Pat MacEnulty

Pat MacEnulty
Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
December 31
Writer and teacher. My most recent book, Wait Until Tomorrow: A Daughter's Memoir, is about taking care of my elderly mom. Published by The Feminist Press in 2011. I also give writing workshops on transformative writing.


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DECEMBER 28, 2011 10:58AM

Gestation is Part of the Writing Process

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 I went a couple of weeks without writing a post for this blog -- or writing anything else, for that matter. I was tired and there were some personal issues that were on my mind. I didn't even write in my journal. 

Writers tend to beat themselves up if they aren't writing, but I have learned (finally after many years) to give myself a break and to have faith that the creative urge hasn't gone anywhere. I also comfort myself with the knowledge that my favorite writer Toni Morrison says you should never force the writing. She says she can always tell when a writer is pushing the writing out instead of letting it evolve organically. So when it's not there, I let the fields remain fallow. 

I don't know exactly what is happening in the brain during those fallow periods, but I do know that eventually the words come pouring out in a torrent. That's what happened this time. I hadn't touched my notebook in a couple of weeks. And then that first line started dancing around my brainpan. The narrator in my head started explaining things to me. It was my story but it was really happening to someone else. All the things that were going on in my life fell into some kind of pattern and over a period of two days I wrote and rewrote. It seems like I wrote the story in a couple of days but it was really working itself out over the weeks. The story was like one of those children who wait to begin talking for so long that the parents become worried, but when the kid does finally start talking, she does so in full sentences. 

That's how it worked this time. Other times it may be different. You may need to prime the pump by writing in a journal or going to a writing retreat. Sometimes spending time with a friend in a coffee shop where you both commit to writing for 15 minutes can get you going again. The thing I'm trying to say is trust your instincts. If you need to stop writing for a week, a month or even two or three months, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Relax. Find some quiet time. Give the narrator in your head a chance to find the story. When it's time you'll hear it, and you'll be ready to start taking dictation.
WIY: Winter is a time for the busy natural activity of the planet to slow down. You may need to slow down a little too. Take some time to relax. In mid-February (just before you go stir-crazy) my friend Angela, whose last name happens to be Winter!, and I will be offering a Winter Writing Retreat. We'll be engaging in exercises that will help free up those trapped ideas. Think of it as a chance to play, to discover, and to deepen your writing process.

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retreats, writing

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A winter retreat sounds lovely. I'm not able to make it, but thanks for putting it out there.
Such great advice, Pat. I will be in Tucson the weekend of your writing workshop, but it sounds fabulous. Hope to catch another. Thanks!