Blocking Writer’s Block – Part II

Sorry, but I have to start this Part II of “Blocking Writer’s Block” with a correction to Part I. In Part I, discussing Rule No. 1 – Don’t Care, I suggested that you might tell yourself from the start that what you are writing was stupid.

What I really meant here was to tell yourself that what you are writing is a DRAFT, that it can be stupid, that it doesn’t matter, that you can change it, that you WILL change it.

It’s a draft, right?  So you can throw it away if you want, you can burn it.

But keep in mind that maybe, just maybe, there will be some scraps of this draft that you will want to save.  And, if not–if the draft really is stupid– that it will at least have allowed you to work through some of  the junk clogging your voice, to break down some of the fences in your head. Even if all you unclog or breakdown ends up on the bonfire, this is terrific.

So just do it, get started, don’t care.

Rule No. 3 – Get a friend.

Get a friend. By friend, I mean writing buddy. Not someone you can show your work to.   That kind of friend is great. But the kind of buddy that you need when you are suffering from writer’s block is someone you can actually write with, at the side of or across the table from. Someone who is writing too.

I’m not talking about collaboration here. Collaboration may be nice but it’s an awfully lot of pressure for someone with writer’s block.

I’m talking about company.

Having a writing buddy is a bit like going to the gym or taking an exercise class. If you’re an Olympic swimmer, you can probably jump into an absolutely deserted pool, and swim three hours without stop. But if you’re tired, grumpy, out of shape (and as a writer, possibly fearful), it’s useful to be with someone going through the same travail. Energy is contagious; companionship can replace discipline; even the feeling that you are performing (which comes simply by doing something in front of someone else) can be a useful goad.

Choose someone you trust, or that you can learn to trust. Because the second part of writing with a buddy is reading aloud what you have written. (I will write more about reading aloud another time, but only will say now that this technique is again derived from Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones.)

Arrange to meet with your buddy regularly if you can. If you can’t meet, set a time when you and your buddy can write over the phone. This means that you call up your buddy, set a time limit and topic, then hang up the phone and you both start writing until one of you calls back. (Remote companionship is better than none.)

Be friends with your buddy, but limit the small talk;  socializing can eat up limited writing time, and the urge to procrastinate is great. If you have something to say, write it down. (Then, as we’ll discuss later, read it aloud.)

Rule No. 4 – Cultivate Solitude.

It’s useful to have a writing buddy. But writing is an inherently solitary process. When you are writing, it’s just you and the words, just you and the page or the computer screen, just you.

Learn to enjoy that solitude, even to crave it. Find company in your words, your page, your screen.

It helps to be quiet. (This is a rule I need to practice a lot more.) Try not to talk through every story or emotion in your telephone calls—save some of your voice for your work.

Don’t mindlessly turn on the radio or the t.v.; don’t mindlessly speed-dial or text. It’s so easy in the modern world to be addicted to constant stimulation; give it a rest.

Even pull yourself away from friends and relatives sometimes.  Loved ones, as much as they love you, will rarely say, ‘hey why don’t you take time for yourself to  write?’   You have to be the one to pull away.  (And you won’t always want to.)

Still, if you want to write, if you want to break through a block, it is something you may need to work on.

The advantage of quiet for the writer  is that it gives you something to fill up, a fresh blank page.

If the blank page is just too stark, write in a public place—a café, a library, a subway car, a park. Your surroundings can be your subject matter.

But, even in this public space, work hard to keep some quiet in your head, to maintain some loneness, the “you ” that is separate from the place, looking out.  Meaning be friendly to others, but if you’re there to write, write.  Meaning don’t think about the dirty laundry, that call you need to make, that other homework you haven’t yet done.  Those are uninvited guests, pests; kick them out.

The words that are trying to come out of your hands need quiet to be written.   At first, these are often very shy words.

To be continued….

P.S.  Check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson on Amazon:

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