Over the weekend, I honored the one-year anniversary of the COVID pandemic by scrolling through the pictures on my phone. The collection included empty meat counters, picked-over produce, and bare shelves that should’ve been stocked with toilet paper and cleaning supplies. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether we’d succumb to the virus or starve.
But here we are.
Sometimes our writing lives feel as barren as those shelves. We show up to the page hoping our muse will tag along. Instead, we endure a deafening internal radio silence and fear that our creative life might be done.
There are a number of reasons why your creativity might have dried up, including:
- External radio silence on submissions and queries
- Pressures to produce
- Mental health challenges or physical illnesses
- The rejection blues
To remedy these issues you need to understand what’s going on below the surface.
Radio Silence on Submissions
While waiting for a submission reply, your brain might try to champion your writing project by whispering “Pick me! Pick me!” into the ether, hoping an agent or publisher will be inspired to read and then accept your work.
But as much as we might like to influence the order of submittable submissions or rearrange someone’s inbox with our good thoughts and email refresh habits, we can’t.
Holding on to work you’ve sent out eats away at your creativity.
Sometimes we can’t help but do this.
If this is the case, follow writer Philip Lawton’s advice and accept that your writing life has entered a fallow period. Rest, listen to music, garden, or do anything else that rejuvenates you. As you enjoy life, have faith that these activities are setting the stage for fertile writing periods to come.
If you’re looking for a way out of this holding pattern, here are a few suggestions:
- Throw a going-away party for your project so you can mentally let it go.
- When you can’t stop thinking of it, write the project a letter just like you would to a friend who’s away on a trip. Burn the letter as a way of sending it off.
- Schedule fifteen minutes of publication worry time into your calendar. At the appointed time, set a timer and then obsess, fret, or anguish about how long it’s taking and how you have no idea what this means. When the timer sounds, do something physical to release your angst. Then get back to work.
Pressuring Yourself to Produce
Sometimes fear that taking a break means we’ll never write anything again.
Or we fear that “real writers” constantly produce new work. Would we still be a writer if let ourselves slack off?
Or perhaps, we’ve been driving ourselves to work on something really intense, or even traumatic.
Pressuring ourselves into a state of productivity drive the muse away. When we ignore our feelings, the wounded part of us can turn off the creative tap until we work on safer material.
The opposite of fear is love, so that’s my prescription for you.
- Love yourself by varying the intensity of the topics you write about.
- Love yourself by recognizing that “real writers” take breaks and then allow yourself to do the same.
- Love yourself by finding and following your joy. Write something just for fun and then share it with friends. Don’t do this for feedback. Do it because sharing your creativity brings you joy.
Physical or Mental Illness
When we’re not feeling well, our natural response is to slow down. This is the body’s way of diverting the energy of doing toward the energy of healing. We generally accept these downtimes when illnesses are short, but when illnesses are chronic illness, it can feel like the world is passing you by.
As someone who struggled through a four-year battle with Lyme disease, and chronic depression before that, I empathize with every person who wants to give the couch the bird
But if struggles with mental or physical illness have sent your muse packing, self-care is how you call it back home.
Practicing self-care might mean changes to your diet, moving more, getting some sunshine and fresh air, or assess the health of your relationships.
Sometimes you need to partner with healthcare providers or take medications that help the body and brain feel more balanced.
It could mean changing your career or developing a spiritual practice.
Regardless of what’s required, self-care is the act of loving yourself.
Love yourself and the muse will love you too.
The Rejection Blues
Repeated rejections can make you question your writing and your self-worth.
Reminders that a rejection could be about something other than the quality of your work might not be enough, especially if you’ve received multiple rejections on something that’s taken years to perfect.
Sometimes, you have to let go of a publication dream before you can move on.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Find a way to honor each rejection. I belong to a group where we celebrate each rejection as a badge of courage. If you can find or create a group like this, shout each rejection from a mountain top. See how many you can get. This can be incredibly helpful because writers who amass rejections are also writers who eventually get published.
- Hold a funeral for the ones that sting. Eulogize that publication dream then bury it. Let yourself grieve until you’re ready to send the next one off.
- Spend time reconnecting with why you like to write. If you don’t have one, create a mission statement or a writer’s prayer and visit with it on a daily basis. Let that mission statement or prayer fuel your future publication attempts.
- It can be hard to accept that not every project gets published. Unfortunately, that is part of the writing life. If you need to let a project go, list all the skills you learned while working on it and celebrate any wins, no matter how small. When you’re ready, work on something else.
Being in a fallow period doesn’t mean you stop showing up to the page. Whenever my creativity goes dormant, I return to Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way and resume my morning pages routine—three handwritten pages per day, first thing in the morning (or whenever I get to it). Showing up nurtures my creative life, and when my muse feels fully restored, she returns to me. Then we get back to work.
So, what do you do to combat your internal radio silence?
How do you love yourself through the process?
Send me an email. I’d love to know what’s working for you.
And when things don’t, have faith that you are not alone.
I know because a number of writers shared their stories with me.
We are all here to cheer each other on.