When Words Fail to Come

When words fail to come

Leo’s his usual, joyful, self – and very helpful when words fail to come.

What to do when words fail to come?

It happens sometimes. Yesterday morning, in fact.

I had a post due on Living In Place, and I didn’t have anything to say.

Worse, my brain was foggy, possibly due to the antihistamine I succumbed to the night before. Or maybe it’s my broken sleep cycle. I’ve been waking at 3:30 am and reading until daybreak, then getting on with my regular day. But I’m dragging.

I  lubricate my brain with coffee and head out with the dog for a walk, though I hardly have any forward momentum. Leo’s his usual, joyful self. I’m dull and cold, huddled in a hoodie and worried about how I’ll meet my deadline if I have nothing to say.

That this deadline is self-imposed makes no difference. When I started my blog, I tasked myself with an essay every Wednesday. In 135 weeks, I’ve never missed a week, though twice I’ve posted a day late.

I think of all the non-writing tasks I could console myself with: paying bills, filing papers, cleaning my winter clothes for storage.  Then I remember I have a blog due for Live to Write – Write to Live, too. I think maybe I’ll write  about how sorting and cleaning tasks often help me on days when I’m stuck on the page.  But I think maybe I’ve written something like that already, and I don’t want to repeat myself.

Then I remember that sometimes I do repeat myself – on purpose. Last summer, when I was hiking The Long Trail, I scheduled work from my archives for the weeks I was away. Could I do that again?

I pushed back my hood and looked up. The morning mist was lifting. I picked up my pace and flipped through my mental file, searching for something I could reuse. I remembered an essay I wrote about the summer solstice back in the pre-internet days. Maybe that would work.

The sun burned through the fog as I reached the apogee of my circuit. I unzipped my sweatshirt and strode back to my desk, where I drafted this essay with ease. Then I went to my files and found Hum Time, which I edited and formatted for the web. I polished this essay and queued it for today. I’ve done all the work that seemed unlikely just a few hours before.

It was a long journey, but all it required was a short walk. When words fail to come, I go for a walk. What do you do?

Deb wearing purpleDeborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator, contributing regularly to this blog since 2011.

24 thoughts on “When Words Fail to Come

    • Hi Erica. I liked your post about walking in Boston. The science of why walking is stimulating has actually been studied.
      In addition to the physiological benefits of walking, which in turn benefit memory and concentration, walking is known to promote creativity. Psychologists at Stamford performed four different experiments that proved, “walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after.” If only they’d asked me, I could have told them that.
      You can read more here: http://www.deborahleeluskin.com/exercise-improves-memory/
      Good luck with your writing and walking. Thanks for reading the blog. ~Deborah.

  1. I love to argue about my books with my dog on our morning walk. I walk early in a relatively quiet neighborhood with lots of trees. No one sees me. LOL. So he and I hash out all the sticky parts of the story and all the places where I am sticky. He never has a harsh word to say. smiles

    • A literary dog is a rare thing. As Groucho Marx famously said, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a book, it’s too dark to read.” Sounds like your dog is a good listener!

  2. What a timely post. Isn’t it wonderful how we can have energy and happiness vicariously through our dogs, until we have the energy for ourselves? A walk in the woods used to work for me. Then there was a horrible two-year stretch after radiation treatments and messed up brain chemistry that I thought I’d never write again. Walks didn’t help. Back then, sitting on granite next to water, helped me start to feel tiny tickles that said the words were still in there somewhere. That’s when I stepped back from novel length stories and started a blog. Tiny stories that slowly built to longer ones. And now, a walk in the woods is all I need again. Thanks for the reminder, here, to take that walk.

    • I love the image of sitting on granite near water as a healing tool. I’m glad you’re better, walking & writing again. Thanks for your story here.

    • I’d second Deborah’s comment about good content. She’s not just rewording the same tired advice on how to write. Instead, she includes a personal element in all of her blog posts that, I think, resonate with readers. Added to that, she has a good balance regarding how often to post. I’ve quit following good blogs because they posted every day, or multiple times a day. My email inbox would be swamped, I’d have guilt for not reading all the posts, and then have frustration because it took so much time. The flip side to that is Deborah also does not post so infrequently that I forget why I like her posts.

  3. Our writing group leader gives us ‘homework’ every month so, if we are not in the middle of a project, we can use that to stimulate our writing. We also have a list of competitions and upcoming dates and anniversaries. Otherwise I either dig out an old story or just wait, and wait until something triggers a response. It may only be a few lines of verse but a week without writing seems like a waste of time.

  4. Pingback: When Words Fail to Come — Live to Write – Write to Live – Word Salad Spinner

  5. Very interesting article. I am not a professional writer and I write when I really get that need or urge to write. I can say I am a different sort of writer as I write my journey on mental wellness and I am supposed to relax and make it a positive experience, and not to be stressed about doing it. It did happened to me after a stressful period when I simply couldn’t get any words coming to write. I read up and found articles which I learnt about, what do you do when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you. I started with the topic of, “Writers Block” itself and then I continued. I leant many things from you. Thank you for the post 🙂

  6. Music helps. Often, I need a blank page and a pen to get inspired. Other times it takes something profound like a well-written Netflix show or a bit of social satire. I find that I’m inspired by satire because the role of satire is exposing human failings. And other inspiring moments are observing real people, places and things. Thank you for writing this. I’ve been struggling with writer’s block and obsessing over what things to post on my blog next. Reading your story allows me to give myself a break. I’m 12 hours from a bachelors in English. Lately, I’ve been trying to learn all I can in effort to keep the creative juices flowing.

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