One thing that really, really bothers me is when people, writers, over-simplify the problem of Writer’s Block. Like:
“Oh I just force myself to write and then I do, tralala”.
“Here’s a list of frufru prompts like “What if you woke up tomorrow as a butterfly – go!”.
I’m not going to say that those approaches don’t work. Maybe for some people they do. But Writer’s Block is not a virus you catch and then cure with a “take two and call me in the morning ” prescription. Writer’s Block is a psychological condition. It reflects a person’s life circumstances, their frame of mind and emotional state. Its’ source can be simple (like, oh I don’t know, having work and home and family matters constantly vying for your attention and babies that won’t stick to a predictable nap schedule and snow days off of school that inevitably fall on the day you cleared so you could concentrate on your writing for the first time in MONTHS- just for instance); or, it could be deeply rooted and hard to define, let alone overcome.
Sometimes, telling a writer “Just write,” is like telling a barren woman, “Just conceive.” For many of us, lack of inspiration is serious business that goes beyond a shortage of will power or ideas. For many of us, Writer’s Block can be downright crippling.
I was given a couple of poetry exercise books for Xmas, the kind meant to help inspire you and get you writing. I only just now cracked one open – it’s been that kind of winter.
I’m very hopeful about getting something from these books; I was introduced to some of the exercises at the writing retreat in October, and went on to use them, successfully, for a week or so after, until the tsunami of real life reasserted itself. Le sigh…
Instead of sitting down to bang out some proto-poems, though, I found myself snorting at a comment in the first chapter, and ended up here with a mini-rant on the topic of blasé attitudes towards Writer’s Block. I guess you could say I was “inspired”…
The author starts out by confessing how he wasn’t writing much at all because he had no time and no inspiration. One of the things he says helped him overcome the problem was making lists of ideas. This, he says, eliminated all excuses because he could no longer “play the no inspiration card.”
While I can relate to the concept – and let me just say, I do think it’s a good idea, and I do it, too, and it helps – I just have to point out that having a list of “things to write about” is not the same as being inspired.
For me, having an idea – a theme, a setting, a premise, a haiku moment – is just tinder. Yes, you can’t start a fire without it. But what else can’t you start a fire without?
That’s right, kiddies. A SPARK.
And therein lies the real problem. The world is full of things to write “about”. Learning to see them is a skill, like anything else. It takes practice; writing lists, yes. Free association. Observation. Journaling, recording dreams, people watching, eavesdropping. Recently I overheard someone say, “Once you start thinking about crows, you see crows everywhere.”
Ideas are crows.
But even if you have so many crows you can’t step out of your house without tripping over one, it won’t make a bit of difference if you’re not inspired.
Inspiration is another animal entirely. Inspiration is a non-quantifiable, I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it, enigmatic THING. It’s either there, or it’s not. Inspiration is why I tend to poo-poo the “Write about a time that you were mad,” kind of prompts and the “Just Do It” sneaker philosophy of writing. Without inspiration, it’s all just tinder. Or… crows. Tinder crows.
So how DOES one set their crows on fire (now THERE’S an image for you). Obviously, the answer to that is different for everyone.
For me, it’s like seduction. Firstly, I don’t go for just any idea. I like the smart ones, the weird ones, the ones that most people overlook. The ones with lots of layers, inner meaning, a Jungian’s fantasy.
Secondly, it takes time. I like to flirt with an idea for a long time. Sometimes days. Sometimes years. I like a slow burn.
And the final payoff? Let’s just say it’s a magic combination of timing, setting, opportunity, and mood. And coffee, or a cigarette, or… something to put in my mouth. I’ll just leave the rest to your imagination.
But that’s just me. For you, it might be something totally different. Maybe lists ARE your thing – that neat, orderly, tantalizingly visual representation of thought. Of… possibility.
Or maybe you’re into butterflies. I mean, whatever – to each their own! My point is just that, as writers, we are all keenly aware of how personal the creative process is.
No matter what we write, or how, we invest so much of ourselves in it. We are all beautiful unique snowflakes and, as it happens, some of us snowflakes have Writer’s Block and it sucks, so shut up with your platitudes already and have some compassion.