As found here. Happy Friday!
Writer’s block. Whether or not you’re a writer, as a creative person you know what it feels like to be paralyzed by the page, the canvas, the studio — completely unable to move forward. Whether you feel bereft of ideas and inspiration or are simply unable to realize an existing project, banging your head against your creative work doesn’t ever feel good.
As a creativity coach, I can tell you that the best protection against writer’s block is to show up and do your creative work every day, on schedule. (Those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo this year know that you don’t have the luxury of being blocked.) The force of habit is a powerful antidote for creative paralysis.
But sometimes a block does seem insurmountable. You show up, install your butt in the chair, and gnash your teeth for two hours. You find yourself doing anything and everything aside from your creative work. You spend so much time doing “research” on the web that you can’t even remember what you’re researching. Suddenly you find yourself reading about how yellow was an exceptionally popular color among Latvian car buyers in 1982 and realize just how far you’ve sunk.
Now, if you’ve been procrastinating for months/years, then you’re not doing your work at all, which is a different topic. But what if you are doing your work, merrily rolling along, and then one day — BAM! — you can’t dredge up so much as a line of prose or a square inch of canvas? What’s going on? Should you plow on through with your eyes closed, or give yourself space to percolate and breathe?
I was struck by these two contrasting views of writer’s block:
Toni Morrison: “When I sit down in order to write, sometimes it’s there; sometimes it’s not. But that doesn’t bother me anymore. I tell my students there is such a thing as ‘writer’s block,’ and they should respect it. You shouldn’t write through it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.
Thomas Mallon: “My prescription for writer’s block is to face the fact that there is no such thing. It’s an invented condition, a literary version of the judicial ‘abuse excuse.” Writing well is difficult, but one can always write something. And then, with a lot of work, make it better. It’s a question of having enough will and ambition, not of hoping to evade this mysterious hysteria people are always talking about.”
What do you think? I’ve generally been of the mind that there’s no block that can stand up to the bulldozer of a 500-word daily quota. But in recent months, I too have had days when even 500 words were impossible. I had to wait out torture at the keyboard (literally, on my wordcount log, I wrote “hours of torture” next to my piddly 62 words for the day). Thankfully, those periods pass and invariably I return to flow. Still, more often than not, I think there’s a danger in giving writer’s block more credit than it deserves. It becomes too easy to shrug off our work when it gets difficult. Of course it’s difficult; it wouldn’t be worth doing if it were easy, would it? Hitting an uncomfortable patch doesn’t mean that we need to put a “gone fishing” sign on the door and tell ourselves to wait for the muse to return.
As Jodi Picoult put it, “Writing is total grunt work. A lot of people think it’s all about sitting and waiting for the muse. I don’t buy that. It’s a job. There are days when I really want to write, days when I don’t. Every day I sit down and write.”
And one of my favorites, from William Faulkner: “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”
What’s your view of writer’s block? Where, in your opinion, is the line between being at a creative crossroads and merely giving in to another excuse to avoid your work?
…you can frustrate me:
1. my new printer won’t communicate with my computer, so I can’t print out the edits I did at writing group to read and redline a bit more by pages in hand.
2. you come to me in fits and starts while occupying half my concentration all the time.
…you make me do cartwheels, figuratively speaking, of course:
1. I love a new idea, it makes my heart race and my arms want to write or type in that very moment to the exclusion of all else. I get that tingly feeling like a teen falling in love.
2. I love rewriting, reworking, getting it right.
3. (Please let there be a 3 so the positive side can win today.) That netherworld feeling of one foot here, in the house with the kids and the laundry, and one foot there, in my imagination with my character and his family and friends and dog. This week has been hovering around 100 degrees outside and in my manuscript, it’s Thanksgiving in New England — bare trees, the beginnings of snow, nose reddening winds.
Ah, thank you writing, for the cool, cool breeze!
[Crossposted from musings in mayhem]
(parts cross-posted from my personal blog)
Okay, I admit it. Sometimes I can be a real literary snob. But after obtaining a BA and an MA in English, which required me to read approximately 500 works of English literature in 5 1/2 short years (all of which were considered classics), I started to scoff at certain types of books.
