Monday, February 17, 2020

When writers go silent

Ever notice that a favorite author hasn't published in a while? That the wait for the next book in a series is longer than expected? That you have no idea what they're up to, and even checking their social media doesn't give a clue?

It's very common for writers to go through "silent periods" where they're not publishing--or at least not publishing under the same name as previously. Before publication, it's tempting to think of crossing that threshold as entering a club with lifetime membership. And in some ways, it is lifetime membership--the work we've put into the world is out there for good now.

But it can be dismaying to discover that staying published is often harder than getting published in the first place. Markets change; trends come and go; writers' interests change. Sometimes writers switch genres--either because of fiscal realities, new interests, or both. Sometimes they pick a new pen name to go with the switch.

Other times a writer hits a block--burnout or self-doubt, for example. Or life may present situations that leave no time or energy for writing, such as illness, loss, care-giving for others, or the demands of  a day job.

Sometimes a writer just needs time to regroup, a long silent period for rejuvenation. A long silence may be followed by incredible new work, work that took a while to produce.

Some writers turn to other things--different creative pursuits, for example. They find that music or quilting or sculpting or film-making satisfies the need that writing used to satisfy. They may go outside the arts to another field altogether.

Some writers just keep writing, but no longer feel the need to reach a larger audience. They may be writing but not publishing.

Whatever the situation, silences happen more often than I used to realize. In my last post, I said writers aren't machines, capable of ceaseless productivity. Silences, too, are part of life--even part of the writing life.

Sunday, February 2, 2020


I recently read Twelve by Twelve, in which William Powers described his time staying in a 12 x 12-foot cabin, seeking to reconnect with the environment and his neighbors, to live slowly. Among his musings were those gleaned from his international travels about how many other cultures value leisure--and live accordingly. He writes, "This 'leisure ethic,' as I've come to dub it, isn't laziness; it is an intelligent, holistic balance between doing and being."

This is something I've sought and struggled to express for years, as when making New Year's resolution after New Year's resolution to "do less." 

More and more, I believe that much of what we call procrastination or wasting time is simply this badly-needed leisure time. Procrastination can also be simply delaying a task we dread, but that's another matter. I'm speaking here of the goofing off we do, the games we indulge in, the idle chitchat. We need down time--some for fun, some to reconnect with our surroundings and the people we love, some to stare at the world and let our brains rest. 

We're not machines, and we need not be outwardly productive every waking second. The work we produce is fed by our rest and recreation, but rest and recreation are also valuable in themselves. We need to relax; we need some joy. Most of our lives don't afford us enough chances to do this. So it's okay to embrace it wherever we can find it, okay not to apologize or scramble frantically to compensate for it.