For writers of all genres, “writer’s block” is as inevitable as death and taxes.
All artists experience this. The brain needs its rest, the muses need their vacations, and everyone who’s ever been serious about creative endeavors has sat staring at a blank page, canvas, brick wall, stage or computer page and thought, “I can’t do this.”
But did you notice that I put “writer’s block” in quotation marks? That wasn’t a typo. I “know” how to “use” “quotation marks.”
Seriously, though: I believe that the phrase “writer’s block” is a crutch we use to make our creative clogs seem more serious than perhaps they are. I’ve known writers who treat it as an illness; when they’re blocked, they can do little more than sit around drinking soup and binge-watching Netflix. They spend a lot of time nursing themselves back to health, so to speak. This can last indefinitely.
Of course (to extend my metaphor) there are people who vegetate through an illness and there are those who just keep truckin’. Then there are those of us who used to vegetate but have had to learn to push through.
People like me.
I’m speaking both literally and figuratively here. When I was younger, the slightest sore throat sent me to bed with a water bottle and a box set of Gilmore Girls. I would argue that DayQuil and other such remedies only slowed down the healing process. I kept the childhood enjoyment of sick days as long as I possibly could; longer, perhaps, than most adults are able. I thought my husband was insane for pushing through at all costs, for being bored by down time, for going to work when he had the luxury of sick days.
Then I had children and I lost the option of rest and relaxation. I’ve lain in bed, fevered and sore, nursing my baby though every inch of me ached. I’ve coughed through a plethora of diaper changes and I’ve had to make meals and fill sippy cups when I thought I might die, held a vomiting child and choked back my own bile. I’ve gone without medicine not because of a stubborn belief in natural recuperation, but because it would be transferred through my breast milk and could have serious repercussions for my kid–wishing every moment that I could have some relief to get me through the long, sleepless day.
My children demand this of me; more importantly, they are worth the suffering. My parenting, during these times, is not the most stellar. We watch too many episodes of Paw Patrol and we eat a lot of crackers. But we get through it.
Do you see the parallel here?
The only way to get through it is to get through it. Horrible advice, I know. The kind of thing your parents might have told you when you were sixteen and you would have rolled your eyes and gone on with your life. But:
What made the difference for me with literal sick days was the need to take care of my children. What made the difference with writer’s sick days was a little more complicated.
During grad school, for example, I had assignments and deadlines. If I got stuck, I had to push through; however, in that environment, surrounded by creative people doing creative things, reading constantly and then spending hours talking about what we read, I had very few blockages. It was like literary Vitamin C. It kept me healthy.
After graduation, things took a bit of a slide. All that inspiration could only stay in my system so long, and I wasn’t teaching creative writing or taking any more classes or even spending any time with other writers, so my creative immune system was quickly compromised.
Over time, I’ve developed motivational strategies for myself, and I’ve given myself make-believe deadlines, and I’ve been lucky enough to land a literary agent who doesn’t give me deadlines, exactly, but does give me someone to please by completing my work. Literary contests and workshops provide a good amount of motivation but it doesn’t mean you won’t get blocked up, it just means you’ll have to push through it. It won’t be pleasant, and your writing won’t be of the quality it is when you’re inspired, but you’ll get through.
I’ve spent enough time living an unhealthy writing life, getting stuck and having to push through, to tell you that it isn’t the way to do it. It’s terrible. You know those writers who say they hate writing? I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re doing. They’re living on a diet of mental McDonald’s and wondering why they don’t feel so well.
It’s true for me, anyway: when I don’t talk to other writers, when I don’t read enough quality work, when I don’t go to museums or lectures or literary readings for too long–I weaken. It’s not always easy or convenient, it’s not always cheap, it isn’t even always pleasant, but it’s important. It keeps you going.
It’s also a great way to get through a blockage. Take whatever motivation you have to push through and add to that some creative vitamins. Drink enough fluids (both literally and figuratively). Even the healthiest writer will still get blocked from time to time, but not nearly as often as her less healthy friends, and those blockages will be shorter and less painful. Especially if part of your healthy routine involves support from other writers. It’s always nice to have someone to bring you soup.
To that effect, I’ve created a writer’s group. It’s online–Facebook–so no matter where you are, you can sign up for posts and talk to other writers, give and get advice, get a little healthier. Just search for “The Sensitive, Bookish Type Writer’s Group” and click “join.” I’ll add you in no time and you can become part of the conversation.