“I love writer’s block. I love it for the same reasons I love tree spirits and talking woodland creatures – they’re charming and they don’t exist.” – from How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silvia, PhD (45).
I’ve been writing since I learned to construct sentences. After years of college research papers, short stories for advanced workshops, an entire year of producing nothing, and nearly losing my sanity over one stinking novel that has come back to life more than Stefano DiMera in Days of Our Lives – I couldn’t agree more with this quote.
I don’t like the term “writer’s block” either. As a principle I don’t keep it in my repertoire. “Writer’s block” sounds like an affliction that won’t go away despite your best efforts. It sounds like a curse that needs to be exorcised with some Hail Mary’s and holy water. No thanks, not for me.
No writer worth his or her chops uses this excuse, because they understand that “writer’s block” is not something that’s done to you. It’s not Mercury in retrograde. It’s not some oppressive influence of an external force. “Writer’s block” is entirely self-inflicted.
“Writer’s block is nothing more than the behavior of not writing. Saying that you can’t write because of writer’s block is merely saying that you can’t write because you aren’t writing.” Silvia (46)
If I don’t write, it’s usually because I’m in some kind of depressive mood. It’s something I’ve been struggling with recently. I lost a client for whom I was writing, which happens. But the setback affected me. I felt surrounded by a massive, dark force, and when I looked at it closely, I recognized fear. Fear of failure, fear of making a complete and utter fool of myself, fear of exposure to the harsh judgment of others, who would say, “Wow, she screwed up big time.”
And all the logic in the world could not get rid of this feeling. Saying, “Oh, well it’s just fear. People you care about won’t say that about you. You have nothing to worry about.” That didn’t solve it.
It was crippling.
But I also knew that it’s all in my head. I knew that I have to summon everything I have, pull myself up, and move forward.
It sure as hell isn’t easy.
The only sure thing to do is to notice the fear. Pushing it down and denying it doesn’t help. Neither does completely submitting to its needs.
Sit quietly for a few minutes without any noise or distractions. Look at it. See where it’s coming from and ask it what it needs. Most of the time these fears are trying to help us. They just have a perverted way of doing it.
Once you’ve done that, go back to the basics. To get out of my funk I wrote by scribbling in my notebook, like I used to do as a teenager. By removing any expectations – I have to write a blog post, I have to edit this chapter – I was able to write more freely. Nothing had to come out of what I was doing. The important thing was that I was working.
Finally, finish something, anything, just one thing no matter how small. You’ll feel better. I’ll admit, this was hard. Posting that output/input post after I hadn’t posted in a while was a struggle. I was able to do it, because I was writing every day. By not setting expectations, I had a little breathing room, so I felt like I could put up a short post with some ease.
And then the rest followed.
Muses are about as real as tree spirits and woodland creatures. Muses do not come and go. They do not find us and then leave suddenly just for the sake of torturing us.
Writer’s block is something you do to yourself. It’s not something that is done to you and is completely out of your control. But that should make you feel good. It means that you possess the power to pull yourself out of it, that you have everything you need.