A Different Take on Writer’s Block (#820)

Since I began writing regularly just over a decade ago, I’ve written well over a million words, published over 800 blog posts, and contributed writing in one form or another to 11 published books. And yet every time I sit down to a blank computer screen, I wonder if this time the words will flow. Four days in five they do, and I am able to complete my writing for the day in one uninterrupted session. Ah, but that fifth day…

That fifth day, I’m an idiot. A moron. A charlatan. A pretender. Who do I think I am to write as if what I have to say has value and worth in the world? A real writer would just write, regardless of how uninspired they felt. A real writer would pound the keyboard and darken the page, not worrying about quality, just getting words on paper and trusting the process. And yet…

For me, to write when I’m uninspired is a soul-destroying endeavor. Each empty word I put to paper is another nail in the coffin of my self-image, more proof that my doubts and fears are more realistic than my hopes and dreams. So somewhere along the line, about a half a million words and a half-dozen years into the process, I began to be a little kinder to myself. I learned to know when I’m licked, admit defeat, surrender to resistance and lose ‘the war of art’. And in losing the war, I win the battle. I live to write another day.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that “what is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations.” And I know for myself that when I’m inspired and clear, I can write three chapters in the time it takes the uninspired me to craft a paragraph. So when I don’t know what to write, I wait. I ignore the ghosts of Balzac and Somerset Maugham and even my modern-day hero, Steven Pressfield, each one preaching discipline and exhorting me to ‘write on’ in the firm but insistent voices I’ve made up for them in my head.

I listen instead for the imagined voice of the poet Ruth Stone who would “feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape…. like a thunderous train of air…” and run like hell to grab a pen and paper “fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page.”

I listen, in short, for the voice of inspiration, and if I can’t hear it I step away from my computer as fast as I can lest I stain it with the blood of my struggles. I don’t want to “overcome resistance” – I want to channel God’s voice out of the ether and onto the page as fast as my fingers can type. Which means that sometimes, I need to go to church before I preach.

This past Sunday, my church was a hiking trail in the Santa Monica mountains; the time before it was a nearby Starbucks with a comfy chair and a friendly barista. What’s important isn’t the setting – it’s the feeling. It’s a place where I can let my thoughts wander away from the dragon of product and remember that I don’t write because I have to; I write because I want to and I can. And as soon as I forget that I’m “supposed” to be a writer, I remember how much I love to open up to the creative flow and find out what happens next.

So the next time you’re stuck, don’t plow through and don’t give up. Take a step back and give the infinite creative potential of the human mind a chance to do its thing. You may be pleasantly surprised by what comes through you…

With all my love,
Michael

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