On a writer’s periods of “germination”

Today’s post is about the dry periods: periods when we can’t, or don’t feel we can, write. In such a time, we always end up asking ourselves the question, “Should I try to force it? Or should I wait?”

Some people might say, “If you’re a writer, you have to write. Suck it up and get writing. Even if it’s garbage, WRITE.” I honestly thing that is true, in SOME circumstances and for some people. For others, it does make sense to wait.

I’m doing some reading right now about acedia, or spiritual sloth, via Kathleen Norris’s “Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life.” She talks a lot about periods of dryness in her writing career.

What’s really interesting is that at one point, Norris discusses how, at least in her career as a poet, she learned to stop grudging the dry times when she came to understand them as period of germination or gestation.


Sometimes we need to give the big ideas time, or take a few days to hash them out

She might not have been able to write at that point, but something was growing up inside: the ideas, the experiences, the meditations and reflections necessary to create her next book of poetry.

I found this idea incredibly intriguing. I feel I have experienced something similar with my writing…. and I have come to stop resenting the times when I just can’t write. I don’t judge myself for those times. I’m taking my time to get my second edition of the Herezoth trilogy together, and then I will jump into my prequel…. I have twenty pages from last summer and I’m excited to see where it goes.

But I’m not ready to jump into that project yet, especially since I don’ know what will happen and I don’t write with outlines, so this time of reflection and preparation is vital for me. Considering the way I go about the writing process, this time of considering my characters, and who they are, and the overall situation the novel will be about, IS my prewriting. For me, it’s a good use of time. It’s how I organize my writing and figure out what I’m going to do, so that when I sit down to write, I’m not staring at a page questioning everything I put down. I just write and see where it takes me.

I get excited when twists and turns come up that I didn’t anticipate…. when I realize that one path I had considered but didn’t think would work can work after all, if I just do things THIS way….

Is there a danger to waiting too long to start writing? Sure. I’m not denying that. And I do think we should always start writing a little bit before we feel ready to do that. If we wait until we really feel ready, we’ll never get going.

But this is how writing works for me. I’ve come to learn and accept that. I’m not a planner when I write fiction, though I HAVE to have plans in every other aspect of my life. (Go figure.) I need time to let a project germinate. And that’s okay.


13 responses to “On a writer’s periods of “germination”

  1. Always try to write every day, even if only for a few minutes. We all go through dry spells but if we let them go on too long we risk them becoming permanent.

    • that’s definitely one way to look at it. One tack to take…. We can work on a different project if one is giving us too much trouble or need more “thinking time” for it.

  2. I’ve wondered about the dry spells. I had some that lasted so long due to time constraints and distractions, so I feared losing my imagination. Others were short because I had one idea that I couldn’t let go and needed to step away. One thing I learned is that it might not even be about the physical act of writing. Just dreaming and thinking up ideas can help keep the imagination stay sharp. A handful of notes of a new idea can be more beneficial than a forced chapter. At least to some people.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I am currently in a dry spell. Last year I won the Contemporary category in a contest for Romance and Penguin requested my book. I was about 40k from my finish line of the book and what happens? DRY SPELL. I have not picked up the book since. I know I need to finish it, but I find that I get panicked. It’s too late to submit to Penguin after all this time and I find myself disappointed that I have not come back to what I believe will be a stellar series. Your words of encouragement will hopefully remind me not to beat myself up when I go through these dry periods.

  4. Even as a Planner, I also have dry spells. ^-^ I think they are kind of like sleeping: A time of rest when all your thoughts reorganize and recenter themselves. Sometimes just a cat-nap is all you need; but other times it takes a lot more. I try to remember this, and just let myself do other things for a little bit.

  5. I fully agree with everything you wrote, I’m suffering from one such dry spell now, I know I’ll get past it, but it’ll take some time. I’m hoping to try a few different things to break out of it. The worst thing is April and August are my two best months for writing normally.

    • Best of luck! The dry spells are tough, but you’re doing the right thing. Try one strategy to get out , and if that doesn’t work, don’t feel bad. Just try something else. As long as you keep plugging along it’ll come in its time. 🙂

  6. Dry spells can sometimes be rough, even though I am a beginner, I think I’ve had a few of them, and it is not a good feeling. Always keep pushing.

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