The Bottomless Well

Some days the writing comes quickly and some days it does not. It is easy to know what to do when it is coming quickly: just keep up with what is coming. But on other days the job is a little different. What does one do when it is not coming so quickly? Some writers like to write their way through the uncertainty. The idea here to start putting words on the page with the understanding that most of it will be thrown away but with the hope that some germ of a genuine idea or character or anything might appear also. Others simply get away from the desk. Wally Lamb described going to a nearby stream when he felt stuck; sometimes the ceaseless current loosened something in him.

For years I used both of these methods with very limited success. When I tried to write my way out of feeling stuck I only dug myself into a deeper and unhappier hole, and when I left the desk I always did so out of anger and despair. Now when nothing is coming, I sit there. And wait. And wait. A few weeks ago I waited two hours, and it wasn’t until the last five minutes of a work session that I saw what I had been looking for.

I considered that day a triumph of sorts. How easy it would have been to panic. On that day, at least, I did not, and I came away feeling as though I had learned something valuable indeed. Every time I believe I have reached the end of what I need to learn about the patience required to write I am wrong. This is a bottomless well, and I have never once regretted diving more deeply into it, though I have feared nearly every descent. No matter. It waits for me too; waits while I believe I am unworthy, or unable; waits until I can once again accept the friendship of my own imagination.

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