Please Kill Me,
Most of us are familiar with the feeling. We wake up, after several productive days or weeks, and sit to continue (or begin) our latest artistic contribution to the ethos. Like always, we set down our beverage, clear our minds, and wait for the bright light of a Word document to glaze our faces with a pale white light (I almost left out “light” but that would’ve been a bit too promiscuous).
Then, it happens. Five, ten, or fifteen minutes of staring into the void and that dreadful feeling seeps into our minds. “I don’t know what to write.” We clamor and claw at even the faintest idea of direction and grasp at the slippery ends of elusive thought-straws—only to come up empty handed and disillusioned. This is it. The first moments of a rut that may or may not define our foreseeable creative future.
The next day, we try. Yet again, the same aimless cycle. Some of us are wise enough to take the hint, and f*ck off to some other obligation or activity—and WHY NOT—there’s always something else to be done and creativity usually stands tall over most other concerns. Good for you, you organized ‘so and so’s.’
Some other of us, namely me, are a little more stubborn when it comes to matters of an empty mind. I’ll toil over words, thoughts, and story structure. The inevitable end to this? Either hours lost, staring into a void that remains as it was at daybreak. Or, hours lost, refining and (eventually deleting) whatever word-spillage has the displeasure of making its way to the page (that’s what this blog is for). Ultimately, this moment is unavoidable. Sooner or later, we all find ourselves trapped in the tortuous realm of inactivity.
Don’t worry. This isn’t some damning accusation or empty encouragement for you to “PUSH THROUGH IT!” or “LEARN SOME DISCIPLINE!” Rather, this is an acknowledgement of a common moment, that many writers (and other creatives) shirk away from. Much like a policeman’s (or woman’s #Feminism) weight, a politician’s dangling jowls, an actor’s slight facial quirk, or a gym-rats stank—a writer’s inability to perform (write) is an issue that’s not often comfortably spoken of.
Sure, we’ve all heard the cutesy term “writer’s block.” But, like much of the soft-language our culture embraces, the degree of acknowledgement and subsequent analysis don’t really address the problem. It’s easy to shrug off a day or two of disengaged meandering as nothing more than “a thing that happens,” or “don’t sweat it! You’ll get em’ tomorrow.”
Though unexplained stagnancy can be just that—a mysterious fluke of the brain, I’m tempted to disagree. I don’t think it’s always some ambiguous or mysterious occurrence. I believe that there’s something actually going on with the writer themselves. The good news is, from my perspective (at least), that this issue isn’t unactionable. I do believe there are solutions.
First Scenario: For one, you’d be hard-pressed to find a writer that isn’t constantly under some kind of pressure. Whether you’re just starting or deeply embedded, life has a way of applying pressure in every area that isn’t creativity. Honestly, to normies, it can seem like our creativity gets in the way of ‘essential engagement‘. For us, the spectrum of priority is different and quite foreign to those who aren’t keen to its allure.
We do the best we can to push these outlier priorities to the fringes of our thoughts, but eventually (and inevitably), the mental dam holding these thoughts on the edges of our minds can spring a leak. In the direst situations, this could lead to an overload of stimulation (i.e. “My bills,” “My relationship,” “My job,” “My homework,” “My direction,” etc…). This isn’t to say that these thoughts are unimportant. They can, however, create sullen moments of counterproductive thought.
Solution: Step away from creating for the day. Instead, take this time to focus on the activities, obligations, and relationships that you may be neglecting. Sometimes, getting derailed isn’t “writer’s block.” Rather, it’s our subconscious drawing our attention to something pressing.
Though creativity operates as an escape, the truth is that we can’t always run from the reality we’re in. Instead of attempting to shove these thoughts away, take that time to engage with what you may be forfeiting. The resulting relief may just help to put that mental dam back together again.
Second Scenario: If you’ve addressed all of your existential problems, then it’s time to turn inward. Yes, that’s right. Sometimes the problem isn’t what’s going on around you, but what’s happening in your own mind. Much like the effects of neglecting external issues, it’s not uncommon for us to eschew our own needs, wants, and desires (for the sake of “The greater good.”).
Yes, this can be an admirable quality. You should also note that this should be done with caution (no one wants to be stuck in a fruitless social loop of inactivity). However, what do you need? What have you been up to? When’s the last time you ate and showered? How have you been sleeping? Simple self-care methods are easy to scrub off of the ole’ To-Do list. But, as a matter of fact, though you may deem it “fine” to ignore these basic needs, your subconscious is taking a silent tally.
Solution: Take a GODDAMN shower. Get some sunlight. Eat something healthy. Go for a run. Call someone other than your writing pals. Never forget that creativity is an extension of self. If you’re neglecting your basic needs as a human being, then there won’t be much to draw from when it comes time for you to bleed onto the page.
Think of your creativity as a well. We draw water from this well to nourish those around us. However, if we don’t take care to refill the well, every once in a while, we’ll eventually come up dry. In this metaphor, the water we draw is our life experience—big and little moments. If we fail to live an engaged life, we’ll become untethered from the river of ideas that enabled us in the first place.
You’ll be surprised how often creativity will assault you while in your routine, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or just walking around for a little while. No one wants to read a story about a stressed-out author who’s unable to write and unwilling to live. If you don’t live a little, all you have to draw from is nothing.
Third Scenario: Then, of course, there’s the thing we rarely talk about. That is, the bad story. As a bit of a disclaimer, I have to say that I don’t believe in a “bad story.” Rather, I just think that some stories are incomplete. Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, there is a certain amount of applicable thought to every work in progress.
Yes, those initial sparks of inspiration are marvelous—and may even lead to several glorious writing sprees. However, if you find yourself stuck and unable to produce something worthy of your standards, it may be time to reconsider your method. Sometimes, it isn’t the road, it’s the driver.
Solution: Take a step away from your story for a bit. Consider where you are in the narrative, what you’re trying to accomplish, and think ahead to character reactions, emotions, and choices that will move the plot forward. Even if you consider yourself a “flying by the seat of my pants” kind of writer, that method only really works… when it’s working. Ultimately, you’ll need a bit of fine-tuning to see your way forward.
Conversely, if you’re a plotter, take the opposite approach. Revisit your labored over outline and cut out the narrative slack. Instead of steadfastly aiming for a specific moment, scene, or culmination–allow yourself the freedom to explore other avenues. Throw in a curveball, zig when you wanted to zag, create scenarios that force you to work through them in the moment. This level of creative freedom can loosen up the gunk and enable your creative train to chug happily along.
Now, I’m well aware there’s tons I’ve missed. However, this post is getting a little lengthy and I’ve got stuff to do. The moral of the story kiddies: Don’t settle for “writer’s block” as an excuse to stop writing. Rather, consider your approach, consider your life, consider what you’ve neglected.
Much of the time, the solution to creative derailment is a matter of checking the tracks. Despite this, never be afraid to take a good ole’ fashioned break.
Just make sure to get back to creating. The success train waits for no one.
Need a read to get you through your writer’s block? How about some creepy stories to start off the week with some new ideas? Perhaps, earn yourself some good karma by supporting an indie-author (*cough*)? Then it’s time you tried Bedlam: A Collection of Things. Now only $4.99! (From the makers of this blog post).