Becalmed: to keep motionless by lack of wind; to stop the progress of.
A year or so ago, I read The Golden Ocean by Patrick O’Brien. O’Brien is noted for his historical seafaring novels, including Master & Commander, on which the stunning movie of the same name was based.
There is a sequence in The Golden Ocean in which the sailing ship lies dead in the water due to the absence of wind. This situation is known as being becalmed and is the bane of sailing ships and sailors the world over. It can be a dangerous time and, if it continues long enough, deadly. Especially in begone days, when there were no such things as diesel engines, long distance communications, or other modern technologies.
Sailors and sailing ships aren’t the only things subject to becalming
When I first drafted this post, I was in a season of becalming. That was last Fall and I’d been becalmed since the previous July. During that time, the closest I got to writing fiction was thinking about it. When warranted, I recorded ideas and thoughts, but there were precious few of those. All progress on novels stopped.
I was becalmed.
What Causes Creative Becalming
A number of things can bring on creative becalming.
- An over burdened schedule
Some of these things cannot be avoided. You can do everything in your power to prevent illness, for example, but sooner or later, you will get a cold or the flu. That’s just a fact of life.
Some things are more easily managed. Your schedule is somewhat in your control. You have the ability to say “yes” or “no” to the various requests made of you. You may need to exercise that control more effectively, but in the end, it is up to you.
When Can It Happen?
Creative becalming can happen any time, but there are some situations in which you can almost expect it.
- Have you recently experienced or are you anticipating a major life change? Getting married, having a baby, moving, and changing jobs or careers are times when the burdens of Things That Must Be Done and the magnitude of the adjustments required make it next to impossible to avoid creative becalming.
- One potentially high-risk time for creative becalming is the completion of a major task. Even a successful completion can bring on becalming.
- Illness or injury–yours or a family member’s–is fertile ground for becalming.
What Do You Do When It Happens?
While everyone is different and responds to events and experiences differently, there are a few things you can do when you find yourself becalmed.
First and foremost, don’t panic! This is a normal part of the creative process.
Find ways to make use of the down time. Seafarers used periods of becalming to make repairs or do maintenance. You can do the same thing. What’s your biggest weakness in writing? Find a course or book that addresses that area and improve your expertise. Honing craft is never a waste of time and you want your “sails” in tiptop shape when the wind rises again, so get busy.
Personal Note: I don’t recommend this course of action for everyone, but one thing I did was partner with Danielle, who was also in a bit of creative becalming, to start this blog and plan for As The Mystery Unfolds. Talking about, designing, and planning for two new blogs was a creative outlet all by itself. Although taking on two new ventures at the same time can be difficult at best, in the process of talking about themes and messages and the mission of each blog, I began to feel a hint of wind.
No, it isn’t writing as most of us think of writing, but it is creative and that little breeze will, in the end, most likely become just the wind I need to get going on fiction.
Investigate other parts of the writing business. What do you know about publishing, marketing, or platform? Take the time now to learn more.
Read. I mean, for fun. Stock up on books by your favorite authors and a few new authors and have a read-in. Put your own work completely out of your mind and enjoy someone else’s.
Research. No matter what you write about, there is probably something you don’t know enough about. Giving time to research during the writing process isn’t something most of us prefer to do.
But you’re not writing; you’re becalmed. So why not dig into that research? Use what would otherwise be writing time for researching.
Catch up or work ahead on some of those other “necessary things”. For example, I’m writing blog posts for two blogs as ideas come to mind. I’m also writing freelance articles that can be used later. When my becalming is over, I’ll have a backlog of blog posts and freelance articles that allows me to spend more time writing fiction.
Take a break. Maybe what you really need is time away from writing. Why not now? Take some time to garden or go for walks or pursue the hobby you never have the time for when writing is going well.
Being becalmed isn’t the end of the world. Make the best use of those periods when there is no wind of creativity in your sails so that when the wind rises again, you’ll be ready.
Because the chances are, the wind will rise again.