There is a new book out from Shambala Publications: On Being Stuck: Tapping into the Creative Power of Writer’s Block by Laraine Herring. Her approach is one of “making friends with your stuck places,” with a great tag line, “We will see windows where we once saw only walls.”
I love to write. There are other activities that make me happy, but when I am able to write about something that interests me, my life has a purpose which gives me a deep feeling of satisfaction.
But most of the time, I don’t write.
I blame my lack of writing on various things: procrastination, laziness, ineptitude, getting side-tracked. These cause me to lose my curiosity, which is my prime motivator, the aspect of being alive that makes me start writing.
I used to be the opposite of a procrastinator. I finished my term papers at school within days of the assignment. I never stayed up late to finish a paper. My anxiety about getting it done spurred me on to complete the writing as fast as possible, because only then could I breathe a sigh of relief.
Over the years I have become really good at procrastinating when it comes to writing. My favorite excuse lately is “good weather.” Beautiful sunny days are rare enough where I live (Ithaca, NY) that when the weather is good, I feel I have to take advantage of it by going outside – gardening, a walk, birding, biking. I have a laptop but it’s hard getting comfortable outside and I really would prefer to move around in the good weather. Fortunately, the weather always turns rainy and/or cold here, and so today, I don’t have that excuse up my sleeve.
I am able to tolerate the anxiety of procrastination because I don’t have deadlines. The big book project I’m working on now has a very limited potential audience. Ithaca and Its Bookstores. It is intrinsically interesting to me, but there is no publisher on my back, no advance to spur me on to completion, no urgent reason to work harder on this than is comfortable. Over the four months I’ve focused on it, I’ve had many spurts of writing effort, but now I have to integrate the parts, see what is missing, and follow-up on getting photographs and permissions – the grunt work of finishing a book. My progress has slowed to a crawl.
Apparently, writing about procrastinating is easier than working on the book.
I’ve been reading a book by a woman trying to make a life as a writer. She is so good at procrastinating and she has severe chemical imbalances, AKA mental disorders. Many of them. Including a wicked sense of humor.
The book is Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson. Her first book was Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, published in 2012. I highly recommend both of them, but especially this new book if you are a writer. One of Lawson’ worst problems is feeling lazy as a writer. As she puts it, “I’m very very lazy.”
“..[S]ome people will say that if you have writer’s block you should just start writing anyway because then you’ll at least accomplish something. However, I’ve never liked anything I’ve ever been forced to write so I’m pretty sure all that accomplishes is a bunch of shitty writing, and I already have enough of that even when real inspiration hits.” I strongly believe Jenny Lawson speaks my truth.
Laziness is usually defined as a “disinclination” to do something, but it can be based on anything from being “lazy on a summer’s day” to “fear of failure.” So, I have to wonder, what kind of laziness do I have? When I have time to be lazy, I am more likely to find inspiration to write. Having lazy time, even letting myself get bored (one of my least favorite feelings) usually turns out to be productive.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that non-right-brained people don’t see happening,” Jenny Lawson points out clearly.
Could we redefine “laziness” to be “a period of gathering energy and ideas before actually writing?”
I worry my writing is not sophisticated enough, that the way in which I’m writing something is not going to catch the attention of readers. I force myself to self-edit. At first I can barely look at what I’ve written, much less fine-tune it. The more I am able to rewrite something, the better it becomes. I often write out first drafts, type them up, print them out, and then read them out loud to create some distance from the initial writing.
My mother used to tell me that I shouldn’t be selective about my friends, because “everyone is interesting in some way, if you take the time to look.” That didn’t make it easier for me to find friends, but it does help me with writing. If I look closely at almost anything, there will be something interesting in it. If I am able to find that spark, I can write. Sometimes looking for the spark is the hardest step.
I sometimes worry I have nothing to say worth sharing. It usually occurs when I am forced to write something on a deadline, on a topic I’m not wild about. Other times, I just doubt my self-worth, my ability to write anything new or worthwhile. The only way I have found to deal with this is to remind myself that it doesn’t matter. Not everyone wants to read a book about the history of bookstores in Ithaca. That’s ok. It’s local history, worth doing for its own sake.
I noticed I had writer’s block a year or so ago, so I went to a therapist. I told her about a recent dream, in which I sat down at a table in a beautiful room, clean wooden floors warmly reflecting the sunlight. I felt such joy because I was finally ready to write again. I could feel in my bones how much I wanted to write, and I finally had the freedom and time.
Suddenly colored lights caught the corner of my eye. I looked over to my right and saw a circus in my living room! Suddenly right next to me a glittering carnival. How can I say no to a circus that comes into my house? How can I go back to writing now? My ache to write disappeared and I woke up.
Later in the session, I mentioned the barriers I felt kept me away from writing. I mentioned, the morning was wasted because I can’t write in the morning.
Does that sound like a therapist or what!
The basic truth for me is I don’t want to write in the morning. And if I don’t want to write, I don’t write. I can make myself go through the motions but if I don’t have the inspiration, it’s like being in a factory line, grunting out energy without any enjoyment or meaning.
For me, the magic happens when there is an intersection of my aroused curiosity, bad weather, and a glass of wine. My answers to writer’s block!
What are your answers?
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…