And since an MA in English is about as useless as an advanced degree in Bird Calling, I’ve tried (tried being the key word) to put a little distance between myself and overly-commercialized drivel, because I couldn’t possibly be seen reading that stuff. I have an image to maintain, right? Snobbish-literary-type, playing-bongos-in-some-smokey-dive, composing-odes-to-Kafka-on-a-cocktail-napkin. You get the picture.
Enter Twilight. I read all the articles, all the reviews, watched the hysterical swooning, saw how one little book about teenaged vampires turned the world on its head, and Masters-in-English Brittany sniffed disdainfully at all that nonsense and went on reading “big girl” books. You want me to read a young adult, sci-fi vampire book? Please.
But there is a part of me that pays attention to pop culture, and when talk about Stephanie Meyer and her stupid vampire books wouldn’t go away, I became curious. The writer in me was curious about the writing. The sleep-deprived mom in me wondered what in the hell would possess my son’s preschool teacher (another mom) to stay up well past midnight to watch New Moon the night it hit theaters. Was I missing something?
So for Christmas, I asked Tom to get me the series, and being Tom, he looked at me like I’d just casually asked him to buy me a crack pipe. But he got me the first three books anyway (and didn’t buy me the fourth because it was still in hardback and he didn’t want to pay hardback prices if I hated the books) and New Year’s Eve, I parked my butt on the couch and read ALL THREE BOOKS straight through.
I haven’t read books with that much enthusiasm in I don’t even know how long. Maybe never. I was able to put Harry Potter down at least. With the Twilight series, the house could have been on fire and I would gladly have gone up in smoke just to read one more page.
And I don’t particularly enjoy young adult, sci-fi, or vampire books. So that was uncharacteristic for me.
But even stranger still, reading about Edward and Bella appears to have tripped my circuit breaker back into the “on” position, and as long as I am under the Twilight spell, I can write and write and write. I actually had to leave Tom twice in the middle of a conversation yesterday because words and phrases kept popping into my head and I felt this odd (and lately, all but forgotten) compulsion to go write those things down RIGHT THEN.
And I want to point out, here for all the world to see, that I had absolutely no intention whatsoever to start writing again. I hadn’t given it the first thought. In fact my unspoken New Year’s resolution regarding writing was that I’d only write when I had a real compulsion to do so, but was *not* going to sit anywhere near a computer and try to compose anything.
And yet here I am, burning up the keyboard like a woman possessed. I had less than two thousand words written a week ago, and that was after a couple of months of plodding along whenever I felt a scene coming. Now I have 6, 942.
It’s been a very odd couple of days.
Since I finished the first three books, I haven’t been able to sleep. Or at least sleep deeply. All night my brain is working away, re-imagining scenes, analyzing the words, the moods, the tone, the characters, the use of adverbs (usually a no-no), the use of modifiers (also a no-no), the way Stephanie Meyer describes every little nuance of every single facial expression, tone of voice, shade of skin. My brain wants to learn everything it can. I’ve been so manic about the Twilight saga that I sat down and read Midnight Sun (Twilight told from Edward’s perspective) — and then was promptly inspired to write a chapter from my own male protagonist’s point-of-view. Then, when I thought I was well and truly going to lose my mind if I didn’t read Breaking Dawn, bought it yesterday and read it straight through, and rented the movie Twilight today. I’ll probably sneak off to watch New Moon this weekend.
I may need a twelve-step program after this.
But I’m not one to turn down a gift Muse, in whatever guise she appears, and if vampire love is what it takes to get me writing feverishly again (and I can’t tell you how good it is to feel obsessive compulsive again), then I’ll take it.
The funny thing is, and it only occurred to me after the fact, Stephanie Meyer is a writing mother, too. In this interview she describes the way Twilight first came to her in a dream, and the strange compulsion she felt to write the story.
Perhaps we’ve been bitten by the same muse. :-)
Those of you who have been getting to know me here may have begun to notice a certain tendency toward being a wee-bit cock-eyed or shall we say, taking a lot of left turns off path. I think I read that old Robert Frost poem at a very young age and have taken the path less travelled in virtually everything I do ever since. Like trying to finish my book for instance, and all the various things I can so easily find to distract myself from doing so.
