the closer you are to returning, the
as you pass through my mind. the
we get to your arrival, the
you sneak into my thoughts and the
your breaks get before you move on and let me
get back to
A while back I wrote a post on how to cope with writer’s block. Yeah, back in late June. What can I say? I’m a procrastinator, I admit it! But there was no deadline for this, so it’s not so bad, right? Right?! Right.
Here are some simple ways writers can work on unblocking themselves and get writing again:
- Instead of on the computer, write on a typewriter or with a pen/pencil/etc. on paper – even colored paper!
- Write in the bathtub, a coffee shop, library, bookstore, bar, airport, car, parking lot, bus or train station, pharmacy, supermarket, Sharper Image store (and why not go for the massage chair while you’re there?), park, boat, gym, beach, restaurant (perhaps a Denny’s or another spot open 24 hours so you can go whenever), at friend’s or family member’s house, on a rooftop, bridge, etc. — anywhere that might shift your perspective.
- Put music on.
- Write for 30 minutes continuously and without stopping to edit. Just go! Let ideas flow out one after the other.
- Write in slang or another language, use clichés, whatever — let your ideas gush out as they come. Save the editing for later!
- Write drunk. Just kidding.
- Change your argument or point of view (if possible).
- Take an invigorating break: go for a brisk walk, hike, run, ride your bike, play a sport, etc., and use that time to listen to music, clear your mind, or think about anything unrelated to your writing. Take your dog or a human friend!
- Take a relaxing break: go to the beach, take a bath, cook or bake, get some sexy action, watch a movie, whatever you want – and, again, do your best to keep your mind off your writing during this time.
- Read any author or writing style that inspires you, e.g., read poetry even if you have to write an essay.
Got other ideas? Let me know!
By the way, happy spring (or fall)!
All of us writers – whether writing fiction or nonfiction, frequently or not, professionally or for leisure — come across the nefarious and infinitely frustrating phenomenon called writer’s block at some point in our writing adventures. It is ineluctable, at least as far as I know (and if you’ve never suffered from it, please let me know so I can alternately admire and envy you for your phenomenal luck!).
Lucky for us, there are copious methods and tricks we can try to combat a block, monolithic as it may be.
First, a couple of notes: 1) My suggestions may not be enough if you’ve got very little time left to finish your work. 2) None of the links below are affiliate links.
Now, I believe that the very best way to clear your head is by opening it. With an axe. Crack. And then cleaning it out.
However, if you’re not into brain trauma or blood creeps you out, you could try any of the following tactics:
An hour — or just a half hour! Or even 15 minutes! — of yoga. You can access a different, full-length class for free each week at Yoga Today. YT offers anusara, kundalini, ashtanga-vinyasa, and hatha blends (these are different styles of yoga). For a pretty low monthly price you can sign up and access hundreds of full-length classes. You can also find several full-length yoga classes and short sessions for free on YouTube; just look up “Yoga Today.” I highly recommend their work.
Another brilliant set of classes is The Flow Series (Earth, Water, and Fire) by Ganga White and Tracey Rich. These are plain hatha classes and the instructors are serious, not as friendly and goofy as those on YT. It depends on what you like. If you’re new to yoga, you can begin with the Earth video, which is a level one.
If you have never done yoga, I recommend you attend a few classes before you venture out on your own at home. This will help you make sure you don’t injure yourself and are getting the most out of your poses. If you are in a rush, however, an online class will do.
Yoga nidra, also called yogic sleep, is guided relaxation, a state of conscious deep sleep that rejuvenates both mind and body. Sessions last between 20-45 minutes on average. The teacher may use body scanning, guided imagery, or other methods to lead you to a state of deep relaxation. Read an article about yoga nidra here. You can look up classes in your area, purchase CDs or mp3s online, or find free guided meditation mp3s at Dharma Talks or one by Tom Volkar here.
An intriguing and fascinating practice I began last year is called Shiva Nata, or the Dance of Shiva. This also takes your mind to new and higher places. The amazing Havi Brooks (whose blog and products at The Fluent Self will blow your mind) says that shiva nata “uses movement patterns to generate new neural connections and huge understandings that let you rewrite your patterns.” You will begin having epiphanies like crazy. Your mind will clear. You may feel inspired. Shiva nata might look weird, but trust me (and Havi!) when I say it rocks.
