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?
crossposting from musings in mayhem
Why is it even when I have several projects I could be working on, narrowed to two that I am working on (read procrastinating) that I generally have at least part of my writer’s eye on The Next Big Thing?
This is also true in the home improvement arena, you should see what I’ve come up with for the addition now that we are paying a mortgage and have a yard of our own rather than renting a condo.
I mean I could also be focusing on getting those wonderfully folded piles from last week into dressers before starting this week’s loads. But I’m already a day late anyway, and have no earthly idea how it is that I wash the same five outfits per family member twice a week and there are still piles of folded and sorted laundry sitting from two weeks ago.
I’m planning next spring’s gardens while the plots are currently filled and continuing to fill with weeds. I really need to buy more sand to add to my clay soil which needs to be turned and covered, with compost, too, before I start plotting next year.
I am also dreaming baby names, when I know, logistics and physicality have set in stone that C is the last of my progeny. I am thinking of new baby names instead of being present with the three kids I have now.
I can use the baby names for characters, but that is the only technical resolve I have for this dilemma I have that the next thing is better than the present. It’s sparklier, it’s as tempting as a dessert sitting on the counter while I’m preparing dinner.
Something about the new, the imagined, the dreamed is much easier because I can keep my hands clean thinking about it while the dirty work of the present is a constant.
Maybe I just have trouble with finishing, with letting go, with saying finally, for the last time, that this version of the poem, the children’s novel, the article is good enough just the way it is.
I’m sure there is a psychological disorder with a big fancy name for this. It has conveniently slipped my mind.
When it seems like you’ll do anything and everything rather than show up at the page, turn to Jerry Oltion’s 50 Strategies for Making Yourself Work. His piece is full of gems. Here’s the intro:
Work avoidance is one of the major paradoxes of the writing profession. Generally, writers want to write (or want to have written), but all too often we find ourselves doing anything else but. We’ll mow lawns, do the dishes, polish silverware–anything to keep from facing the blank page. At the same time we know we eventually have to get to work, so we come up with all sorts of strategies for forcing ourselves to the keyboard.
Read Oltion’s stragies and the full peice here. Then, get to work!
Not that any of us needs another way to waste time online (ahem), but I can’t help but share Judge By. Go to the site and you’ll see a random book cover from Amazon.com. Guess how good you think the book is, based on its cover. After you click your assessment, you’ll see what Amazon reviewers actually rated it. You can also click through to the book on Amazon, in the event that you stumble across something interesting. Quite addictive…
Distractions after announcement of finding the creative groove:
Now that’s out of the way, I hope I can write this week! Good luck to the rest of you in your creative endeavors!
After my prior complaints of not feeling like I am writing enough and my excuses-disguised-as-reasons blogs, I took a couple of pages from Christa Miller’s comments and Suzanne Kamata’s Breakfast interview. I squeezed in a little writing in my novel this week. Granted, it was a little, and I hope a little more today. Baby C was post-nursing soundly sleeping on my lap, and my back was achingly curved toward the keyboard, but I wrote. Exactly as I am doing now.
When Suzanne mentioned that her most creatively productive time of her life came after she had her twins who came bundled up with lots besides being twins, I realized I had to get moving. When Christa said:
I think it’s very limiting to say one “can’t” write a novel in stolen minutes outside tap class. Every time someone says I “can’t” I say, “Oh yeah??” OK, so maybe you can’t WRITE A NOVEL that way… but you can draft scenes. You can outline. You can brainstorm characters. All of it counts.
I drank from her dare-me spirit. Somewhere this week I began to feel if I don’t write now, when will I? Baby C will be graduating from high school when I’m 60 years old. Do I start taking myself seriously about the writing and publishing then? Will I even be around that long? I’ve learned to live in the now so much, especially because of and from aspie S, that I put off an entire lifetime of predictions and goals or the working toward them until I have “me” time. Well, guess what. My boys have been out of town for over three weeks, and what have I done? Not nearly what I thought. The time slipped away from me with so much openness about it. I’m such a procrastinating dreamer. Well if I think about it, isn’t that writing, too?
So I hunkered down. I remembered a movie I love in which Stanley Tucci’s character befriends a ‘great writer’ played by Ian Holm. It’s called Joe Gould’s Secret. If you haven’t seen the movie, my apologies but here’s the spoiler: his secret was he never wrote the book he talked about for years, decades. He died incomplete.
I don’t want to die incomplete. I want to finish this youth novel. I want to finish other projects: a couple of screenplays, another novel, organize a lifetime of poems into submissions and slim volumes. I don’t want all to be said of me at my funeral is that I was a devoted mother. Oh, I want that, too, but I have so much more to say now and I don’t want to take my time for granted anymore. Ok, it’s time to get back to the book. Please, Baby C, stay asleep just a little while longer.