If You’re Stuck, Wait It Out – Advice from an Editor

As writers, we have what would appear to be a very easy job: float through life, and wait for the muse. Forget the crafting, forget the editing – the worst part of writing is just starting.

Usually my writing process follows a very similar trajectory: wait for weeks, think about needing to write something, wait another few days, lose hope and begin to think there’s nothing inspirational anywhere. Sometime after passing the last three stages though, something shifts and I open myself up to the world around me. I start observing.

Something begins then, when I really make myself available as a listener and thinker, that changes the game. I listen to people speaking and it evolves into dialogue. I look at the way someone adjusts his or her shirt or opens the door for someone else. I start thinking about how things feel. Washing your hands in the bathroom, but with cold water. You lather and rinse and dry off. Somehow they still sting after they’re dry. And then you hear someone else in the bathroom. You thought you were alone. There’s a story.

So that’s when you’re most receptive – in that waiting, feeling, listening, hearing period. That’s when your muse comes up and smacks you in the forehead.  

I can most easily describe it in the way it usually happens to me. I wait tables. It’s half soul-sucking and half gratifying, but somehow, it is great for writing. My three most recent creative endeavors have all come from things I’ve overheard, mannerisms I’ve seen, or conversations I’ve had while working.

Lately I’ve been all about the ever-talented Louise Erdrich, who I think says it the best. But what’s new. “Nothing I force myself to write about ever turns out well, and so I’ve learned to wait for the voice, the incident, the image that reverberates.”

And it’s true. If you’re stuck, wait it out. Listen to people, wait tables, use public bathrooms.

Start with something concrete, an image. Your dry, tingling hands. Now, make them do something. Write.


Danielle Buynak, fiction reader


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