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Posts tagged ‘writer's block’

Free Inspiration Download: Postcards from the Monday Post

Postcards from the Monday Post

Each week’s Monday Post image and quote are intended to inspire and connect you to your creative path. To further serve that purpose, I’ve created a PDF of 85 favorite Monday Post images and quotes, gathered for your easy perusal. Whether you’d like to start your creative practice with a new quote each day, or you’d like to keep the PDF on hand in case you feel creatively blocked, this PDF belongs in your creative toolkit.

If there are any images that you’d prefer to have in jpeg format to use as a desktop background, screensaver, or whatever else, feel free to visit the Monday Post album at the Studio Mothers Facebook page, where you can browse and download anything you like.

I was hoping to be able to offer the file without making you provide an e-mail address — as I’m personally annoyed by freebies that require personal info — but at 19MB, the file far exceeds the WordPress size limit. The download is available via e-junkie, for which you do need to enter a name and an e-mail address — but I assure you that I’m not collecting this info and won’t be adding you to any mailing list (or sharing your address with anyone else) unless you check the subscription box.

Click here to access the free download.


Zoë: Breaking the Silence

Many of you will resonate with this moving portrait from guest blogger Zoë Purdy, a freelance writer and editor. Zoë lives with her husband and three children in Toronto, Canada.

Zoe Purdy

“I’ve been thinking, and I don’t want to be a mother when I grow up,” Sofie announced gravely one day when she was about three years old. “Oh, yeah?” I answered. “Well, you get to decide, of course, but you don’t have to make up your mind until you’re an adult.” She nodded, the relief evident on her face. Sofie is my middle child, cheerful and smart, stubborn and quirky.

“Babies are cute and stuff,” she went on, “but if I have one of my own then I’ll have to take care of it.” “True enough,” I agreed. “And you don’t think you’d enjoy taking care of a baby?” Sofie has always been gentle and empathetic, and of my three children I think of her as the most nurturing. She is the one who wants to bring every ailing insect and earthworm home to be nursed back to health. When our youngest was a baby, Sofie eagerly suggested ways to soothe her when she cried: nursing, cuddling, feeding her an ice-cream sundae, covering her in stickers. It surprised me to hear that she didn’t find the idea of motherhood attractive. “It’s just that there are so many other things that I want to do and if I’m a mother, I won’t get to do them,” she explained in a matter-of-fact tone.

I protested, of course, forcing myself to sound enthusiastic despite the ache I felt gathering in my chest. I told her that being a mother is only one part of who I am, albeit a very important part. There was absolutely no reason why she couldn’t do all those incredible things she imagined and have a baby. I believed what I was saying, but I know that it fell flat. This is why: as a parent, how I engage with life and who I am fundamentally as a person have far more impact on my children than anything I actively try to teach them.

Over the next days and weeks I returned to that conversation again and again. Something bothered me and it wasn’t that my daughter’s vision of her adult life didn’t include children. If she ultimately decides that parenthood isn’t for her, I won’t object. No, what really bothered me was this: my daughter found my life unappealing and I really couldn’t fault her for it. I had let myself be swallowed whole by motherhood and I had barely noticed. When had I given up on doing gratifying and important work myself? When had I decided that it was enough to raise other people who might grow up to do interesting things, to make their own valuable contributions to the world?

Three-year-olds are fickle creatures. You could ask Sofie what she wants to do when she grows up and get a different answer every day of the week. I’m sure that I too entertained a variety of career fantasies as a child, but one thing has remained constant throughout my life: my love of the written word. I have been devoted to writing and books for as long as I can remember.

My mother tells me that I dictated stories to her before I could read and write. Later I took to carrying around a small notebook just like one of my favourite storybook heroines, Harriet the Spy. As we rode the bus I would jot down notes about the other passengers and then spin off into wild speculations about their lives. At school I was known as a daydreamer — I was always busy putting together stories in my head, making up characters and sticking them into different scenarios to see what would happen.

Sofie writingI was a shy child who was constantly told to speak up at school. Whenever a teacher read my writing for the first time, they always remarked with surprise that my voice was so strong and clear. In writing, I was able to try out other lives, to get out of my own head and inhabit someone else’s. It’s not that I was unhappy with my particular circumstances or with who I was; I simply wasn’t content to experience everything through only one set of eyes when books and my imagination gave me the ability to live and to feel so much more broadly and deeply.

I felt a kinship with the protagonist of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel Matilda. I almost cried in recognition when I read these lines: “So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

As I got older, I never gave any thought to whether I could make my living as a writer. I always assumed that I would find a different way to support myself, but I never doubted that I would continue to write. It was a part of who I am, as basic and incontrovertible as the colour of my eyes.

When I graduated from university with a degree in English literature, I had no firm plan for what would come next. My boyfriend Erik was working on his PhD in chemical engineering at the time, and he spent his days in the lab developing a novel method of aerosol sampling. We joked that our relationship represented the meeting of Arts and Science. While there are plenty of good things to be said about a liberal arts program, it doesn’t prepare you for any specific occupation. Engineering majors become engineers, while English majors become… Englishologists? Baristas? My fellow graduates were all heading off to teacher’s college and law school in droves, but I hadn’t applied to either. I already had a full-time job at a bookstore. While I didn’t envision myself in retail forever, selling books certainly beat selling coffee. I decided to take a year to work and figure out what to do next.

I cast a wide net, sending out resumes and applications to anything that looked remotely appealing. I was particularly interested in a Master of Fine Arts in writing and literature. Spending a couple of years in an MFA program doing nothing but writing and reading was incredibly appealing. Even better, for the first time in my life I would be in the company of other people who thought that these activities were not only legitimate but also important. It was a way to put off adult life and its responsibilities a while longer. There was scholarship money available, and undergraduate teaching or editorial internships could offset the costs further while providing work experience. It wasn’t entirely impractical. I put together my portfolio, rustled up some reference letters, and summoned the courage to send in my applications.

