For days now I’ve been trying to get to the gym.
It’s been dreary out, the sky a dim purple-grey, and I can’t seem to shoehorn myself out the door.
What’s that called again? Jogger's Block?
Or, how about my reluctance to tackle my frat-boy style kitchen? House-cleaner’s Block?
You know I’m being facetious but also: Truth.
We’d never think of excusing procrastination by wringing our hands and claiming there’s a big ol' brick wall in our way. And, worst of all: that we've got no idea why it's there or when it will leave.
Don't get me wrong. I’m not saying that the experience of Writer’s Block isn’t real. It’s totally real. It’s just as real as my seeming inability to turn off Netflix and get off the couch in order to grab my runners and go to the gym.
But by calling it a block, we're allowing it to live, we’re giving it status. And that's not going to get anybody anywhere.
What we need instead is to take a good, hard look at what's really going on and try to find some solutions in order to answer that need to write. So here are a few reasons why the stride towards your writing space might have stalled - and some ideas for getting going again.
1. Abject Terror
This may be exaggerating (depending on where you’re at with your work) but I’m sure you know fear. There’s fear of failure, fear of success, fear of exposure (can I really say that about my parents), fear of the mistakes you’ll inevitably make, fear of the chaos of the first draft. At every stage of the writing process, it seems, there’s some sort of boogey man waiting to scare you out of your writing room.
You could spend hours, days, months, and yes, even years, negotiating with this fear, trying to identify it, analyze it, really get to know it. Or, you could accept it, and get to work.
But what if it’s not so easy? What if the blank page gives you heart palpitations and sweaty palms? What if it really is terror? Then you need to figure out a way to get out on stage rather than giving up on the stage all together. Try deep breathing exercises, mantras, building up your exposure to the fear-trigger (ie. setting a time and writing for just five minutes a day, then ten, then fifteen, etc.), or joining a group where the reason for getting together is to write.
The fear might never go away but do you really want it to win over your desire to write?
Midway through the first draft of your novel, a character arrives and takes over. She’s captivating and you know you want her to become a major player but how do you do that? Do you go back and start over? Do you write to the end? These are the kinds of circumstances that can stop you cold and make you say ‘Writer’s Block’ when really what you’re experiencing is, simply, confusion.
There are a couple ways around this. The first way is to keep working, making decisions on the fly, and coach yourself through by reminding yourself that you can always change it later.
The second is to take a break. Let your mind work it out. Stare out a window. Spend a few days skipping your writing time and opting instead to read good books and let other writers’ works inspire you and give you advice. Take notes. Think about it. And as soon as you have an inkling of a direction, grab onto that reign, and go. Don’t wait for the path to chart itself all the way to Atlantis. Just seize the faint flicker and let it lead you a bit further.
Whatever you do, don’t call it Writer’s Block and wait mindlessly to get past it as if it were a case of the flu. Down that road lies abandoned novels and years of wasted writing time.
3. Fear of Commitment
A lot of creative people are idea machines. They have no problem coming up with a dozen story outlines, a few screenplay ideas, hundreds of first drafts of short stories and poems. Some even bounce between disciplines: spending one week working on a photography show, the next painting doggedly, the next scribbling out the first draft of a novel, only to abandon all of their projects when another great idea comes along.
They know they need to finish something but when they sit down to work on their novel on the day that knitting beckons, nothing comes and so comes the diagnosis: Writer’s Block.
What does it take to commit? It takes a willingness to invest past the highs of creation, when the story might be flying out effortlessly and writing is fun. It takes grit and a resolve to engage in the whole process: the chaotic bits, the fearful bits, the bits when you’d rather be out, attending another workshop.
Not being able to do this isn’t a block, it’s a decision. To change it: make the decision. Agree to show up. Don’t be scared away by the effort. Engage with it, knowing that a year or so down the line you’ll have something pretty big to show for all that hard work.
Lauren Carter is a writer of fiction and poetry with two books out (and four more in varying stages). Her online course Nine Simple Steps to a Solid Writing Practice has been called “visually beautiful and wise.” She also offers creativity coaching services and manuscript consultation. Visit her at www.laurencarter.ca