For the Writer Who Hasn’t Been Writing

 

In her smart and inspiring book, Lab Girl, geobiologist and author Hope Jahren writes, “A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed.” One of many gentle insights on the dogged perseverance of both budding scientists and plant life, this passage invites personal musings on dormancy, both literal and figurative.

Dormancy is a regular part of nature. At this time of year, we think of the world as “coming back to life,” but the innumerable seedlings and buds that finally emerge in spring have, in fact, been very much alive during the long, enchanted sleep of winter. They were never dead; they were just biding their time until the moment was right.

Even houseplants, which live in artificial conditions and are sometimes subject to neglect, have the ability to seemingly resurrect themselves. I have a small cyclamen plant that I saved from a holiday arrangement a few years ago. I did a passing fair job of caring for it until this winter when a severe cold trapped me on the couch for a week. By the time I remembered to water the poor thing, there was nothing left of the cyclamen except two dried leaves and one straggling bud that never had the chance to bloom.

Despite the sorry state of the little plant, I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Not expecting any miracles, I gave it some water and a sunny spot on the windowsill. For months, nothing happened. It looked as if I was caring for a pot of dirt. And then one day there were signs of life.

Like the undulating arms of a tiny terrestrial octopus, several delicate, fuzz-covered shoots arched gracefully out from a tangle of dead stems and partially exposed roots. A few days later, the tips of several shoots had unfurled into beautiful variegated leaves that spread wide and began, imperceptibly, tracking the movements of the sun like an array of miniature radar dishes tuned into the songs of the stars.

There are parts of ourselves—dreams, hopes, beliefs—that are like seeds waiting to germinate or like neglected houseplants that seem half dead, but have really just drawn their life force back into themselves for safe keeping.

Maybe you grew up wishing you could be an explorer or an artist, but life led you down a different path, and now you can hardly recognize yourself as the child who dreamed of sailing the seven seas, writing poetry, or capturing visions in paint. That piece of yourself is not dead and gone; it is just dormant, waiting for the right time to stretch into the light.

You can often coax new growth simply by providing a little sustenance. Just like my cyclamen needed water and sunlight, your sleeping dreams need time and attention. For now, they may be curled up in the quiet dark, but there is no expiration date on their potential.

Our dreams can even benefit from time in stasis. Like a seed that must hold itself in limbo until there is enough space, sunshine, water, and nutrients to sustain it, sometimes our dreams have to wait until we have the right life experience, confidence, or motivation. While our Western sensibilities tend to encourage a state of constant striving, sometimes we would be wiser to practice a more organic way of becoming.

Jahren tells a story in Lab Girl about a lotus seed that scientists dug out of a peat bog in China. After the seed sprouted in the lab, the researchers radiocarbon-dated the discarded shell and found that the seed had been dormant for two thousand years. Truly, you can never say never.

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Jamie Lee Wallace I am a freelance content writer, columnist, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. For more from me, check out the archives for the  Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy posts. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared as a column in the Ipswich Chronicle, and subsequently on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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94 thoughts on “For the Writer Who Hasn’t Been Writing

  1. Thanks…needed a post like this to remind me I’m still a writer. After a year and a half playing full time caregiver to my wheelchair bound husband in the advanced stage of cancer, and now the last year grieving after his passing, I felt guilty for abandoning my writing. I’ve contemplated how I’ve gotten so far away from what I dreamed of accomplishing and it seems like a lifetime ago that I felt like a writer. These words give me hope that healing will take place deep inside and my writing will come alive again when the time is right.

    • Laura, I’m so sorry for your loss, and for how such an experience must have changed every aspect of your life in unexpected (and unwanted) ways. No matter the pain and grief you’ve endured, you have always been and will always be a writer. Just the fact that you have spent time thinking about your relationship to your writing and how it has changed is proof of that. I do not know you, but something tells me that you will find your way back to your creative path. I hope it’s a journey that brings you healing and joy.

  2. Wow, this was extremely inspiring and motivating. I, too, have seen miracles happen in my seemingly-dead plants that I can’t bear to part with and I have never quite made this kind of analogy! Thank you.

    • Thank you, “marisundays”! 🙂 It just kind of popped into my head, and I’m happy to say that even as I type this, my dear little cyclamen plant has FOUR new buds on it. Soon I will be enjoying the little plant’s elegant blooms!

    • I really enjoyed it and expect that I will read it again. I love her style and envy her talent. 😉

  3. Inspiring piece…
    I have been out of writing for at least a year after I began barely a decade ago. When I recently decided to revisit my blog page, I kind of felt like I had lost the magic and inspiration. I have owing to this fact, stopped my morning writing ritual.

    This is a wake up call, if you understand what I mean. It is a ray scintillating through the very heart that has gone cold for the act.

    Your suggestive volume will forever be remembered.

    • I have also grossly neglected my morning writing ritual, and it’s a loss that has been nagging at me for more than a year. I so miss those first quite moments of the day when I can be alone with my thoughts. I hope that you are able to return to your practice and ritual in a way that feels right and inspiring for you.