So there I was sitting at the back of S’s Taekwando class when Master Ko offered a sign-up sheet to the students for their parents for a free tai chi class at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. Master Ko and I have a lot of difficulty in communication. He apologizes for his ‘bad English’ and I apologize for too many rock shows in my youth leaving me relatively deaf at a relatively young age. Rarely do I come away from a conversation having completely understood what has transpired. I’m still not exactly certain the cost of S’s class from month to month, but he just smiles and takes my check, no matter what I make it out for.
Saturday, I arrived at 7:45 a.m. No one there, door locked, and my coffee hit. I really needed to pee. So I darted back home (around the corner, so to speak) and wondered if I should have shown up next week. Darn, when I was signing up with wiggly C on my lap, I didn’t look at the top of the page, either. When 8 a.m. rolled around, I hopped back in the minivan, and darted back around the corner. Four vehicles were in the lot, but still the doors were locked, and aren’t martial artists known for their punctuality? Could it be I am merely one among dingbats, or did Master Ko have an emergency this particular morning?
Well, I made a few cell phone calls, deleted some voicemails. I watched a couple of people start half-hearted and conversant stretching exercises outside the door. 8:30 a.m. rolled around and well, I needed to pee again. OK, I know — tmi — but these things are important considerations in about a year’s time after having a baby, when you’ve already had other kids, too. I got out of the van, practically dancing, to talk with the one guy who had a black belt, and he suggested we could go around the side of the building where he could get us started on some tai chi in the grass while we wait for Master Ko. So I corralled other reluctant participants from their vehicles, and we did just that. I was nervous the whole time that I would pee my pants with the exercises, but I survived by looking at my watch every thirty seconds or so. At 9 a.m. I asked, ‘do you think he’s here yet?’ It had been indicated earlier that he usually arrives by 9 for another tai chi class on Saturdays. Black Belt Guy peeked around the corner, and yes, Master Ko was unlocking the doors.
After my run to the ladies room, and I do mean run, The Four Dingbats and Master Ko straightened out the confusion re: the free class for parents of students business that was to start the following week to last through next month. Of course, I will be out of town for the ‘first’ class. Master Ko kindly merged the Dingbats into his usual 9 a.m. tai chi class, of which only one participant had shown up. He was very informative and really tweaked us into the proper positions. When all was said and done, I ended up with a 90-min intense beginner tai chi work out. It really cleared my head, felt great, and set me up for a day to prepare for that night’s slumber party of half a dozen 13-14 year old young men. I survived the party, too, even with the all-out Nerf gun war occurring at 1am.
Bottom line? I highly recommend tai chi for all of us who have been having difficulty getting that last 10-20 pounds off, or those of us with achy joints, or bad backs, or saggy mommy bellies. It’s a great all-around workout combining stretching, cardio, and strengthening exercise all at once, and works the core most of all. Throw out the dreaded treadmill, it’s collecting dust anyway. The weights and the exercise ball are taking up room in a corner or your gym membership is ignored. The yoga tapes are also collecting dust. And best of all, once you get the hang of it, tai chi is easy enough to do for the rest of your life. I know. I have had elderly Chinese neighbors in most of my condo complexes and even in this single family home neighborhood throughout my adult life. Even on chill winter mornings, they are outside, even up in their nineties, making slow graceful circles with their arms, cutting through their clouds of breath.
I find, if I keep myself moving, it keeps the cobwebs out of my mind, so the muse doesn’t get hung up in them. I can make the connections between where I left off and what needs to occur next in my manuscript. So, for all us sedentary writer types, I really do recommend some kind of movement, and having tried it all, tai chi seems the best option so far.
I’ve really appreciated being a part of this community. I’ve gained confidence in areas I neglected for a long time. I got back in touch with my own creativity in a variety of ways, the biggest of which was returning to a long ago manuscript that I had back-burnered along with many other projects. I’m great at starting things.
However, I think I’m at a point where I’ve hit a freeze. I wasn’t sure why for quite some time, but I think I finally figured it out. I’m near the end. I’m not great at finishing things. I don’t really understand why I have this historic block on finishing things, but I do. I’ve worked in education for many years, but without a degree in it. I started my MEd, but barely, many years ago now. K was a toddler, now he’s a teen. I can say this or that got in the way, but then I think about writing papers in college, or even my thesis, or art projects, or that silly modeling stint I wasted 600 bucks getting together a portfolio then dropped just as suddenly. And I realize, I really have an issue with sticking it out to the end. I rarely stay in one employ for more than a few years at a time, even if I’ve stayed in the same field. I seem to keep starting over.
