Tuesday, April 17, 2018

When a Writer Can't Write

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell @LucindaSMcDowel

If you’ve yet to experience this, let me assure you that one day it may come. Just as it did for me. 

You will be sitting in front of your computer, or journal or notepad and the words will not appear. Panicked, you will realize that—at least for this moment in time—you simply have nothing to say! More accurately, you have plenty to say but a temporary inability to put your message into words. 

How can this possibly be a good thing? 

Nonetheless, I choose to believe that God is still working even when my creative fields are lying fallow for a time. I’m no gardener, but having grown up in south Georgia I know all about the importance of crop rotation – implemented so that crops never completely deplete the soil of any one nutrient. Even to the extent of letting an entire field lie fallow for a season in order to maintain balance. The ground rests and fertility is restored. Experts say “Crop rotation is all the more important in fields where the soil is prone to depletion or where demanding crops have been grown.”

That would be me. When I have poured out and produced to the point that “not writing” is the best course of all. For a time.

Instead of allowing fear and panic to thrive (“Will I ever write again?”)I choose to embrace such seasons in the following pro-active ways:

W – Wait on God, listening carefully for His whisper of encouragement, new direction, or challenge. This may be the hardest part of all. When we can’t see anything happening we must intentionally choose to trust God with our future work. Most of our waiting time is best spent in prayer and reading God’s Word. Listening. Every time I do this, God appears with just the words I need for that moment!

R – Read voraciously– soak up wisdom and creativity from the best of the best. Take notes. Writers absolutely must be readers – and not for the reasons you might be thinking. Not to compare ourselves or try to emulate another’s style and copy their content. No, we read to learn. We read aloud sometimes to experience the lyrical flow of words expertly put together. We read to know what good writing can be. While I have favorite authors I turn to in such times, I always explore new ones as well.

I – Invest in people, beginning close to home. When there is no looming deadline, we can be most sensitive to the needs of those we love. They may even be the most important reason for our shift in priority. As it turned out, the first three months of 2018 my life centered around care-giving for a whole variety of loved ones. So much so that my creative juices definitely took a back seat. And yet I wouldn’t give anything for having focused on those people when they needed me most. Writers cannot live alone in a vacuum – interacting with the world is what gives us something worthwhile to say.

T – Think, Dream, Explore. Spend long moments in complete silence as you inwardly search out new vision or remember old dreams that perhaps are ready to be resurrected in the future. One of the things I actively did during this season was to completely clean out and freshen up my Study – my writing space. Five huge black garbage bags full of throwaway stuff later, I find it much easier to think and focus here. If you are able to go away for a personal retreat of silence, do so. Ask God to guide your pen and journal as you hear His next instructions for your life and your writing. 

E – Expect God to show you the next step.He will. Do you believe God has called you to share His words and His story? Then use this season to allow God work in you and soon the time will be redeemed and you will be amazed at the “new” and “more” that comes from what at first appeared to be emptiness! 
“Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.” Hosea 10.12

NOTEHow did today’s blog come about? I am privileged to be a monthly guest blogger for the “Write Conversation,” but as this month’s deadline loomed I called out to God, “I have nothing to say, nothing to write for the guest blog!”  And God clearly answered, “Then write about when writers can’t write.” So I obeyed Him and this is the vulnerable result. I humbly offer it to you, praying that even in these feeble efforts, He will redeem my fallow time. And yours. Friends, the fruit is on it’s way…. Never give up!

When a Writer Can't Write - @LucindaSMcDowel on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Tips to break through when you can't write - @LucindaSMcDowel on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Lucinda Secrest McDowell, M.T.S., is passionate about embracing life — both through deep soul care from drawing closer to God, as well as living courageously in order to touch a needy world. A storyteller who engages both heart and mind, she delights in weaving grace and mercy into ordinary life situations. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, she is the author of 13 books and contributing author to 30+ books. Her books include the award-winning, Dwelling Places (2017 Christian Retailing Best Award for Devotional) , Ordinary Graces Live These Words Refresh! and Role of a Lifetime.  A member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA), Lucinda received Mt. Hermon “Writer of the Year” award and guest blogs monthly for The Write Conversation.Whether co-directing  "reNEW ~ retreat for New England Writing,"  pouring into young moms, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages. Lucinda’s favorites include tea parties, good books, laughing friends, ancient prayers, country music, cozy quilts, musical theatre, and especially her family scattered around the world doing amazing things.  Known for her ability to convey deep truth in practical and winsome ways, she writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and blogs weekly at http://www.encouragingwords.net/ 


  1. Your post, especially the part where you recall some of your south Georgia roots, sounds very similar to an article I wrote for The Writer magazine a while back (https://www.writermag.com/2016/04/11/dennis-l-peterson/). You've shared good advice for all writers.

  2. Thanks so much Ms. Lucinda. Our God is always there to guide us, but in my case He waits often for me to be ready to listen to Him. It's great to see you listen well ma'am. God's blessings...

  3. Great post, Lucinda! I love how you used an acronym for the word WRITE to give your tips. How clever!
    Blessings to you and your loved ones.

  4. Very good. I could say 'Thanks, I needed that'. I'm always too busy for my own good. Donevy

  5. Great post Lucinda. If for no one else but me, your message was gold. I am in that waiting time right now. This was just the encouragement I needed. Thank you.

  6. Wonderful advice for when the well is feeling a bit dry. Been there too! We need to be filled in order to pour out.

  7. This post settled deep in my soul for so many reasons. Thanks for sharing, Lucinda. I loved the acronym, the words, and your heart. Love and blessings.

  8. I love how this blog post came about. I needed to read about not being able to write, but you still wrote. :)

  9. I really needed to read this blog tonight. I've been struggling with the dreaded 'writer's block' as I knew one day it would come to visit and decide to stay too long. I open my Bible and a few books of devotions and read them every morning. As I open my journal to write thoughts and inspirations, nothing comes. Your five points from the acronym WRITE are right on target. Thank you for sharing your moments of 'dryness' in a writer's life that are encouraging words to ponder...