Writer’s Block: A Newer Take

WritersBlock

Despite writer’s block being a little too near and dear to my heart, I’ve been giving talks and workshops on it for the past few weeks.

Now it hasn’t just been writers attending. Not surprising, because any creative act offered to the public can trigger the exact same thing. It’s as though writer’s block is a chameleon. The first time I had it, it came in the form of choreographer’s block.

So, since just about every creative gets it, I thought I’d write another post on it that covers what we did and learned about it in the last little while

First we looked at the neuroscience, then the psychology (Identity Needs Theory), then some strategies.

By the end, we’d made better sense of it and discovered there’s nothing wrong with us- writer’s block isn’t a flaw that pops up or a symptom of anything.

What’s been interesting is that no matter the kind of art, I hear the same answers when I ask why it happens.

Here are the top 3:

1) It’s a part of me. You can’t take the creator out of the created.

2) I can’t predict or control what’s going to happen once it’s “out there”

3) I’m not sure if it’s good enough

We used these as a frame for our identity needs and by the time we were finished, discovered that every one of them is under threat (real or imagined) when we write, so no wonder it feels the way it does. It was one of those “It’s OK, we’re all OK” moments.

Let’s take a look –

#1

We pour our heart and soul into our writing. If it’s an offering about the human condition (our thoughts and feelings) the meaning the experience holds for us is bound to show. We’re exposed. We’ve given part of ourselves away and we’re vulnerable.

This is about our need for safety / connection.

#2

For all the tools we have, a crystal ball isn’t one of them. The reality is we can’t predict beyond accepting that some readers will love the work and others won’t. We can’t control that and really, who wants to? Truth is, it’s hard enough to control our own minds.

This is about our need for security / prediction.

#3

This isn’t a surprise, especially since the invention of the eraser and delete button. We can’t tell the difference between perfection and our best. We’ve become addicted to editing and keep trying to make every single poem, story or article perfect. It’s not possible or realistic.

This is about our need for agency (action) / recognition.

 

What helps? Here’s the 5 step plan we came up with.

- BE AWARE – check in with yourself, mind and body. Ask what need feels most under threat and then explore that belief honestly.

STEP AWAY – do something else that inspires you -this resets your physiology

THINK SPACE - minimize the distractions in your environment, tidy up

- CREATE A RITUAL – candle, small bowl of water, something that sets the mood for calm

BEGIN AGAIN – remember we create best when we do it in stages. The creative parts of the brain work best sequentially, not when they’re parallel processing. So…

– review what you have

– pick out the bones (outline)

– flesh them out a bit at a time

– then write the working draft

– edit after, not as you go

One not so small last thought – remember, no one buys a book or comes to a reading because they think they’ll hate it. They’re hoping you do well, that they like your work – that they “get” it, that it touches them in some way.

Try trusting your intention and their good will. It’s a shared process.

 

 

Just Questions

MaryO1

 

“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

This quote from Mary Oliver was sent to me 3 times the week before I went away and has stayed with me ever since.

I was in seclusion on acres and acres of nothing, taking a much-needed break from my life. I didn’t realize how much I needed it till I’d unpacked and made a fire.

I watched the flames rise and vanish, wondered about mortality, and moved closer to the warm – stayed there for hours asking who I love, does life depend on that, what if love needs mortality to be possible at all?

Next day the fire was out, but I was still in the warm, still questioning – not because I hadn’t found some of the answers, but because it felt as though just the asking had more meaning.

Meaning…that’s what I’d been missing.

 

 

Life Between Floors

soft 2

I’d met her in the elevator 100’s of times, but never ever outside it.

We existed together in that small box of space but nowhere beyond it.

I once wondered if 2-minute conversations, Mondays to Fridays, for about 10 years counted as a kind of friendship and thought that one day I might do the math.

Not a lot of time, but still…maybe knowing how little we had forced us to the heart of the matter in seconds. Maybe that’s what made pretense and small talk so necessarily impossible.

Right from the very first, we clicked. She had a briefcase as old as Moses, a best friend who made her crazy and hair she said was bi-polar. We could have been sisters.

I think that’s another reason why we told our life stories the way we did: no holds barred – clipped and concise, punctuated by blinking numbers. Ground floor, capital letter – my floor, end of sentence. Done. We said what mattered most to us then and there and that was all – the way families do, or wish they could.

I remember the day she said, “I’m moving.”

It almost felt like shock. I hope I said I’d miss her. I know if I did it was true. We’d bared our souls during those rides and it felt strange to realize how integral a part of my life they’d become.

“One last thing”, she said, “don’t try so hard.”

I froze– stuck in-between “stop” and “up”, in one of those places where there are no numbers, no advance warnings – just sudden truths and unexpected reminders of what makes us human: the dreams, the fears, the things we think we hide, but never do…not quite, not really, mostly because part of us longs not to.

“You mean try soft instead? You have GOT to be kidding.”

“Start today.” she said.