Writing About Writer’s Block

I’m posting here again.  It was a very deliberate choice to come back to my canceled website.  In doing so, I surprised myself.  It had been months since I had posted.  Although this particular situation is mine, I’m going to share my reflections on writing (or not) because I think many, many of us go through periods of not writing.  So perhaps some writers in our online writers group might find something useful or meaningful from my own recent experience.

I don’t like the term “writer’s block” although I understand why people refer to their own writing in that way.  Perhaps a long time ago I even thought of my own not writing at various times in my life in this way.  It’s rather an ugly term, and I find it depressing and unnecessarily hopeless.  In my own mind, I see a wall with a writer hopelessly hurling him/herself at it to the point of exhaustion. Or climbing, hanging on by their fingernails, and then slowly sliding down leaving long grooves on the wall. This metaphor is frightening for a writer, for me and, I’m sure, others in our writers community.

We all have periods when we are not writing, or at least most of us do, I think.  The reasons are as varied as we writers ourselves. But I do think there are commonalities. I also think it helps to talk to each other about our frustrations and fears about writer’s block. Perhaps we feel ashamed that we aren’t consistently creative all the time. Some writers are. The very concept of being unable to write is foreign to them, and therefore they can’t understand or relate. As long as they’re not dismissive and judgmental that’s wonderful!  I’m truly happy for them. But writers should be supportive of one another even if it means feeling vulnerable. Not being able to write meaningfully, or at all, is something we do tend to feel is a sign that we are not real writers.  If you’re familiar with my writing here, you know that I am a passionate believer in writing groups.  Whether talking to each other about all aspects of our writing, including difficulties we face, in a personal, real-life writers group, or here on our very real online writers group, we can help one another.

For some, maybe most?, highly published writers, the discipline for writing relies on a commitment to daily writing.  Anything, even a page…which eventually when the flow comes may be entirely irrelevant to the real piece that evolves.  Hemingway had such a practice.  In Paris he rented a small room separate from the apartment he shared with his wife and child.  He went in the morning, shut himself away, and wrote, even agonized sentence by sentence some days, but stayed there for the time he had allotted for morning writing. That did not mean that that was it, done for the day.  For him it seemed a catalyst for writing through the rest of his day in other places.  He loved writing in cafes, for instance.  Public spaces where he could then concentrate amid noisy sounds of life.  Some of us write best like that.

Tennessee Williams, plagued by drug and alcohol issues, locked himself in a room in his house every weekday morning for several hours.  He wrote.  He made that space of sobriety a commitment for just a few hours. A schedule that required an incredible amount of discipline. When he left the room, he would very, very often spend the day, and part of the night, in unhealthy ways. But his writing was that important to him.  I find that amazing.  Some of us may struggle with issues like this. This is just the way Williams, one writer out of many with these issues, handled it for himself.

There is no one strategy that fits every writer. We each have to learn to navigate our way.  What I most care about sharing with my fellow writers here is that we should never ever feel  guilty or ashamed or hopeless. Life is always changing, as are we, nothing is static, and these things pass.  Sometimes a long period of not writing is not a dry spell, but a time necessary for a pause before moving forward again, perhaps renewed.  Creativity doesn’t disappear.  It can become dormant and at some point resurrect. Trying to force the creative process can totally block, not the writing.  It’s not about the writing.  Writing comes from within us.  A pause for reflection, a pause for rest, even a pause for recovery from something…grief, loss, illness, personal and family issues which can take enormous time and concentration…all the complexities of life as we live it require our attention, sometimes to the exclusion of all else.  However,  a positive of experiencing the good and the bad, joy and pain during times of intensity can be a maturing of our writing and new sources of inspiration when we return to it.

As for me, my withdrawal from here for a while was the result of many things.  I’m not going to enumerate them.  They are not unique to me, I know.  To be honest, I don’t even know every reason I had to.  I just had to.  That was not a deliberate decision.  I just let go because somehow it was time to let go.  I didn’t even contemplate whether I would return.  Sadly, I’m not just speaking of this website.  My entire creative life went dormant. A part of myself went dormant.  I miss it when I’m not writing.  But I don’t agonize as we tend to do when we’re young and believe that if we can’t write in a set rhythm of a steady body of work, we are failing.  I have gone a year or two throughout my life that I have not written.  During much of that time I have been able to jot down the briefest of thoughts and observations and feelings as they occur. Sometimes I can’t even do that.  But I learned to leave what  I had jotted down alone, in little notebooks or scraps of paper shoved into a writer’s junk drawer.  Except they are not junk, they are possibilities.  Maybe at some point, just one will flower as one day I return to that pile of random bits of writing.  It has happened to me, and I feel that at this moment, I personally am moving toward writing again.  My return today to this online community of writers indicates that to me.  As I said, I was surprised.  I had let go.  All of a sudden, I wanted to start a conversation again.  I feel ready.  I don’t know just how much I’ll engage, but I have missed reading those I follow although I was not engaging in my own writing life. I’m happy I can do that again.

In a couple months, I’ll be 68.  Not old. But certainly aging.  I find such a wealth of positives in growing older that I celebrate it, in many ways.  There are certainly hard issues that come.  But my life has been full and varied with both the positives and negatives that are part of our general humanity and connectedness.  When I reflect on these various things, I think that there can be a certain wisdom that comes with age.  A certain acceptance and peace.  Always gratitude. Life is a gift.  Sometimes surviving life is a gift. Some of these things I write about, in the moment, more often afterward as I gain some perspective.

I’ve learned not to fear a pause in my writing. Once upon a time in my life I did.  Time has taught me to see it as simply a pause.  For positive and negative circumstances.  Then a time of gathering of thought, a time of rest and reflection.

I don’t know if my feelings and observations about pauses in writing will resonate with any of you other writers out there.  Whatever an individual writer’s process and writer’s life, we can through understanding ourselves, through experimenting to see what different strategies help us personally, and by refusing to beat ourselves up for pauses in our work, move into our own rhythm.  Musical scores contain what we call rests, places of pausing.  We as writers are no different.

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