One of the most common complaints I hear from my writing
students is about getting blocked. Being unable to put anything on the page. Or getting to a fork in the road with their story and feeling paralyzed, unable to decide which direction to take. These stumbling blocks are legitimate sources of anxiety for all of us writers who fear being judged by ourselves or by anyone else. Unfortunately it happens to all of us and it goes something like this: You
have a great idea. Maybe it arrives in the middle of the night, when you’re on the treadmill or in the shower. You get excited and you can’t wait to dig in. You make coffee, you’re raring to go, until you sit down at the computer, place your hands on the keyboard – and nothing happens.
You stare at your fingers. You talk to them and beg them to start moving. You Repeat whatever affirmations you can dream up: I can do this. I’m a really good writer. I write with ease and determination. I can do anything I set out to do.
But your fingers refuse to move. You’ve hit a brick wall, your mind is jumbled and unfocused, skipping from thought to thought like an Orangutan, jumping from one tree branch to the next, never resting or alighting anywhere. Writing anything decent seems so remote, why bother? Sticking with your work feels foolish and walking away feels cowardly. You wonder why you ever thought you could write and you decide it would be a good idea to push away from the computer and water the plants or run the vacuum over a perfectly clean carpet. Anything to distract you.
I’m sure there are several solutions to this dilemma, we all have our own way of doing things and writers are supremely creative thinkers,
but only one has ever worked for me. For starters, I don’t get up. A Buddhist teacher sat beside a meditator who was having a hard time and she simply said, “Stay.” I do that. I stay seated in the midst of my critical mind, I hear it jabbering, I tell it to piss off and I start writing about not being able to write. I can’t do this,” I complain on the page. “I’m an imposter. Who do I think I am? Who will care about anything I have to say? I don’t even care.”
I keep writing about being blocked. About feeling shitty about myself. About the frustration that has taken over my mind and thrown me
into a hole so deep, it seems like there’s no way out. But I keep going.
I continue to write about how I can’t find the gumption or the courage to keep starting over – until I suddenly see a pinpoint of light
and I realize I’m writing. I’d doing it. I’m getting un-blocked. It doesn’t
matter what I’m saying. Good or bad have to go out the window. Who will read it or like it is not only impossible to predict. It’s also irrelevant. What matters is that my fingers are moving across the keyboard and words are appearing on the page. It’s like a miracle as I continue throwing down words that don’t mean anything when the thing I wanted to write about shows up in my
mind. And off I go
The late Poet Laureate, Maya Angelou, said:
What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks, “the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.” And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, “Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”
It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel inspired. The muse, an energy that fills you with beauty, expanded vision and boundless energy, may or
may not pay you a visit on any given day. She’s undependable and flaky, like a fickle lover who comes and goes as she pleases. Chasing her is pointless because she only shows up when she’s good and ready and not a moment before. In fact, the more you chase her, the more she hides. The more you try to grab the edge of her skirt, the more she shrinks away. She’s a demanding master, sneaky like a cat on the prowl, turning her back like she would prefer to have nothing to do with you. You can’t hold a cat in your lap when she doesn’t want to be there. You have to do your work without her until she comes to you.
Granted, writing without the muse takes resolve and mental
discipline but if you wait for her in order to begin, you’re a waiter, not a writer. A writer writes, whether he or she is inspired or not. And if you sit and stay, you’ll get so bored, you’ll start writing about anything and pretty soon, you’re writing about everything. Frustration becomes excitement. Disappointment becomes fulfillment. Judgment becomes anticipation. Writer’s block becomes writer’s un-block. Prolific bestselling author, Jodi Picoult says, “You may not always write well, but you can edit a bad page. You can’t
edit a blank page.”
Writing is like venturing into a dark forest with no maps or road signs to protect you from unseen obstacles and pitfalls. It’s like jumping
over hurdles with a blindfold. It takes courage to begin, vulnerability to keep it authentic and perseverance to get to the other side. There will be fear to endure and blocks to overcome but you can do it. You can stand on the shoulders of great writers who came before you. None of them had an easy time of it no matter what they say. And neither will you. But the lightness you’ll feel as you unburden your heart and tell your story is always worth the paper it’s written on.