What if You Don’t? by Catharine Bramkamp

Catharine BramkampLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us about “What if You Don’t?”


This was the first year in seven that I did not write up a new novel draft — I call them raw drafts — for NaNoWriMo. I started to write; I had the scenes all set up courtesy of the Bootcamp run by C.S. Lakin.

I had the characters courtesy of my fervid imagination. I won the last five NaNoWriMo’s, clocking in the winning 50,000 words — a whole novel in 30 days.

So I knew I could do it. I had it all; I was ready for November 1st.

But after 10,000 words or so – nothing.


Not feeling it.

More importantly, I wasn’t even doing it. I wasn’t even writing bad, crappy words, producing that infamous crappy first draft. I wasn’t even involved in the spirit of the month.

Did the Muse desert me?

I showed up every morning, but managed to only write lists of things to do rather than the continued adventures of my heroine.

Am I finished with creative writing?

Do I have nothing to say?

Did the challenges of publication for the previous books sour me on ever writing again?

Am I depressed that the family holiday newsletters get better reviews than my novels?

Like, what is the point?

If you are reading this, you know perfectly well what the point is.

The point is to write and be creative and work in the zone as often as possible because that zone is the happiest place a writer can play in.

But what if the playground is deserted?

It may be empty to give me/us a break.

We know that the point and the joy of writing is the process, not necessarily the product. Got it.

But what if part of our process is to write nothing at all?

Maybe part of the writing process is just thinking.

Maybe part of your process is allowing the flow of life to carry you along for a while and land you, eventually and certainly, into a new space where that flow will produce words and ideas and excellent material.

I believe that an important part of the writing process is allowing yourself to be really, really bored.

Arundhati Roy launched her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, twenty years after her first book, the God of Small Things. Twenty years.

On her emerging book: “Fiction takes its time and is layered … It is not just a human rights report about how many people have been killed and where. How do you describe the psychosis of what is going on? Except through fiction.”

And through time.

In between novels, Roy worked and wrote about politics in India, expressing her views and her voice through a different medium.

For twenty years she wrote essays supporting political reform. Which we can easily argue, is as creative as writing a novel.

If you find yourself, like me, sitting before a blank computer screen, feeling abandoned by the Muse, panicking over your paltry dried out imagination, consider expanding the definition of creativity.

Creativity and inspiration isn’t just about writing words on a page (despite the title of our blog, Writers Fun Zone.)

Creativity, as you may suspect, is a broad, inclusive subject.

  • Have you recently created a comfortable home environment?
  • Created a couple of children?
  • Created and nurtured a successful relationship?
  • Created friends?
  • Created dinner?
  • Created a trip?
  • Created a job?

I love writing. It’s what I do, it’s who I am.

But it’s not everything.

Once this wonderful obsession is put into perspective, if that is not a contradiction in terms, then you can step back and think: I’m not a failure because I didn’t achieve this singular goal. I’m incubating an idea that will become large, fabulous and creative. And maybe it will take a little more than a month to manifest. Maybe a year. Maybe twenty.

If you are beating yourself up for not reaching that 50,000 words this November (like I am), consider, and then embrace the idea that our creativity is expressed continually and in very different forms, that frankly, should be better honored.

Embrace that there are other life projects that sometimes take center stage in your head and your heart and need attention.

And when the friends depart, when the plane touches down, when the party is over, when the move is complete, when the paint dries in the final remodeled room, suddenly there will be room in your head to return to work.

Think of Roy, incubating her characters for a decade, waiting for the right time to allow them to appear and take over her life.

Then the voices will sound, your characters will spring to life, and you will write.

And because it’s December — let us all agree that creativity can be as simple as knowing the best place to hide the gifts, hide the extra weight, hide the fruitcake. It sometimes doesn’t look like writing at all.



Catharine BramkampCatharine Bramkamp is the co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns. She is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back.

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  • Beth Barany says:

    Catharine, I so agree with you that creativity can look so many different ways, and sometimes/often/all the time, we need to be gentle with the creative writing process. We so need to step away some times and let things fester/compost in the dark away from our worried brain. Thanks so much again for a fun and thoughtful post for Writer’s Fun Zone!

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