I Don’t Believe in Writer’s Block by Hugh Tipping
Let’s welcome back columnist Hugh Tipping as he shares with us “I Don’t Believe in Writer’s Block.” Enjoy!
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I find the term to be a misnomer.
When a car runs out of gas and stops, the driver doesn’t yell “Oh, no! I’m blocked!” The car is not blocked. It just has nothing to run on.
Instead of saying “I have writer’s block,” it may be more accurate to say, “My creative juices are not flowing” or “I don’t know what to write next.” There is no steel cover locking the well of ideas. That sucker is drier than a sand cocktail in Yucca Flat.
When you work on exercises to get rid of writer’s block, look at what it is you are doing. You are stimulating thought, creating conditions in which creativity can flow, filling an empty space. You are not knocking down a wall that somehow appeared when you took time away from writing to vacuum up the roll of paper towels Fido shredded all over the house. It’s more about your writing muscles being tired or atrophied than it is about being handcuffed.
There are things in life that can “reallocate” energy from your creativity: stress, distractions, health problems. You had a bad day at work, the kids puked on your antique carpet, or your ex who treated you badly just got married to someone who looks like a model. You sit down to your allotted writing time in your cozy nook with your coffee and chocolate — and nothing happens.
“I’m blocked,” is the first thing that may come to mind. Instead I say, “I’m empty” or “I don’t have it in me right now,” which itself is also partly wrong. I do have “it” in me but “it” doesn’t have enough energy to rev up.
That happens when I have ideas about a novel or a poem, but am tired or unmotivated; it is when I doubt myself and what I’m doing; it is when negative thoughts prevent me from sitting in front of the keyboard and giving myself a chance. That’s a block. That’s a nasty, slimy wall that keeps me from getting to the river of creativity beyond, regardless of whether the river is trickling in a drought or gushing from a thaw. That is the obstacle I must break down.
When I am in front of my words feeling ready to go, my open soul preparing to melt onto a page, and I don’t have the words I need, it is not a big “thing” there, but a void, a creative scarcity (much like network television’s fall lineup). When I think of the my-muse-divorced-me situation this way, thus identifying the real problem, it is easier to work on the solution.
I find ways to make the rain come. I might pick a random writing prompt and do the opposite of what it says. Maybe I’ll open a book and string random words into a nonsense sentence and then work to make it make sense. Perhaps it’s a good time to do my daily meditating and instead of letting the thoughts wash away as in the Zen tradition, I’ll embrace them and write them in a meditation journal.
There are tons of creative exercises out there. My point is that instead of expending your energy trying to roll a boulder out of your way, instead stoke embers that are already there, just ready for some firewood and marshmallows.
Try this for an exercise in filling that void. Think of some “Is drier than…” metaphors. Mine was inspired by this clip from the Honeymooners (The link starts at 1:50 but I invite you to watch the whole thing.) Don’t just think of things that are dry, try places, people’s quirks (“dry” sense of humor.) Don’t limit yourself to one definition of the word. That would leave you far too… dry.
I would love to hear some of your metaphors in the comments as well as ways you deal with creative scarcity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hugh Tipping is the author of the upcoming fantasy novel “The Threads of Magic”. He is a native of New York City, spending his days as a techie and his nights as a writer and actor. You can connect with him on Facebook.