Now, I’m at the end of my novel, and I still have some research, etc to do for the middle, but I’m really at the point where I’m tying up the loose ends, and I’ve hit a wall. A big wall made of concrete with a tangle of rebar throughout. I have all the advice I can give to anyone else, however, all my advice isn’t doing a darn bit of good for me. I keep hearing myself repeat that I know where I’m going, I know how to get there, but the writing just isn’t happening.
I don’t think pushing my self-imposed deadline out a little farther is going to help me. That just tells me, I still am not writing whether I give myself another couple of weeks or a month to do it. I’m. Not. Writing. The. Manuscript. Now. I wasn’t writing it yesterday. Or, well, you get the idea.
I really hope as in 12 step groups, that the first step toward solving a problem is admitting I have one. OK, I’ve covered that, now where’s my 12 step group for writers who can’t finish?
Hi, my name is Cathy…
I always have something in my mental queue. Some of the ideas are very promising. Some are wacky. Some might inspire others. Some inspire me. I had thought that my next writing project would be the sequel to my novel, all about Jillian (the ex-nympho) and her pregnancy from hell. But I’m just not feeling it. It’s winter, it’s cold, and quite frankly, I’m not in the mood to write humor. I want to begin something substantial, the kind of book you want to curl up with by a raging fire, and I have an idea for a good one. It would be a historical romance set in eastern Ohio during WWI, between an American soldier and a German-American girl. The typical “shouldn’t be together, but can’t help themselves” kind of love story. That’s part of the reason I’m reluctant to write the story. It’s been told before. It also requires a lot of research. And it would be the literary equivalent of a drama, when I’m more of a sitcom writer.
So I go back and forth. Jillian and the pregnancy? WWI and love? Back and forth, all day long. I’ve been consumed with it lately, because come February 1st, I’ve got to get started on something. This not writing thing is getting miserable. I’m nervous and irritable, drinking pots of coffee, web surfing. Here, my email, my blog, Facebook, here again. All day long. I’m like an addict going through withdrawal. Don’t know what else to do. Don’t want to do anything else.
There are so many things I should be doing, but aren’t right now, and they’re crowding out the time I have for things I want to do. I’m not even sure how I’ll fit writing in.
I joined Weight Watchers last week, for the fifth or sixth time (I’ve lost count), and part of my weight loss success depends on me going to the gym. It would make sense to go in the mornings when Sam is in preschool, but that conflicts with my only writing window, too. Monday mornings are still free, but Tuesdays are completely taken up by my Weight Watchers meeting. On Wednesdays, I can either go to the gym or take John to a children’s program at the library. Thursdays and Fridays are still free, but I struggle between writing and going to the gym on those days as well. And there’s always something to clean at home. I can’t forget to add that into the mix. I feel chronically overbooked. And I’m so preoccupied with domestic minutia that I don’t have a spare brain cell to devote to making a decision.
I’d like to know where my writing muse ran off to, since she typically provides me with some guidance at times like these. But even if she could get into my head (which is doubtful, as it’s standing room only at the moment), she’d have to body check her way past my ever-increasing contingent of other muses. The paragon-of-Mommyhood Muse. The clean house Muse. The home-cooked-meal-every-night Muse. And the hit-the-gym-instead-of-sitting-on-your-butt Muse. All of whom are currently Jello wrestling for face time with me.
Meanwhile, the one muse I’d like to entertain is nowhere to be found.
I could easily write the Jillian book. I know the story backwards and forwards. In my head, I have a beginning, middle, and end. I know all the main characters, and most of the auxiliary characters, too. I could write this book on auto-pilot, because coming off of Home Improvement I know exactly what tone and momentum I need. I’ve already outlined the book, too. So why don’t I want to write it?
Because I want a challenge.
And isn’t that stupid? I have enough challenges right now. I don’t need another one. But I keep piling them on. I don’t feel successful as a wife, mother, or woman unless I can leap tall buildings in a single bound. And if I can leap one tall building, there’d better be another one on the horizon so I can keep proving myself over and over and over again.
And that’s why I want to write something completely different. To prove to myself more than anyone that I’m not a one-trick pony.
What will my next novel be? I don’t know. But I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, I’d like to know how you decide on your next project. What inspires you and what keeps you going?