Monday, March 11, 2013

Writer's Block: You Shall Not Pass

"You Shall Not Pass"
Photo cropped from original by somegeekintn, under cc license

Every couple of months, I see a blog post or a conversation on FB or G+ on writer's block and what to do about it.

To be honest, I'm not sure I believe in it as an individual entity. To believe in writer's block is to believe that we are akin to factories, with a scheduled amount of creativity and that if we don't produce to that standard, we must be blocked.

I think there are essentially two circumstances that underlie what we think of as writer's block: Exhaustion of one kind or another or a flaw in the work at hand that makes the subconcious stumble. The first is a general issue and will interfere with a broad range of creative expression. The second is a specific issue and may respond to shifting gears to a new project.

The WIP (work in progress)-specific problem is the simpler of the two to handle and it's where so many of the common 'cures' for writers block focus: morning pages, exercise, change of scenery, shift in genre, shift in mode of expression, writing prompts and exercises, etc. The trick here is to shake up your subconscious a bit in the hopes that what is stuck will become clear and the work can continue. 

The more general problem of creative exhaustion is probably more common than we admit. In order to create, we must care for ourselves: body, mind, and soul. Our full self is the well we draw on when we create art, and as a dear friend reminds me from time to time, if we are to harvest the tree, we need to water the roots.

When I run up against a roadblock in my own work, I first look to shift to a different project. If I'm writing a novel, I read and write poetry or work on a short story. I step away from the piece that has been problematic for a day or two. If nothing changes and if I'm not able to feel any spark in the other kinds of creativity, then I need to look inside and make sure I haven't neglected to care for myself in some way.

Sometimes it's simple self care: getting more sleep or eating more balanced meals, for example. Sometimes it's about the stress of fulfilling other life roles and responsibilities. I've just finished an intensive few weeks of revisions for DERELICT, the SF novel whose first draft I serialized earlier in the year. While I was immersed in it, I let some of my basic household organization fall by the wayside. While I have other deadlines to manage, my anxiety over my real life responsibilities will make it impossible to find the writing zone. If I plowed ahead, I'd feel stuck and frustrated. But I wouldn't call it writer's block.

It's more of an internal tension or wrongness.

When I've stopped to listen to that resistance instead of fighting it, I find that I'm able to return to balance and creativity much, much sooner. There is also a natural ebb and flow to our creativity that I find better to honor at the outset than attempt to override it in a pure effort of will.

If this sounds like I'm all 'loosey goosey' in my approach to writing, that is not the case. While I honor my internal rhythms and seek to find balance and support for my creativity, I also believe in approaching the writing with a discipline. I write nearly every day. I also believe that following a daily discipline of writing helps you train for the work, just as running every day helps you train for a marathon.

Writing is my job and I treat it as such. Before I shifted to writing full time, I had a 23+ year career as a physical therapist. There were days when I didn't feel sharp or particularly thrilled to be at work, but I would never have described it as 'physical therapist's block'. And while there is a difference between working as a therapist ( or a plumber or a lawyer or a computer programmer) and being an artist, I believe there is an element of creativity in all jobs.

So don't let the concept of writer's block be your personal Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm moment. (I bet you've been wondering when I'd relate the photo to the post.) It doesn't have to be an epic battle--it's your own creativity you're fighting, not a Balrog of Morgoth.

Today’s post was inspired by Forward Motion’s Merry-Go-Round topic, “Writer’s Block”. If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and read about their ideas, then check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour.

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