Writer’s Block and Process

by Sera James

I’ve been told before that my perspective of writer’s block is incorrect. I’ve been told that writer’s block is a zero energy total inability to make something happen on the page, “like depression, but for writing.” As if writing is not a part of us, but an external entity that visits itself upon us, as if the blocked writer has been dumped by the muses of old, and whether or not they return has little to do with your own effort. As if you’ve texted and texted her (mentally, of course, but not with literal words, since those have been robbed from you), and she just won’t call you back.

This definition of writer’s block doesn’t work for me. I suppose there are special cases, such as authors in solitary confinement or authors who suffer brain damage, but I don’t believe this definition is accurate for the common scenario which is titled “writer’s block,” wherein an average writer like you or me simply stares at a page for a day or two, or a month or two, as the case may be. We are people in decent health, people surrounded by inspiration whether or not we take it, people who possess the skills required to write the words, even poorly. Most people have access to lots of tools which may stimulate their creative process.

I’m not the type of person who just accepts what appears to be as fixed and divorced from me. I’m a big believer in the power of positive thought and individual effort, and in the power to control and structure your own life.

I see the craft of writing as a muscle which strengthens with direct practice, and like a muscle, you’d be surprised how strong it can become once you determine that you will meet your challenges.

From an interview featured in The Believer’s Book of Writers Talking to Writers, between Jonathan Lethem and Paul Auster, “I’ve found that writing novels is an all-absorbing experience–both mentally and physically–and I have to do it every day in order to keep the rhythm, to keep myself focused on what I’m doing.” (Auster) To which Lethem responded, “You’re keeping a streak going.”

Admittedly, the first thing you write coming out of a dry spell will probably be bad. As William Stafford said, “Lower your standards.”

I also highly recommend taking walks and meditation. Moments of relaxation are hugely instrumental in inspiration. While you cannot be inspired while constantly relaxed and never chipping away at that plot hole or climax or what have you, you can also not be inspired if you never stop stressing over it. So stress, stress, and then take a deep breath and walk away. Let it play idly through your thoughts and you’ll be surprised how often HUGE breakthroughs will hit mid-shower.

If there are toxic stressors in your life which you identify as cropping up between yourself and your ability to write, put tangible space between yourself and them.

A common footnote in the story of a rut is that the subject thinks about solutions, but never actually physically does anything differently.

So don’t just think about turning off your phone, or disconnecting your Internet, or going on that walk, or spitting out that opening paragraph you just know isn’t going to sing and sparkle the way you hope. I know athletic footwear never wrote a best-selling novel, but in times of despair, I turn to the words of NIKE, goddess of victory: