WIHM: Replenishing The Inkwell
By Sonora Taylor
This post originated from an apology. When I contacted The Horror Tree about writing a post for Women in Horror Month, Stuart Conover asked me what my pitch was. I waited for inspiration to strike. I waited for a long time.
Three weeks later, I emailed Stuart back and apologized for letting my reply slip by the wayside, since I’d had such a busy month. My busy month included surgery to remove my gallbladder, and the ducks I was getting in a row were the ones I’d let swim while I was in recovery.
Stuart, of course, said no apology was needed and it was understandable I needed that time to recover. Still, my guilt over letting a reply slip was a manifestation of guilt I’d been feeling throughout 2019, thanks to my writing slowing down.
In writing my apology, I got an idea for what to write about: the necessity of writers to take time off from writing when they need to. The credo we hear — and one I admit to promoting in the past — is to write every day. Writers write! You aren’t a writer if you don’t write.
I’d been hearing that credo in my brain through a good chunk of 2019, because it was the first year since I got back into writing seriously that I felt my writing was beginning to run dry.
Don’t get me wrong: I wrote. I wrote flash pieces for Spreading the Writer’s Word’s monthly flash picture prompt challenge, I completed stories for my most recent short story collection, Little Paranoias; and I started and finished my third book, a novella called Seeing Things. The completion of these things, though, took longer than I thought they should. I thought for sure I’d finish Seeing Things in three months, given the length I had in mind. It took me closer to six.
When I sat down to write, I felt like I’d run dry. I had ideas, so many ideas. They swam in my head and I could just see them completed, see the characters doing what they needed to do to get their story told. But I, the author, couldn’t do what I needed to do to tell that story.
2019 was hard. My husband had his second surgery in as many years, my father-in-law died, and we became homeowners. Buying our first home was much happier stress than grieving and recovery, but it was still stress. I actually broke out in hives shortly after the closing date, the first time that’s ever happened to me. These three things were on top of the day-to-day of working full-time, visits, travel, and general drama that would pop up here and there.
And still, when I’d sit down to write, I’d wonder why I felt all dried up.
I spent a lot of 2019 frustrated that I couldn’t sit down and write for long stretches of time. Seeing Things was written in bursts. Sometimes I’d crank out over 1000 words, but many days, I’d only produce a few hundred. If you’re reading and thinking, geez Sonora, that’s still a lot, I was coming from my first two novels being written in bursts of 1000-2000 words a day. I wrote the hell out of those books. Seeing Things took a lot longer, and a lot more will on my part to sit down and write it.
Seeing Things is with my editor, and I normally use this time to work on a short story. I’ve started one I’ve been brewing an idea for for months, currently called Algorithms Always Remember Your Birthday. I spent one evening working on it and haven’t picked it back up yet.
I miss the feeling of just having to work on something, but I’ve also, finally, reached a place of being somewhat at peace with slowing down. I used the holidays and my break from Seeing Things to reflect on how I felt when I couldn’t write: dry. I felt like an inkwell in need of replenishing. And I’ve realized now that sometimes to replenish the inkwell, I need to step back and not force myself to write. Has a dry inkwell or pen ever improved by continued writing? Of course not. When we scribble a pen run dry to try and get more ink, we usually just end up with no ink and a lot of frustration. That’s how we writers can end up if we don’t take the time to replenish the well.
I’m in an ebb. I’ll get back into a flow again. I tell myself this so I don’t sit and worry when I should be resting. And I do find moments to write and take time here and there to tell a story. At the end of the day, the story will be told. Seeing Things may have taken longer, but it still got done. It will get done. The story will get done — and it will get done when it’s supposed to do.
You are a writer if you write. But that doesn’t mean you have to write at your expense. Take your time, and the time you desire; and the story will present itself.
Sonora Taylor is the author of Without Condition, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” was published in Camden Park Press’s Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Taylor’s short stories frequently appear in The Sirens Call, a bi-monthly horror eZine. Her work has also appeared in Frozen Wavelets, a speculative flash fiction and poetry journal; Mercurial Stories, a weekly flash fiction literary journal; Tales to Terrify, a weekly horror podcast; and the Ladies of Horror fiction podcast. Her third short story collection, Little Paranoias, is now available on Amazon. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.