Now that we have all this space and paper, what on earth do we begin to write about? This may be the easy part for you–you may have been wanting to write for quite some time, but lacked the impetus. Stories of your grandkids, poems about your travels, a blog about breakfast cereals. Perhaps the idea of writing for you feels like the right place to explore–a relationship, a trauma, an event from you past–a chance to sit with a current emotion you know you need to process, one you’ve talked to death without feeling healed. Still yet, you could be at a point in your writing where you are no longer sure you what you’re going to write about next, or what you need to work on, but through past writing experience and practice, you have come to understand that when you sit, the words will come. You have an unwavering trust in your muse and simply needed the act of clearing space and your head to get back into the flow.
But what if none of these are true? What if you have felt the pull, the need, the curiosity toward writing, and you’ve made the space–both mental and physical–but you have zero clue of what to write about?
What if I said that this thought, this “I don’t know what to write”, is exactly what you need to write about? Not knowing what to write about, when you write, feels like the biggest obstacle, the most massive writer’s block (a belief I don’t prescribe to), but in fact, it’s a terrific place to be, one many writers would like to be in at this moment? Getting quiet and going inside is the key. You heard that correctly. There’s a reason you’ve felt compelled to write, which is simply that whatever is ready to come out to the page is bubbling nearer the surface, but it’s still a bit hidden and needs a bit of digging and poking to work itself loose.
Over 30-plus years of active writing and ten more before that as a journaler, I have discovered that there are three ways to get words flowing, of priming the pump, so to speak:
- Write about what you know. This might seem too easy or not what you want to write about, but there are times that what you’re really aching to produce is too shy to just show up on the page. Write around it, write indirectly. What seeks to be seen will get tired of hiding and sneak out in bits through your pen so that it begins to take center stage.
- Write about what you don’t want to write about. This is a big reason why I’m a believer in Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, a sort of brain dump where you freely write three pages longhand every.single.morning as part of a practice, to get out the things that block the flow of creativity. When you give space and attention to those mundane things lurking in your brain, or the thoughts that have haunted you and don’t feel good, you’re moving them out of the the way so that the real story you want to write will flow.
- Write about why you can’t write. This is the same but different from number 2, a similar idea in a different vein. Number two is about the mental thoughts blocking your progress. This one may be the physical or emotional baggage weighing down your process. Maybe something in your physical world is keeping you from writing: not enough time, an argument with a spouse, any number of obstacles can physically keep us small. Emotional issues are just as difficult, with the things our brains tell us that we believe, such as that we’re not worthy, valuable, etc., etc., etc. Acknowledge it, process it, move it along so that words will come.
I realize that these feel like the antithesis of writing advice, the opposite of what you’d expect someone to tell you if you said you wanted to write but had difficulty getting stated. But not every moment of writing is eloquent paragraphs and pithy dialogue. In fact, most of that doesn’t even show up until you’re a draft or two down the line, but you’ll never get there if you don’t start however you can.
Writing prompts–catch little sentence starters–are all over the internet at the proverbial dime (or quite possibly, a penny) a dozen. But when none of them strike a chord with your pen and you still want to write, jump-starting your process with a bit of introspection is often the spark you need to get words flowing.
What are your favorite methods to priming the pump when the words don’t show up? I’m always seeking suggestions–leave me a comment below if you’d like to share!