The acceptance letter came that spring, the day after I found out that I was pregnant. Erik and I had agreed that we wanted children, but in that vague way you talk about things that are too far away to feel real. This, however, was real. When the shock wore off, we welcomed the idea of a baby. The timing wasn’t perfect: we weren’t married, we had no money, and Erik was still a student himself. The MFA would have necessitated moving across the country — so for now, school and motherhood were mutually exclusive. I turned down the offer. I told myself that I was postponing it rather than giving up on the idea entirely, but then, as if on cue, I stopped writing. As my belly grew, I imagined my creativity being channeled into the new life within it.

That autumn just after the new school year started, I gave birth to our son. Max entered the world in dramatic fashion, an accidental homebirth. Erik remembered only one thing from our prenatal class and it turned out to be highly relevant: newborns are extremely slippery, and you must keep a firm grasp on them if you don’t want to drop them onto the floor. So on that sunny fall afternoon we went from being two individuals to being a family of three. The world turned upside down. Read more

Writer’s Block: Fact or Fiction?

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?


Ellie: WANTED: One Hobgoblin. No Navels, Please.

[Crossposted from my personal blog.]

Want to know what happens when you Google “writer’s block”? I’ll tell you: a whole lot of nothing.

Wikipedia provides this definition: “Writer’s block may have many causes. A writer may run out of inspiration. The writer may be greatly distracted and feel they may have something that needs to be done before hand.”

I always feel greatly distracted, and I always have something that needs to be done beforehand. So far laundry and the need to pay some attention to my children, on occasion, hasn’t prevented me from being able to write.

Is it the other option? Have I run out of inspiration?

Here’s what normally happens: I’m going about my day, minding my own business, when ZING! a little germ of a thought, or idea, just pops into my head. It doesn’t particularly matter if it is a good idea or not. What matters is what it does to me: I turn it over and over, around and around, it takes on a life of its own and I can’t not write about it. Once I’ve written about it, gotten it out of me, then I decide if it is worth putting out there for general consumption. Since I’m terrible at figuring out what is good, and what isn’t, I generally just put it all out there. Lucky you.

Having nothing to say, no little germ of an idea or thought to be found anywhere in the vast wasteland that is my brain, is new to me. It appears the little hobgoblin in my head that produces things to write about has gone on to better endeavors, like navel gazing. It is too generous to call what I have a Muse — Muses are surrounded in light with long flowing white robes and bestow wonderful ideas upon people….. mine kind of snortles around looking for acorns and occasionally chucks me one.

The kids, my other source of seemingly endless material, aren’t cooperating. They have been sick and haven’t been up to their usual shenanigans. Unless, of course, I were to talk about the half hour conversation I had with my son yesterday about his boy parts, and even my hobgoblin knows that isn’t a good idea.

I don’t think I appreciated how much writing, for me, is a kind of self-therapy; I am inspired to write when I’m churning with some problem, anxiety or hurdle. And you know what? I’m feeling pretty good these days. Last week was awful — to be sure. Someone has been throwing up in my house for the past seven days (now it’s my husband, even the dog had a turn). We’ve been house-bound, bored and rundown for a long time. But I’m okay. I kept my cool, took care of my kids, let myself off the hook with the housework, and we’re getting through it.


So I guess I’ll kick back, relax and wait for my hobgoblin to stop looking at her navel. Or for someone to pee in the DVD player, or something.

In desperation, I even Googled “I have nothing to say.” You know what I found? A whole bunch of people writing about how they have nothing to write about.

Hmmmmm…there’s an idea.

Cathy: Writer’s Block in the extreme

How do I get from this:


To a complete final chapter?

This page has been staring me in the face for weeks now from the left side of my desk. Behind this page in my mind’s eye, I can see the movie version playing with all the characters I have introduced and their reactions to Felix as he begins his presentation.

I see the principal giving a very-pleased-to-have-this-young-man-in-our-midst introduction. I see his parents settling into the folding chairs proud as parents can be, I see row upon row of classes increasing in grade level to the back of the room, his friends toward the back, his sisters in the front row. I see his difficult sister coming around, and his shy sister, finally without her thumb in her mouth watching him with a grin from ear to ear. I see the school nurse/confidante and the gym teacher who broke up the fight cheering him on with thumbs up on the side lines. I hear Felix’s thoughts as he surveys the room before he begins to speak, moving from nervous exhilaration to knowing he’s had a lot of support all along, if he’d only recognized it, and now that he does, he knows he can do this presentation better than anyone. His solitary nerves disappear and by virtue of his feelings of support from so many he loves and who love him, he realizes anything is possible.

Really, this of all the chapters should be the easiest to write. All the difficulties he’s gone through are over, the good things are securely in place. So how is it I can’t write the words to put him on stage, in front of the audience for the chapter to occur and wrap up this book?

Everything I’ve said above and more I’ve been saying to myself for a very long time. I’ve been saying them through writing much of the rest of the book, through his trials and tribulations, I have had this scene in mind since the first page was written in 2004, maybe even 2003. All I know is the class I was working in at the time and that it was that class that inspired this idea. Sixth graders, gotta love them. Wow, must be graduating high school now. And I’m still hung up in this book!

Please, does anyone know how to put his feet on the steps up to the stage to start this ending? I’m killing myself here between knowing what I want to write, the lack of uninterrupted time and sleep that affect the work, and the sheer actual words that will put him on stage. The movie in my head seems to have come out before the advent talkies.

Thank you for allowing me to indulge in my inner dialogue. I figured if I wrote it down and put it ‘out there’ I might make actual progress — maybe tomorrow.

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