Not long ago I took a tour of Tor House in Carmel, California, the stone dwelling of the great poet Robinson Jeffers. During part of the tour the guide described how his wife Una would hear him pacing in his office upstairs while he wrote.
His pacing was not a way to avoid writing, it was what his body wanted to do during his creative process. It’s true he got up from his desk and moved away from pen and paper, but his mind was engaged and the walking helped him concentrate as he composed his verse.
There are probably good circulatory or neurological explanations about how physical movement can aid the writing process. The brain is Continue reading
An oft prescribed cure for writer’s block is to write every day. It might seem strange, and possibly stupid, to tell a blocked writer to do the very thing he or she cannot do, and call that a remedy. Would we try to heal someone who just broke a leg by telling them to run a mile?
No, we wouldn’t. But we might tell them to take a step or two on crutches each day to begin to strengthen the muscles. And as the break in the bone knitted together again, we’d recommend placing increasing weight on the leg until, eventually, a mile run would seem natural, and possibly enjoyable.
The cure for not-doing is to do. It is easier to begin ‘doing’ if the challenge is not too drastic. Little steps or awkward limps down the path are a fine way to start. Once you’ve begun writing a little bit each day, your brain wakes up and before you know it, you have realized your goal: to write every day.
Anyone who has read even a few letters to the editor in the newspaper knows that anger can stimulate the flow of written words. A touch of outrage is powerful energy that can motivate one to march, fight and write.
Can anger also stop you from writing?
My experience tells me it can. After all, most of us were forced to produce writing against our will during our education. We often did it only to avoid potential bad consequences, not from love of the assignment. If the instructor asking (or demanding) that we write was someone we did not respect or like (a jerk), there was even more resentment to Continue reading
If you find that you are unable to make a plan, or that you start off well but get blocked again after a while, do not despair. This is not a sign that there is no hope, only that there are additional issues that need to be addressed. Such difficulties are more the norm than the exception.
There may be a few or several false starts along the way to establishing your connection with regular writing, and you may find there is always a gap between your goals and your performance. This is normal, and you don’t have to hate yourself or give up hope because of it.
Congratulate yourself for valuing yourself as a writer, for deciding to consciously address your writing habits, and for having the courage and willingness to spend the time and effort required to improve them. Then, write a little bit too.
Paul Simon’s song 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover begins with the words “The problem’s all inside your head she said to me.” Paul is writing about the challenges of leaving a lover, and in the chorus he makes the recommendation,“Make a new plan, Stan!” Maybe he was secretly singing about overcoming writing blocks.
Making a Writing Productivity Improvement Plan is an act of commitment to yourself and your writing that will increase the odds that you will do the writing you are capable of. It usually isn’t enough to just hope things will change on their own.
The process of creating your plan involves remembering and honoring your desire to write, deciding what writing project is most important to start with, listing your strengths and challenges, selecting realistic and appropriate steps to take, and developing strategies for reconnecting to writing if you fall off the wagon. A more complete description is in my book, The Blocked Writer’s Book of the Dead. Continue reading
Jack Kerouac wrote very well on the road, and he wrote “On the Road” very well. I went on the road to Portland and wrote less than well. In fact, I didn’t write at all.
First of all, my writing routines were all turned upside down with the travel and conference schedule. I had expected to do some writing but had not planned out just when and how that would take place. Consequently I fell off the wagon, and didn’t write jack. I didn’t write, Jack.
I know some people in Portland, so large chunks of time went to visiting, eating, touring, parties……all good and necessary things that Jack would probably have done as well, but I never got to the writing part. Still, I felt this nagging urge to write, and tendrils of guilt worked their way through my innards.
I worried that if too many days went by Continue reading
I have worked with several writers whose primary challenge was taking the step of sitting down at their desk. Their anticipatory anxiety or other resistances create a mental barrier against taking the first step. Often they are entertaining an inaccurate and exaggerated estimate of the agony that will ensue if they write.
I love to swim but I dislike getting into the water due to the brief shock of the initial chilliness. I spend a good bit of time on the deck pacing and postponing my entry, but once I dive in and do a couple of laps, I’m plenty warm and I enjoy being immersed. Diving into the water might be momentarily uncomfortable, but it’s not anywhere near as agonizing as my mind makes it out to be.
Writers who have difficulty starting often do fine once they have taken the plunge. The challenge is to set up your writing life to increase the odds of diving in.
Make your writing a daily habit, like brushing your teeth, so you don’t have to think about whether you will do it or not. And remind your pacing, skittish, shivering, self that the chill will be over quickly, and that the water is filled with treasures.