When I Cannot Write a Story

Four years back, this room smelled of acrylic and turpentine. Stained brushes fanned out in jars, bouquets of spotted color on horse hair. Canvas after canvas leaned against these walls…Summer Yellow Wheat, Reading Tree, Starbursts…all windows to imagination.

An artist lived here, made her mark on this space before I came along. One of her prints leans even now in my room, a framed still-life of a pouty poppy left too long in the vase.

This community knows her as an artist, and so the question always comes, “What have you been painting lately?” A painter paints. A singer sings. A writer writes. To be…you have to do. Isn’t that the way it goes? She tips her chin down and gets eye-to-eye with the baby boy who lounges in the hammock of her arm. The older brothers rush up looking for something to munch.

These days she’s putting her creative efforts into something that feeds her soul and feeds family and friends. She watches the leaven do its work, studies how the dough rises in stages, how it becomes more than it was…becomes the other thing she will be known for.

People are starting to ask about the bread, too, these rounded loaves that make you think of the old country…or the country to come. Steam rises. Crust cracks. Aroma floats through the air pulling everyone to the kitchen. She watches them enjoy her work.

She can’t paint right now, so she bakes artisan bread.

The artist’s room is mine now. In place of ready canvas and paint brush, there is blank paper and pen. The desk is lined with writing books and scribbled lists for someday.

But this fall, I am the flower dried in the vase. My writing hours have been sucked into earlier bedtimes and mismatched afternoon schedules. I put the youngest down for a reluctant afternoon nap just minutes before the oldest starts making his way home on the school bus. These are long days with short breaks. The changes stilt my words, leave me chasing after thoughts mid-sentence, make me homesick for my craft.

One evening, the kids wrestle with Daddy upstairs. There’s no time to string a line of words, but in the muted sound of their happy play, an old song comes to me, raises me from the couch and ushers me to the piano. I play the music without words this time, letting my fingers feel the pattern again, even closing my eyes.

This particular night, I may not be able to pen a story, but I can put my fingers to the keys and feel the tension leave my shoulders, let this other art knead that aching spot at the base of my ribs.

{What do you do when you’re feeling stifled in your primary area of creativity? Which secondary creative passions inspire you during dry phases?}

11 thoughts on “When I Cannot Write a Story

  1. When my mind is too distracted to write, I let it rest and busy my hands by crocheting. I know I’m ready to write again when I look at my yarn and feel bored. My brain is ready to become engaged in the creative process again.

    • I like the back and forth that you do between writing, which feels more open-ended, and crocheting, which has more of a pattern to it. And busying our hands may just be the perfect thing to do when the mind feels stuck in neutral. Good thoughts!

  2. I always find such delight in reading your words. I find myself without a new song many a day, but, ironically, just today I decided to play anyways. I taught my kids a Rich Mullins tune at the piano and relished in their little voices singing it. When I’m dried up these days, I accept it. I just have come to know there is an ebb and flow with my writing. Instead, I sew and cook and craft with Soren. It fulfills a deep need too!

    • Thank you, Sarah! I love your contentment in letting your creativity flow into other streams these days. Your home and your kids show the beauty of it. Which Rich Mullins song were you singing? I feel like I know them all by heart! I’m going to have to make you play some for me when I’m over next. :)

  3. I try and do something more tangible; baking is good because then I finish and have a product I can point at and see and touch. Writing away from the computer sometimes works too; pen or pencil on paper is different and sometimes it lets me get going in a way that typing and letters on a screen doesn’t.

    And sometimes nothing works for a time or season. Pregnancy for instance; both of my pregnancies were so grueling and awful that I had very little left for anything extra. Writing was definitely an extra then, and it didn’t happen often.

    • Yes, having a finished product must release some sort of adrenaline in the brain. I crave it so much and experience it so little! That’s part of why I started blogging. I was working on these big, cloudy, long-term projects and just needed that sense of completion even on a small scale. Oh, and I also do the pen and notebook method (really messy) and then bring it to the keyboard to rework. I find my best tool as a writer is revision. :)

  4. @Darcy, even though you feel dried up right now, just by posting this encourages others through their dry times. I also have been thinking about some of your older posts this week that continue to live in our minds past the weeks you post them. Keep using music, words, paint, etc. to create. There is no one like you.

    • Don’t know if you have any idea how this encourages me! I often find myself going about writing like the Athenians went about philosophical discussion in Acts 17…always roaming about looking for something new. Thank you for reminding me that what is already written is of no less value because it is no longer new.

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