Like I said, Havi Brooks will blow your mind. She offers plenty of ideas and exercises you can do to “destuckify” yourself, whatever your particular type of stuck is. She’s huge on self-kindness and patience, which is perfect for when you’re having a hard time no matter what the circumstances. Just go visit her blog – you can thank me later! You can even download a free “recoding your mind” meditation mp3 from her website.
I will discuss additional, less esoteric tactics you can try in my next post. Meanwhile, let me know if you take on any of the ones I recommend in this post!
May your writer’s block dissipate with ease and speed.
The other night I watched the film Factotum, which is based on Charles Bukowski’s novel of the same name. The man in the film is Henry Chinasky – Bukowski’s alter ego – and he is a loser: he’s a dysfunctional drunk who can’t keep even a menial job and is shown hitting his girlfriend Jan and calling her a whore. How lovely.
As a writer, Bukowski was tremendously prolific: he wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, and six novels in his 73 years. In Factotum he produces three short stories a week and submits them to magazines. He isn’t often lucky, at least at first. In any case, I wish I were as lucky as Bukowski all the time: “I could feel the words bubbling up inside me,” he wrote. He makes inspiration resemble hunger, or anger, or love.
When writing fiction and poetry, I sometimes experience the same luck – if that’s what you want to call it; I am definitely fortunate. Other times, of course, I hit a big writer’s-block wall. It is high, light yellow, and several feet thick. Oy.
I leave you with one of my favorite love poems (it seems awful at first, but just get to the ending). It was shocking to me that I could ever like something by Bukowski, as I once picked up his novel “Women” and it was so misogynistic that I couldn’t get past page 5. But this is different.
The best love poem I can write at the moment
listen, I told her
why don’t you stick your tongue up my ass
no, she said.
well, I said
if I stick my tongue up your ass first
then will you stick your tongue up my ass?
all right, she said.
I got my head down there and looked around
opened a section
then my tongue moved forward
not there, she said
not there, that’s not the right place
you women have more holes than Swiss cheese
I don’t want you to do it
well, then I’ll have to do it back
and then at the next party you’ll tell people
I licked your ass with my tongue
suppose I promise not to tell?
you’ll get drunk, you’ll tell
o.k., I said
and I’ll stick it in the other place
she rolled over
and I stuck my tongue in that other place
we were in love
we were in love except with what I said at parties
and we were not in love
with each other’s ass holes
she wants me to write a love poem
but I think if people can’t love each other’s ass holes
and terrible parts
just like they love the good parts
that ain’t complete love
so, as far as love goes
as far as we have gone
this poem will have to do.
Now, something to depress those who have a tough time churning words out:
Somebody at one of these places [...] asked me: “What do you do? How do you write, create?” You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.
So you want to be a writer?
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.
Writing is my Thing (read: the thing I want to do with my life because it nurtures and challenges me while giving me pleasure all at the same time).
What I’m not sure of is what I want to write about. You know, if I got to choose 100% of the time. I have eclectic interests and love to learn, so I am happy to write about myriad topics. Yet, of course, I have my favorites.
My two biggest passions in life are women’s and non-human animal rights (why “non-human”? Because we are animals too – but we like to pretend that we aren’t, that we’re better than non-humans, because that perspective enables us to feel okay about exploiting them. Yeah, don’t get me started.).
I am fascinated by topics like environmental issues; pornography’s effect on viewers and its consequent impact on gender relations; animal rights and speciesism in general; feminism(s); the increasing threat of genetically modified foods (GMOs) and how Monsanto is attempting to take over the world through its manipulation and ownership of food across the globe (you can watch a very informative and frightening documentary on the topic here); and so on.
But ultimately, I would like to be the next Slavoj Žižek, continental philosopher and critical theorist (not that I support all of his views); or the next Judith Butler, poststructuralist and gender and queer theory philosopher extraordinaire whose mere genius makes her sexy. Of course, I may need to go on to get a Ph.D. or two for that. And although I’m not in the mood for it [yet], I’ve got time.
So how do you find your Thing?
Ahh, one of the quintessential existentialist questions. And one for which I don’t have a definitive answer.
Victoria Shmoria says it’s a process, not a destination, to find your Thing. And that you don’t get a spontaneous confetti party when you think you’ve found it! (I was not happy to read that, Victoria. Just so you know.)
