What To Do When You’re “Not Writing…”

It came out as a confession, “I haven’t been writing since…” Sitting across the tiny table, separated only by dinner plates, glasses, condiments, bread and utensils, this published workshop leader whispered the taboo words of our tribe. Words that had been spinning through my head, without being typed, penned, or communicated in any written form, for months.

            My excuses are as wide as the Nile and may even hold a drop of water. Yet there are a couple of coping mechanisms that keep my hard-earned identity as a writer intact and skills from falling out of my felucca.

Felluca on the Nile

            The first is the Poem-a-Day Program. Whether or not you’re a poet, you may find comfort and structure in playing with poetry’s wide range of styles. Poetry’s compact yet flexible forms provide a perfect outlet for exploring a single thought or emotion. The structure is a navigable chart when writing prose becomes a turbulent cataract in your river of life.

            I’ve found the succinct forms of Japanese poetry provide a solid raft to keep my tentative pen paddling. Tanka, haiku and several others, are short enough that they feel playful. Yet their set syllabic rules keep one focused and fishing the depths for the perfect word. Ultimately, this practice will have improved your prose when you’re ready to get back to shore.

            If you’re in a writing group, try a Tanka-Two-Step. It goes like this:

  1. A tanka is a five-line poem broken into these syllabic counts: 5/7/5/7/7. It does not require rhyme.
  2. As a group, choose:
    1. a theme to start
    2. assign an order to pass the poems to each member
    3. who will write the first poem
    4. how long to expect for each member to complete and pass-ontheir tanka to the next scribe
    5. and the time frame for this as a group exercise. Our group of four chose a month, larger groups may want longer.
  3. Once the first tanka has been written, it’s passed to the next member, who writes their tanka beginning with the last word.
  4. At the end of the exercise, organize your group’s work

In our group, working collaboratively motivated those who were struggling while the short form limited the commitment of those who had works in progress. It was fun, provided insight to each other’s styles as well as a collection of works we printed up for gifts.

Sometimes, when we’re lost Still Writing by Dani Shapiroin an overwhelming pool, flotsam comes by in just the right form of a writer’s guide. Still Writing by Dani Shapiro addresses the modern writer’s dilemma with her own memoir which acts as a study guide in good writing (if you can pull yourself out of the story long enough to analyze the prose).


Still writing… Still paddling. No one is alone on this world ship. And we are a tribe who thrives on two-stepping with taboos.

Behind the felluca is Aswan's Old Cataract Hotel, now a Sofitel property,  where Agatha Christie wrote, "Death on the Nile."

Behind the felucca is Aswan’s Old Cataract Hotel, now a Sofitel property, where Agatha Christie wrote, “Death on the Nile.”

4 thoughts on “What To Do When You’re “Not Writing…”

    • Our VCFA compatriot was quick to point out that blogging is writing (unfortunate I had to point out the time between posts!). However, journals , “work” writing, and even the occasional long letter informs our creative soul. I bet that curriculum rocks!

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