I am terrible at doing what I know I need to do.
To clarify – I have been, was. I don’t want to state it in the present tense, and in private I don’t. I want to cast that self image into the past and leave it there so I can bring a new self into being here and now.
But it would be fundamentally dishonest to present myself to you that way.
I’ve known the virtues of meditation since I was a teenager. I had no shortage of knowledge, and even managed to do it for three to five minutes at a time. Occasionally. Without glancing at the clock!
When I hit my creative drought, sitting silent and still was the last thing I wanted. Oh, I was gonna slam my head against the keyboard until it bled. The blank page wouldn’t defeat me, no sir. I would push something from my muddled, overactive mind. It might be shite. I knew I’d delete it without ever saving it to my harddrive.
But I’d write something, dammit.
The truth is, there is no such thing as writer’s block. What is thought to be a block is usually a lack of context or information. You can’t write very well if you never read, for example. It’s hard to synthesize interesting-but-concise descriptions if you don’t read good fiction. It’s hard to know when your work stinks if you don’t read bad fiction. You can’t build believable worlds if you don’t read non-fiction.
Writer’s block is usually putting product over process. It’s wanting the high of having written something, not the drudgery of actually writing.
Being creative is a lot of fun – or it can be. But there’s a lot of busywork and dullness between crafting words that build worlds and the inspired text bursting from bolts of inspiration. You need the former to make the big moments carry weight, but if you love your characters, the big moments are what you’re writing for. If you’re a world builder, the characters get in the way of your economies, maps, and magic systems.
You can’t win.
But the good more than makes up for the bad if you genuinely love it.
What do you do when you love it, but you freeze whenever you’re staring at the blank page? When all those worlds and characters and ideas suddenly disappear and you’re left hollow, wondering where the author in you went?
You have to write to be a writer, and the more you write the better you get. You have to know yourself, too, but you get to know yourself better by writing stories, not navel gazing while your projects sit on a shelf.
Yet I could not muster the will. Those brilliant ideas I scratched onto notepads could not be given life when I returned from work.
Sometimes a block isn’t a creative block but a spiritual one. There’s a stereotype for the lazy creative, the one that only produces when they’re “inspired” and can’t be arsed to pick up brush or pen unless the gods themselves move their hands.
But there’s something else at work in people with brilliant ideas that, for the life of them, they can’t even scribble the roughest of drafts. The pressure is on; the need and desire to create only grows more urgent with the passage of time and the knowledge that opportunities and ideas not pursued will wither on the vine, and yet they’re frozen, and more committed to it than a scared hiker facing a bear.
To be honest, stillness terrified me.
I felt like I would disappear. That would fade, and voices from the past would rise and accuse me of all manner of things. Turns out my subconscious had been hijacked by those who wanted to make me responsible for their personal failings and the evils in this world.
The best writing flows from the subconscious. You can’t turn the spigot on if you’re afraid of what’ll flow out.
You can write new outlines and devote endless hours to “worldbuilding” well past the point you’d need to get started. You can find some way to do anything but actually write, the thing that is not just banal at times but terrifying.
The best writing requires the author to at once transcend their personal perspective to write believable interactions between worlds and characters of vastly different natures, but it’s also deeply personal – the author runs through their story’s currents, like the ocean giving rise to life. Their minds are the matrix within which these deep characters and fantastical landscapes manifest.
And the author who cannot face themselves – or even let their demons free – can will none of it into existence, regardless of how fleshed out it is on paper.
Journaling is one way to break that barrier, but there’s no getting around it – to craft worlds, the writer must empty themselves so they can be filled anew.
And that’s terrifying.
I understand creatives who take criticism hard. They make themselves vulnerable in some way. They transcend themselves and put the deepest parts of themselves on display. That anyone can so easily dismiss them is a shock to the system, and it takes work to build the kind of character that can take those blows and keep going, that can contextualize the criticism and discern what’s to be taken to heart and what wasn’t given in good faith.
It requires the courage to be still, and let the world wash over them while their will reveals their vision.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Until the external world goes quiet. Until everything seems to be covered in a veil of mist. Until physical sensations grow fuzzy and you feel yourself expanding – expanding into what, who knows? But there you are, reaching outside the confines of the physical.
And you feel everything more vividly, more deeply than you have before. You mourn and don’t know why. You remember things you thought were long forgotten. You realize what you’re holding against yourself, and others.
You realize you’ve been dying to tell yourself everything you’ve been thinking and feeling, you’ve just never been still long enough to listen.
And when you give yourself that love no one else can, you become a little more whole than you were, and in time you can write again.