I would bet my paltry life savings that every single writer or would-be writer has been convinced by someone else to be mortally afraid of Writer’s Block. Personally, I stopped fearing it when I was in my teens. Just like the monsters in the bedroom cupboard, Santa Claus and Ye Olde Dentistry Barbie, in younger years, Writer’s Block vanished soon after I had my first few struggles with putting words to a blank sheet.
This happened not because I was, or am, some kind of courageously brilliant writer whose middle name is Prolific. It happened because I came to see the nature of my personal relationship with writing. And ‘personal’ was the key. The key was, and is, in me, and under my control.
Maybe it was simple orneriness, but I saw, early and clearly, that there was no literary, linguistic malaria lurking in my room, descending at its malicious will. There was no metaphysical Concrete Idiot stalking the boundaries of my mind, just waiting to snuff out my literary/poetic brain. I just wouldn’t have it.
That’s not to say that everything suddenly became simple and easy for me as a writer. Often was the time when I couldn’t write. I often enough now shrivel up in disgust at the thought of even bothering. My mind, at times, will NOT be recalled from its hammock somewhere out there… wherever.
It’s not blocked from coming back. It’s not restrained, by some malicious Golem, from putting down the syllables, words and images. There’s nothing beyond my control going on.
I simply don’t have enough fuel.
And I came to terms with that long ago. The mind can only give significant energy to one thing at a time. (Multitasking doesn’t count: That’s not significant energy.)
Imagine trying to play your final set at Wimbledon while simultaneously thinking about where to go for dinner, what title is right for your latest book, why your left foot pinches, and when the Ferrari will be fixed. Game, set, match! Suddenly it’s shower time and you don’t want dinner.
You can’t win at Wimbledon that way. Even Serena has rotten days and loses tournaments. Every tennis player, amateur or professional, runs out of fuel from time to time. But is there such a beast as Tennis Player’s Block? Server’s Block? Backhander’s Block?
There is no Writer’s Block. Inevitably, the mind-fuel runs low. Sometimes the wish or the will isn’t there. Sometimes the case is simply that you used up all your fuel on that last stint of hard work you did at the keys. The imagination has been stretched to the limit and now needs the tension released.
Sometimes cleaning house and unconsciously ruminating is the natural order for your morning or afternoon, or evening. Sometimes it’s chocolate. Or communing with trees.
When your fuel runs out, when your creative faculty creaks to a halt, stop, and take the time you need. You will not lose a beat, because the resting is one of the beats.
When I understood that, I understood my own ebb and flow, and became a better, happier writer for it. You see, the self-torture and self-indulgence were gone. I was not multi-tasking writing, guilt, fear and insecurity, plus fending off the huge, inflated Bogeyman Who Doesn’t Exist. Doing all of that takes an awful lot of energy, and in such a scenario, ninety-five percent of the energy is wasted, burned into fumes. So what’s left for writing?
No wonder believers in Writer’s Block find themselves regularly arrested by it. Give it credence and it will prevail.
I used to study classical guitar very seriously. I was eventually practicing, perfecting, playing scales, for three hours a night, non-stop, every night. But it took me years to get to that level of focus, stamina and technique – not to mention emotional capacity.
Writing is no different. Tennis is no different. Go for perfection, every time you can. But be a good friend and trainer to yourself. Learn to smell the fumes before you force yourself to sit at the keys.
There’s no block. No amount of guilt or self-punishment, or iron will is going to bring those words and pages out of you. No battle with that concrete bogeyman will help. That’s not part of the writing process. That’s tilting at windmills.
Only love of the art and fuel in the tank will do the job. The two combined add up to stamina, perseverance, and the satisfaction, even joy, of writing.
And now, it’s time for some ice cream.