I wish I could remember who said those words because they probably said a lot of other smart things I–and you–would like to hear. But I don’t, so the rest is me.
Getting stuck is the process. It is the inhale that makes possible the exhale. Without getting stuck, there would be no pause for reflection, no gathering of forces, no oxygen.
I will get stuck hundreds, thousands, millions (?) of times in my writing life. You will get stuck hundreds, thousands, millions (?) of times in your writing life. It doesn’t mean we like it. If you’re American, like me, our culture doesn’t like sleep, rest, reflection–any lapse in productivity and busyness, any step away from the consumer chain of capitalism. And apart from cultural messages, it is often frustrating–I have a story I want to tell and something is in the way. Often I am in the way. I want to go, be, do–not rest. Not wait. Not feel passive. We want control, but 90% of creativity happens outside our control, in the subconscious.
Getting stuck is productive.
It is a chance for our subconscious to mull things over. It is our subconscious saying, Wait a bit, I think I know a way to make this even cooler. To say, We’re working on the wrong book, poem, painting, dance, problem, project or We’re looking at this the wrong way or We’ve gone down the wrong road. It’s a chance for our subconscious to connect things our conscious brain would never connect. It’s a request for air, food for the creative process, material to incorporate, act against, emulate, inspire. It is a demand to stop, to grieve, to feel, to heal. It is the inhale.
So why am I writing about how to get out of writer’s block if it’s so natural and healthy, you might ask? for one thing I’m impatient–I want to get back to my writing as much as anyone. I want the high of creating and I want the soothing effects of an activity that helps me cope with my life, both in keeping me on an even keel mentally and emotionally and helps me make sense of the chaos of living. For another–the subconscious is subconscious. It is out of our awareness. It sends us messages in bottles that could toss up in years (not necessarily a bad thing) or that never arrive at all (I admit I don’t like that idea at all). Methods for overcoming writer’s block are a way to bring our subconscious creative realizations to the surface of our mind where we can do something with them, write them down, shape them, craft them and use them as a springboard deeper into our creative project.
I get stuck a lot. Between 1992 and 1999 I didn’t write at all, besides term papers, and I didn’t’ even miss it–not consciously anyway. I made a lot of dubious choices in that period, but hey I was young, I was probably going to make them whether I was writing or not. 2010 was a terrible year. Both my remaining grandparents died, my marriage was on the rocks for the first time, and we had that scourge of NYC living that I won’t mention by name because people who’ve experienced it cry and break out in spontaneous itchy welts. Id din’t write anything for six months. I didn’t write fiction for another six months.
Those are the big blocks in my life. There have been shorter blocks of months, days, hours or only minutes, and each time I’ve felt like I would never write again, never be a writer again. Writer’s block has often felt like the endless abyss of grief. It has also felt like beating my head against a wall, like the itch of a mosquito bite, or an absence. An absence of drive, an absence of creativity, an absence of inspiration, an absence in belief in myself, of ideas, of will, of clarity.
But if writer’s block–the power of the inhale–is part of the process, we all need some way to harness it, to manipulate it, to end it momentarily, to bring the subconsciousness’ creativity to the surface of our minds and onto the page. To exhale.
Over the years I’ve discovered a hell of a lot of methods to do so, adapted them, and created my own. I use at least one of these every day–and on some days I riffle through a dozen, looking for the one that will work, today, in this moment, in this inhale.
So here they are, the numerous weird, profound and fun thins I do to get myself creating again.