A Personal Study in Writers’ Block

There are countless advice articles about what exactly writers’ block is, how to cure it, and–my favorite part–why it is always the writers’ fault for it occurring. It’s just fear, self-doubt, and discipline. Over and over, rinse and repeat, repackaged and rewritten, thank you very much Mister Content Mill man!

For the most part, I generally agree with the idea that a lot of creative blocks really are self-imposed and are a result of any variation of the things described above. Each creator is unique and has their own personal challenges. I’ve worked through many myself, and they have run the gamut from impostor syndrome to plumb being fresh out of ideas, even when I had the energy to write.

But, I wonder: why do we insist on blaming the writer? Do shame and tough love always work? Is it always the only option?

Usually sitting down and cranking out words, whether they were fiction or nonfiction, good or bad, regardless if they made any sense did the trick for me. If I just did it over and over, ensuring I got a few words out each day, just enough to get my mind into the zone would be enough. Soon enough, ideas, revisions, and the drive to follow through would come again. It never failed when I tapped into some of the deepest parts of my personality: perseverance, tenacity, shamelessness.

Until last month.

Oh, boy. Last month.

Have you ever had an event in your life that was so powerful that your frame of reference of your life’s timeline was marked by it? That there was your life before something, and then your life after this event. For many, the birth of a child, a marriage (or divorce), the death of a friend, or some other major event is enough to jar one’s sense of time and reframe it.

In my life, I wish I could summarize it into one singular event or date. Unfortunately, July 2018 ended up being, for lack of a better analogy, a rollercoaster. Less than the ups and downs, but more about the elation of weightlessness when coasting over a parabola, then crushed by the pressure of my own weight when in the valleys…without being able to see the track ahead of me. The excitement of meeting new people and the apprehension of reuniting with old ones. A whirlwind of good news about career turns and opportunities, dampened by loss–some is so vast I still have not had the ability to vocalize it and have had to repress and lock a lot of it away for another time. And the scariest thing yet: my dog’s health taking a potential turn for the worst.  He’s okay now, thank goodness, but it was a tense week.

Writing became a thing of the past; a thing I did but hadn’t done. I glanced over my shoulder several times, searching for the familiarity and comfort of May and June, when I posted regularly and had the energy to network and work on material of all kinds. It felt like another lifetime; the feeling of cracking open a yearbook and choking when you see the date. Just one month felt like years.

I found myself in a block, but one I hadn’t experienced before. It wasn’t a lack of ideas–I was jotting those down all the time–but where I usually scrounged up that last ounce of get-er-done, grimy and beat up but reliable and always tucked in the darkest corners: I found nothing.

I was simply out of energy, but I wasn’t tired. It wasn’t a block borne of depression, but I later realized, a misappropriation of inner resources.

Those life-changing events I mentioned previously–when they happen in singlets and my whole life centers around them, the words pour out of me. Good luck getting my nose out of a notebook or keeping up with my word count. I get stuff done when there is just one thing to focus on in addition to the regular beat of life. I have so much to say, and I feel so deeply that I can barely keep up with my own rambles and scribbles. Writing was always my only and favorite release; the one thing I always had to turn to.

But not last month. I didn’t have it anymore.

It was a couple weeks before it dawned on me that I had stopped writing. Promises of articles to good contacts and cobwebs building on my blogs, and ignoring alerts about reviews and comments: I just didn’t have it in me. I had to survive or carry the load on my back to its destination.

The interesting thing was that I didn’t feel bad about it. Knowing that I would get back into the swing of things, eventually, that it was something to look forward to, was something that bounced around in the back of my mind. I’ll be back. Things will settle down. This will be great material and inspiration for later. Just not now. 

And, here we are. I’m writing again.

All of this is to remind those who are suffering writers’ block: sometimes it really isn’t you. It’s not always your fault. You only have so much you can do. As it goes, one cannot pour from an empty cup. You get to take care of yourself first–if writing is a part of your self-care or if you can only do it after you have taken care of yourself–that is exactly what you should do. If anyone or thing is making you feel guilt and shame for not writing, for feeling “less than,” throw ’em a big fat middle finger and tell ’em I sent ya.

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