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  5. Thank for writing this piece. It makes me think of some special people in my life. So many things in life are just waiting for their chance to prosper and shine through. With any luck, they will 🙂

    • Thank you for being here, Jeff. Sometimes, it’s hard to wait for that chance; but I take comfort in knowing that it’s always there. 🙂

  6. Truly amazing.. It is as if you wrote this specifically for me.I opened up this account of mine just last week for merely the passion of writing .Always had the passion from as far as I remember but for some reason was just holding back.I am a person who oftenly has things on my mind,things that when put out there can be a good read to some people I believe as evidenced by feedbacks I get from close friends or even my posts on facebook so when I saw this,a light in my mind just switched on “this could be me here”.Not only did it provide an insight of existence of people like me,phenomenas like these,but a whole lot of aspects about life.. You are so talented.. thank you so much for this.I understood myself better and got my dreams illuminated.

    • I am so glad this post found you at the right time. That’s the best. 🙂
      So much emphasis is placed on doing our Important Work early in life and on doing it fast; but sometimes the best things take a long time to “percolate,” in a sense. Welcome to WordPress. Enjoy the journey!

  7. Indeed there has to be checks and balances,some things ought to be done earlier in our lives BUT like you said “the best things” need their time to bring out their best 🙂 . Keep it up with the good work.My journey started on the best note 🙂 .Thank you

  8. Hey there! I’m so glad I was able to catch you! You have totally captured what’s been going on with me. I HAVE been dormant, and not in an intentional way. The slump came upon me because of all this personal drama going on, but I’m hoping to get back on it, finding pockets of inspiration here and there and then I found you and this post again. So yay! Thanks for posting. I’m hoping after this hiatus I’ll be able to get back into it and create a flow. Thanks so much for helping with the comeback 🙂

    • Hello! It’s been a while for both of us. 😉
      I’m so glad if this post was one of those “pockets of inspiration” you’ve stumbled on to. And I completely understand the slump experience. For me, this recent dearth of creative writing feels more like I’ve become temporarily disconnected from something; but I’m definitely on my way back to putting down new roots and sending up new shoots, so to speak. I hope you are, too. Enjoy the creative flow!

      • I know exactly what you mean by “temporarily disconnected” that sounds like an awesome title for a post! Glad both of us are on our way to walking our way back. Have a good weekend!

  9. Jamie Thank you ever so much for this article. Very relevant to me at this time, not exactly dead like your plant, but just trying to wake up from, hibernation or am I still dormant I am not sure! Your article sure has given so much insight of what has been going on with me in recent times ~ food for thought ❤
    In the process of, trying to get back into writing on my site again too. Well down here in Aussie it is going to be winter. Hope you have a happy summer. Thanks again for the timely post. Much Love and Light from me 🙂 ❤

    • Hello, Deepa. It has been too long! 🙂
      I’m so glad that this post reached you at the right time and helped provide a different perspective and maybe some new clarity about where you are with your writing. I hope that you are able to find new footing to carry on with writing for your site and any other projects you’re working on. Hooray!

      And happy winter! I hope the season brings you time to contemplate and create. ❤

  10. What a wonderful post! What spoke to my heart: “Sometimes our dreams have to wait until we have the right life experience, confidence, or motivation.” So you’re telling me there’s hope for me yet with this seemingly endless dry spell? Thanks for this!

    • The waiting can be hard, can’t it?
      To answer your question, yes. I believe there’s always hope, and I believe that sometimes – though it’s almost impossible to see it while you’re in it – the dry spell is part of the process. You will only recognize it when you go back to tell your story.

      Here’s to the magic of cycles and the beauty of unending hope.

    • And sometimes we just need to remember that even when it may feel like we’re not working, even that is part of the process. We are never standing still, so to speak. Like all things in nature, we are always growing in some way … always evolving. Sometimes, the being still is just part of the process that we need to learn to accept.

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  12. And even in my many periods of stasis, I feel as if I was learning the knowledge that was to prepare me for my period of blossoming growth. This analogy and, better yet, example of real life is what encourages me to live everyday with no expectation and the excitement for the unknown and all the treasures it usually brings.

    • It does imbue life – even mundane, daily life – with a gentle buzz of excited anticipation, doesn’t it? That sense that we never really know what’s around the next corner … and that’s a good thing. 🙂 Thanks for being here.

  13. Great post. I love how you used your plant as a metaphor for life: sometime it just takes time and some TLC for our talent to bloom. Be patient.

    • Thank you. I’ve learned that Mother Nature has the perfect metaphor for pretty much every situation imaginable. 😉

  14. This is a great reminder to us all. Thank you for sharing your insight. I put my dreams of being an author away for many years, allowing fear of failure to dictate my path. Finally, three years ago, I vowed to write every day, if only for fifteen minutes. Now I’ve got two books published and a third later this year. I will never let fear hold me back, but it’s a good reminder to know that I needed to wait for the right time. Looking back, I don’t think I had the right mindset or life experience 10 or more years ago to write.
    http://www.cynthiahilston.com

    • What an inspiring story. Congratulations on finding the right time and then making things happen. That’s wonderful! And thank you for being here and for sharing the post. 🙂

    • I try to embrace the periods of “no writing” as periods of gestation – a time when ideas percolate and later emerge on the page when I’m again ready to pick up the pen. Be kind to yourself.