But I know this: I am now 27, and I’ve had depression since I was about 13. At 15, I fell into a major depression that arguably culminated a year later in a suicide attempt (interestingly, just 9 days after I began taking the antidepressant Zoloft, which has been accused of spurring suicidal tendencies in users). So I wasn’t just blue. I necessitated copious amounts of antidepressants and therapy, which unfortunately didn’t even help much. I am fortunately stable now, although still on medication.
However, there was one single year during which I was able to do just fine – spectacularly, actually – without any pills despite tremendous stress. It was the year I wrote my thesis in college. I was in pure love with that thesis; with my carrel at the college library where I kept most of the books I was using in my research; with the courses I designed for myself during my last semester (French feminist theory, which I took with a friend and involved writing essays and meeting weekly with a professor in her office; and the philosophy of animal rights, for which I met alone with another professor in his office). I am a hardcore nerd and I love it. I reach academic journal articles for fun even today, philosophy books, critical theory, and so on.
And if that year I was able to get past all the crap in my head, all the misery, dismal self-esteem, co-dependency that led me to date emotionally selfish men for five years in a row, the emotional instability, and the crazy in general – I have to wonder whether the cure was doing something I was deeply in love with. And, thus, I wonder whether I would be happiest as an academic, spending my time reading, writing, and discussing intricate ideas, expanding the horizons of my mind at 100 mph (as much as you can expand them through academic learning). Is that, now that my depression is no longer severe, my ultimate cure?
But I want to affect concrete change in the world. I want to make it a better place for women and for non-human animals in particular because they are the most oppressed groups on Earth. And I’m not sure whether writing would be sufficient to accomplish this on my terms.
And, no, I don’t yet know how to get there, or how to reconcile my desire to write with my desire to help change the world.
Meanwhile, I continue to write.
Also, my website is too pink. I intend to fix this.
Speaking of terrible first efforts … yes, one does have to start somewhere when wanting to write something.
But – many times, unfortunately, when I entertain the thought of journaling (or, hopefully, writing something more sophisticated, so to speak), I end up not writing about the deluge of thoughts in my head because they appear to be endless and virtually unmanageable to me. There are countless nuances, conflicting perspectives, anachronistic moments related in certain ways but not others, myriad sensations of varying flavors and intensities, heightened shivers and quivers I believe I will be unable to shape into words, …
Do you see my dilemma?
I do not feel exactly as though my problem is that I lack the set of vocabulary necessary to explain myself, as I would to describe the various details pertaining to the texture, taste, and so on of a food product as food tasters do. I simply become so enchanted (and somewhat pleasantly overwhelmed) by the experiences I wish to document or the thoughts that I wish to transcribe that I end up – as my friend’s therapist used to say – “mindfucking myself into paralysis.”
It occurred to me to record myself talking it out. Then it occurred to me that I’d never get around to transcribing the recording because it would be too tedious and I’d lack sufficient motivation.
Is it a shame? Or is the experience itself, in real time and later in fading memories, enough, or even worth more than anything words could possibly convey?
I suppose it would depend on whom you ask.
But listen: how exactly is one supposed to verbally depict mind-blowing multiple and shared orgasms and the connection felt and built with someone you are beginning to fall for? The intense mutual gazing into each other’s eyes while you caress each other, tickling, causing shivers, quick smirks lasting milliseconds, childlike giggling, a lover playing with your hair, a warm pink glow on satiated cheeks, plump seductive lips, dark and soft stubble, adorable dimples, an electrical pulse through the middle of your torso that reemerges every time you replay that one instance…?
I can’t do it.
And, listen, I’ve read erotica and overwrought Victorian novels and I can confidently tell you that it cannot be done. Nothing you can write will compare to what one feels in a moment like the one I just described. There is no way to transform sensations and feelings accurately into words – you can’t even write them so they will simultaneously coexist, because writing and reading are linear processes, and there is thus no way to transmit all coexisting experiences together, in their full intensity, uniqueness, sheen, magic (or a less hackneyed word).
Writing, alas, is a terribly limited and limiting art, system, and process. Verbal language cannot compare to that of the body and soul. As a writer, this is something I lament.
If anyone believes she/he can prove me wrong, I welcome your efforts!
If writing is a dominant part of your life – of your being – I recommend you take a look at Anne Lamott’s delightfully inspirational and honest Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
Because I love quotes and these are jagged and beautiful, I leave you with some words by Lamott:
- “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
- “E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
- “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”