What to write when the ideas aren't flowing

Do you love the idea of a writing retreat, but feel intimidated by having to write something on the spot and share with other participants? Me too. What consistently surprises me, however, is most of the time the magic happens--even when it doesn't seem like it. During our last Tuscany retreat there was an evening when I just couldn't come up with a piece -- so instead I wrote about why I couldn't write.

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How we find water, stand in it, how we’re drawn there, how it cleanses us both in reality and symbolically. The truth is the cumulative effects of emotion and travel and listening have caught up with me and also I stayed up too late finishing a book and so today don’t know what it is that I want to write but at least I have a lot of new dresses to wear. And even if I can’t come up with the thing I want to say I know I am being filled, that rising waters will one day spill over or break through an inexplicably built dam, hopefully in time for the start of Nanowrimo, because wouldn’t that be cool, to finish a novel in one mad rush, like standing in a river that scares you with its power. I know that water is a thing that restores us but it also can destroy, and the book that kept me awake was about this, in part, the destruction of a city, and also about the destruction of reasonability, of snowballing hubris, of the lack of sense, of stolen lives and the absence of compassion, of bold-faced lies and dead dogs. And the truth is this truth has hung in my mind today like a poisoned haze, and so has the fact that I can’t always say what I want to say when I want to say it. Thoughts and ideas spiral, a tide pool or a tidal wave pushing along small cars that are supposed to roll but instead they float. So if I’m glad to be where the earth is dry and hot salamanders skitter across baked bricks you’ll forgive me, If I like to be where the color of the sun brightens walls and trees and grass and pots of dry flowers, you’ll understand.

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It's not a perfectly coherent piece, and it doesn't have to be. The important thing is I wrote something, allowing a stream of consciousness that drew on the experiences and emotions and present-moment awareness of what was going on -- the heat (I finally bought several new sundresses and wore them in succession throughout that day), the book (Dave Eggers' Zeitoun, about an American Muslim family's experience during Hurricane Katrina), the writing prompt (which had to do with water), the parallel thoughts about my internal struggles and the greater world external struggles, the contrast between the place I was physically and the place I was emotionally. Writing is messy, just like us, and that's okay. Come try it out with us.