    • You’re so very welcome. Nature is all about cycles, and we are – whether we remember it or not – part of nature. It only makes sense that we also live our lives in cycles. I hope you are able to get out from under the guilt and enjoy each phase of the cycle for what it is and what it brings to your creative journey. 🙂

  15. This is just exceptional. How did you know that i have always had a dream in writing and art but my life experiences dimmed my one illuminated future. I wish i could meet you in person so that you tell me more about me. But since that wish is still at it’s domarncy i will be patient and follow each of your posts.

    • There are so many of us struggling to come into being the person that we want to be and doing the work that we want to do. You are never alone in that. Though most of us will never meet, we can still reach out a hand and support each other, remind each other that our wishes are not in vain, and encourage each other to take that first step and that next step, combining yearning with action to bring our vision to life … all in good time. All in good time. Thanks for being here.

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    • Thank you so much. I’m very glad you enjoyed the piece, and thanks for the heads up on my piece being one of those featured in a “discovered” wrap-up post. Very nice! 🙂

  17. I really like this post. Society has pushed us to believe that we have to always be doing something, and when we are not, we feel like failures. This is not true. Greatness takes time. Whether I write in my blog once a week or once a month, I am still writing. We get so caught up in running the rat race, and sometimes forget to slow down and take our time.

    • I agree, Catherine. The modern world has pulled us away from the natural rhythms that support creativity and growth. We need to make the effort to disengage from the non-stop running so that we can turn inward when the moment calls for introspection and rest. There is no shame in pausing for a moment to collect our thoughts and our strength.

  18. I wouldn’t call myself a writer as it’s only ever been a dream of mine and I only ever “published” my first blog post a little over a year ago. Timing, circumstances and things of that sort have kept me from really spending the time on it. This post has really put things in perspective for me, and given me hope that I can still do what I’ve always dreamed of. Thank you for that.

    • You’re very welcome, Bethanny. Please know that you are a writer whether you publish or not. In fact, as I allude to in this post, you can be a writer even when you are in a cycle of not writing. To me, being a writer is a way of looking at the world and processing what I experience. It’s about putting my thoughts down in some way, but it doesn’t matter if anyone else ever reads them. And, sometimes, even though I am a writer, I’m not writing (at least not the things I want to write most) … I’m a writer on pause or a writer in gestation. It’s all part of the process. Keep collecting your ideas. Even if you can’t sit and write a poem or an essay or a short story or a novel or whatever it is you want to write … capture snippets of your ideas – the things that inspire you … a thought, a dream, a word, a phrase … keep these things in a notebook or in a digital file. They are the seeds and the compost that you will eventually use (when the time is right) to grow the story you want to tell. Remember that.

  19. What beautiful imagery, and exactly what I needed to read. I realise I’m the seed and am just biding my time, my time will come with continued patience and dedication to my dreams.
    Thank you

    • Patience and dedication – that’s exactly it … knowing that even while you’re waiting (and seeming, from the outside, to not be doing very much), there’s still work going on. It might be internal work. It might be invisible work. But it’s still work that you are doing. Thank you for being here and for taking the time to comment.

    • I agree. The creative impulse never dies. It just evolves and transforms and cycles through the natural ebb and flow of creation and rest. Believe! 🙂 Thanks for being here.

  20. Your writing is descriptive and wonderful. And this subject is near and dear to my heart. I didn’t write for four years. Now I am writing more than ever and finished my first full-length novel manuscript last month. It still needs to be edited but considering I wasn’t writing much until about 8 months ago, I’d say I’m doing pretty well. Thanks for the encouraging post!

    • Thank you for being here and for sharing a piece of your story, Hayley. That’s an impressive feat! Congratulations – both on finding your “right time” and on clearly being massively productive once you got to that point. Your story encourages me, too. 😉

  21. Sounding like a broken record here, but this post is timely for me as well. I’ve been away from writing regularly for YEARS. A blog post here and there when something major happened, but nothing more. A couple of weeks ago, I was requesting to join an online writers’ group, and they had three questions to answer. One of the questions was “What are your writing goals?” I had no answer anymore.

    Long story short, I decided that for July I would just write for 30 minutes a day each day – just whatever I wanted to write. I didn’t have any real word count goals or put pressure to come up with fiction. I just put one word after another. By my fourth writing session, I was writing song lyrics – of all the crazy things. I’ve never done that before.

    So, yeah, it’s all bubbling back up to the surface.

    • Song lyrics? That’s awesome. How fun that you would up doing something you’d never done before and didn’t expect. 🙂 I love your approach of just “playing” – no rules, no pressure, no expectations. I think that’s something I need to do more of. Every once in a while, I manage to come to the page with a playful heart, but not nearly enough.

      Thanks for being here and for sharing, and good luck with your lyrics and whatever shows up next for you!

  22. Pingback: Inspiration for Writers | Wisdom of life’s

    • So true, Rhys. Writing – whether for yourself or others – tends to be a “friend” you can always come home to, even if you’ve been away for a long time. 🙂

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