• Jane O'Reilly

What do you do when the well is empty?

I've never been a great believer in writer's block. I've always thought of it as more of an excuse than a real thing, something used by the same people who talk about the muse and claim that their characters talk to them and that they have no control over what those characters do. Of course you have control over your characters, because you have created them and because they aren't real. I don't buy the idea of a muse either. Writing is work. No-one in any other job claims that they can't do their job unless some mysterious unseen entity decides to put in an appearance.

However, after what have been a really difficult two and a half years, I am struggling. I finished the third book in the trilogy at the beginning of the summer and sent it to my agent and haven't really written anything since. It's not that I don't have things to write, or that I don't have ideas, it's just that when I sit down to work, I've got nothing. The creative well is empty. This probably isn't all that surprising, to be honest. Through 2014 and 2015, when my health was in decline and I was struggling to get a diagnosis, I carried on writing as though nothing was wrong. I carried on through 2016, when I had 2 operations and my health was completely in the toilet. I carried on through 2017 when I had major surgery and post operative complications that put me back in hospital twice, when I struggled with post op mental health issues and medications that didn't work. I carried on when I had terrible short term memory loss. As I recall, after the surgery I allowed myself 5 days off and then I got back to work. I rewrote a significant proportion of Deep Blue and then I wrote Blue Planet. In hindsight I should have taken three months off when I had that operation. That's what anyone with a normal job would do. The fact that I was going to burn out eventually was inevitable, and unfortunately it seems that that point has now arrived, and I have to find a way to deal with it.

So. How do you refill the creative well? How do you find a way back in? I have to assume, given that I still want to continue progressing as a published writer that it will happen at some point. Things have been tricky over the past month or so anyway - I've had my children on holiday from school and a house constantly full of strange men as we've had some major building work done. The work means I'll have an office and a desk, but the noise and stress has made it pretty much impossible to get my brain to think creatively. In order to be able to write I need distance from the noise of other people. One thing I have done, which is something I've been contemplating more and more recently, is to take all social media accounts off my phone and to dramatically cut down on how much I use them. Twitter used to be fun. Recently though it is becoming increasingly unpleasant. I've blocked more people in the past couple of months than I have in all the years I have been using it, always complete strangers barging into my timeline to gleefully tell me all the ways in which I am wrong about something. It's become spiteful and mean and seems to me to be actively encouraging that sort of behaviour because it keeps people engaged as they then argue back. It also generates a constant pressure to keep using, keep posting, keep creating content (because that's what tweets are), with this mostly being driven by the fear that if you stop, people will forget you. And maybe they will. But in my experience, if you are using it to help promote yourself as a writer, it doesn't do that anyway. Only twitter benefits from you being on twitter.

However, I digress. Back to filling the well. I am going to go back to things that have always worked for me before when I have felt the well was drying up. Reading. Museums. Tactile crafts like knitting, that soothe the mind with softness and colour and repetition. Favourite films. Quiet.

And hope that I find my way back to it before I reach this point.

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