Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Art by Teesha Moore
As part of my Wild Work, I pay attention to synchronicities. Words assert themselves into my life and tend to lead somewhere. In the past week, I’ve heard several people discuss concerns with ‘writer’s block.’ Last night, in my new writing group, we talked about the ways we have been shut down by criticism and judgments, how someone’s ideas for our work have cost us our work.
I had writer’s block for years. Reading through a decade of my journal writing recently, I was reminded about how long it took me to develop the confidence to begin. During this time, my friend, the photographer Carole Harmon, said, “When you have something to say, then you will write.” This was the truth, and over those years, I learned that my voice was essential, worthy and capable.
I no longer believe in writer’s block. In my mind, there’s no such thing as a ‘block’ in the sense of experiencing an obstacle that prevents me from my writing. Living with our home in construction all summer, (see my next blog The Wild Build) I have been watching how the craftsmen make progress one ‘block’ at a time. When they make mistakes, they don’t abandon their project. They step back, refocus, call for help, try something new. The builders are practiced in using a variety of strategies to manifest the architect’s drawings. With artists and entrepreneurs, the lack of a plan can result in an uncomfortable standstill, when we really want a wildly creative life.
First, question the ‘blocked’ thinking. The antonym for ‘block’ is ‘encourage,’ to give hope, confidence or courage. There’s only one person who can offer you the courage to write, and that’s you. And you build the courage by seeing things clearly, or as Byron Katie might say, by noticing that reality is kind. Your first drafts may be very far from where you end up. Annie Dillard says, “original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen.” So start already.
This week, as I tossed out most of my journal pages, (bye-bye self concepts!) I was made aware that getting good at a craft is a process. The current state of my writing is what I’ve got, and there is no perfection other than this. Even my rejections from publications have been ideal because my work clearly wasn’t ready or right for a particular magazine. Encouragement isn’t a false buoying up of one’s fragile artistic sensibilities; encouragement is seeing things as they are, including our very flawed (yet perfect!) writer selves, and choosing to create anyway.
Second, surround yourself with allies. Confidence comes from aligning ourselves with others whose brilliance is clear. For the past few years I’ve taken classes from Priscilla Long, Waverly Fitzgerald, Pilar Alessandra and Warren Etheredge -- people who are masters in knowing how to bring the writer to self knowledge and adept craftsmanship. Apprentice yourself to someone whose process you trust. Whether they’re a great writer is less important than their ability to help you understand character, voice, structure, setting, point of view, themes and so on.
I belong to three writer’s groups. In each of them, I write, and I am required to produce material for critique and to edit every other member’s work. Just like twelve step programs and weight loss buddies, other writers and the structure of the group keeps us accountable.
Stories are also allies. Read works that make your heart sing and your mouth fall open and your eyes read the same sentence six times with a sigh. One year I set a goal to read 52 books, and achieving it changed my limited view of myself. Priscilla Long has her students study stories by classic and contemporary authors and asks us to discuss what makes each a masterwork. Pick up a book, discover for yourself -- what makes a great sentence sing?
Third, just write. Write thirty minutes a day. Or write five pages a day. Or write 1000 words a day. Consistently write. Take your journal to the café and write what you see. Steal dialogue from the people in the park. Wax poetic on the story that eludes you. From that rambling, you will mine your future material and discover your voice and most importantly, learn to trust that this happy meandering is leading you somewhere.