This is a hashtag that I have rarely been able to use in the last couple of years. You (most of you) didn't know this but I have been suffering from writer's block. And don't let anyone tell you it doesn't exist, only that they have not experienced it. (And it is completely different from hating your job or not wanting to go to work or not wanting to start a task. It is something peculiar to those who need the emotional parts of their brain working properly for their work - writers, artists, musicians.)
The block does not have to be a brick wall, just ugly sludge, preventing free flow, causing a grim trickle. Sometimes, you do force words through the sludge, because if you're a professional you just have to do it, but it doesn't feel like writing. Not really. I have been performing to order for two years and hating almost every minute of it. And feeling ashamed of hating it. Yes, I've written words - I even wrote a novel - but it was a horrible process.
I know the reasons for this. You don't need to know the reasons. Let's just say, "Stuff happened." The stuff began in January 2010, and continued for over a year. It was stuff that was sufficient to rock me. It speared me in the part of my brain that allows creativity. And for a while that part was almost completely paralysed. I could blog, tweet, speak, plan, campaign, but not write fiction.
None of that matters, because now I truly #amwriting.
Conversation with my husband this morning:
Me: I need to warn you about something.Indeed.
Mr M (looks worried): Ye-es?
Me: You know that thing I used to do when I was really into the book I was writing?
Mr M (After a short struggle to remember): You mean when you won't answer questions and you go all silent and get up early in the morning and suddenly say odd things in the middle of a meal? And you're sometimes grumpier than usual?
Me: Yes, that.
Mr M: What about it?
Me: It's happening now.
Mr M: Good!
Me: What, you don't mind?
Mr M: Is it going to make any money?
Me: Actually, rather possibly. You never know.
Mr M: Well, about time, too.
What am I writing? I'll tell you soon! It is very exciting for me, and I have not written the words "writing" and "exciting" in the same paragraph for a long time.
This blog post would be self-indulgent if I didn't have some advice for you. Here it is.
Creative* writing relies heavily on the emotional parts of our brain: the limbic system. The things that cause writer's block are those that overwhelm that emotional limbic system: grief, shock, anger, stress, hate, fear. Those things take so much of the limbic system's power that there is none left to fuel and allow the writing. Every time you try to access the emotional parts, they are busy grieving or being angry or going over and over and over the emotion of whatever it is that is happening to you and around you.
[*By "creative" I don't only mean fiction; I feel that good non-fiction needs to access the emotional part, too, though not so heavily, and depending on what it is.]
That is what happened to me. Every time I tried to get into that limbic writing state, emotions from the "stuff" intruded. I lay awake at night full of the wrong emotion, the negative thoughts. The writer in me had been used to lying awake thinking of plots and having conversations with my characters; the blocked, stressed, angry me couldn't. Every time I tried, the other stuff raged.
It is hardly surprising that when emotions overwhelm us, we cannot also write. Except perhaps write about those emotions - which is perhaps why sometimes people can write during depression. (Depression was not what I had, by the way.)
So, if this is happening to you, what to do about it?
Give yourself time for the cause of emotional overload to dissipate and lessen. It will. How quickly that happens and what (if anything) you can do to speed it depends on the cause and on how deeply it has troubled you. You may not be able to rush it. But everything passes and one day you will find that you want to write.
But, and here's the important thing: you may not be able to. When you find you still can't write at the point when you feel you should be able to, you will doubt yourself, your very core. This is when you need to act. Now you need to coax your battered creative brain back into life, and I'm afraid no one will do it for you.
Give your brain three things:
1. Time to think. Not about your stupid job or stuff or tasks or lists. But ideas, characters, scenes, words, stories. Time on your own, with no one talking to you. Make that time. No one will give it to you if you don't give it to yourself. It's something to fight for. Fight those around you and fight yourself.
2. Light, air and the great outdoors. Our brains are more creative when we are in big, high spaces and can see far into the distance (preferably a green, natural distance.) Go walking. Alone. Breathe. Give your brain oxygen, literally and metaphorically.
3. Desire. You have to want it enough. You have to remember that this is what gives you heartsong. Remember heartsong? If not, you need to read Write to be Published, the bit at the end, the bit that everyone writes to me about.
Give it those things and bit by bit your battered, comatose, creative brain will slowly waken and strengthen and you will write again. The heartsong will return and you will remember once more how it feels to be a writer. You will be a writer again.
(PS If you're interested in what I said about the brain being more creative in big spaces, see here. But come back and comment here because I won't see comments over there!)