one.

          On your first comment, I noticed your typo in Christi’s name. Almost every time I type her name I have to go back and add the “i”! 😀


  8. I echo Christ’s comment – We each have our strengths, weaknesses, and catalysts for inspiration.

    I’m glad your story flowed so easily from your inspiration!


  9. I saw your name on a friend’s blog, and I’m so glad I stopped by your site! I just love this post about the magical process of inspiration – so perfect that it happened at sunrise.

    Prompts don’t work for me either, by the way. I always try them for the Writer’s Digest contests & nothing. I much prefer the inception that you wrote about.


    1. I’ve seen your name in blog comments too, and I’ll keep my eye out for where. Thanks for stopping by.

      You know, your comment made me think about how often I am inspired by the sunrise. I should make a point to catch as many as possible.


  10. I completely agree. It’s when I’m doing the dishes, or driving, or vacuuming that my mind usually solves the problems that hours at the computer can’t push through. And I love nature as well. It’s nice to de-stress.


  11. Linda — Your ‘clearing your inner garage’ comment on my blog yesterday was met with claps and cheers from the peanut gallery!

    What a great image you gave us! Thank you! (And I still can’t figure out why your gravatar doesn’t show up on my site. 😦


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