By Jessica Graham
Today I did the following:
Yelled “I hate this! I hate this! I hate this!” like a 14 year old who’s mom told her she couldn’t go to a highschool party.
Did a handstand in my office while saying a silent prayer along the lines of “This better work.”
Covered my desk with snotty tissues. I do not have a cold. This was from several crying fits.
Found at least 10 other things that needed doing, including looking up how to add multiple Instagram accounts to my phone (I swear I had a good reason).
Called my mom. Awww.
Banged my fists (softly and mindfully of course) on my desk in a very dramatic Tennessee Williams character kind of way.
Cried some more.
I am currently revising a book proposal. It’s actually more like completely gutting and renovating a book proposal. But it’s one of those renovations that only leaves one original wall, the bare minimum to keep it legal. I am having a hard time. My eyes hurt from staring at a blank screen and being a writer is seeming like less and less of a good idea. Ahh, good old writer’s block.
Of course writer’s block is just a bunch of thoughts and some uncomfortable sensations. It’s not this big, scary, personal beast that we think it is. I’ve spent a lot of time observing my mind and emotions in meditation. I’m pretty good at not getting stuck in thoughts. My mind is also A LOT quieter than it used to be. So, when I’m hit with an avalanche of mental content it’s like being lucid in a bad dream. I can watch the activity arise and pass and not become totally attached to it.
This just requires the ability to deconstruct the experience, which simple mindfulness practice allows. Just observe the thoughts as they bubble up and then vanish. If you practice this when you are not having writer’s block it will be there for you when you need it. But it’s not just about standing back and witnessing the mind. I am a strong believer in seeing before seeing through. That is, don’t bypass what’s going on for you and call it mindfulness. We are humans with human brains. We have thoughts and emotions and there’s no way around that.
I use the skills I’ve developed to deconstruct my writer’s block, but then I also jump on for the ride. Hence the list above. I let the various selves live it up and let loose. I let the wild woman with writer’s block come out to play and she tends to bring an angry teenager with her. They can really tear it up. And I love them for it.
Before I had a spiritual practice I was very restrained. Someone once said “You were like a cardboard cutout of a pretty girl.” The wild woman and the teenager are NOT made of cardboard. They say how they feel and are not afraid to yell or cry or want to quit and jump on a Greyhound to anywhere other than here.
These selves are part of what make me a writer. If I ignore, shame, or try to extinguish them I’m losing a big piece of my creativity. This doesn’t mean I let them buy that bus ticket, or talk me out of finishing a project. I just let them have their voice and I love them. I love them.
I even love the self that says “ You’ll never be able to do this. You have no talent. You should just give up. You are not good enough.” Where do you think that voice comes from? It comes from a self that was told she wasn’t good enough when she was too small to call bullshit. The last thing that self needs is to be told to shut up and go away. She needs what she has always needed, unconditional love and acceptance.
Only after doing this inquiry and self love work can I truly see through the content. Without that work I risk repressing and bypassing material that needs to be seen. Sitting above all your human experience might make you feel powerful and enlightened for the time being, but it’s a trap. You will eventually have to face all your many selves if you want to be truly free.
Once you have allowed strong emotions to move through you, uncensored (in a safe way that doesn’t involve hurting yourself or anyone else), you will probably find that they lessen, if not vanish completely. It’s only when we tighten up and resist that they hang around.
Judging and repressing your writer’s block will not help you write. Getting mindful about it probably will. Being in the habit of mindfulness will really come in handy when that cold rush goes through you and you feel like you don’t remember a single word of the English language. Practice deconstructing, inquiry, and self love every day so that your tools are there for you.
So here is my advice, that I will continue to take myself. First recognize that writer’s block is just thought and emotion, not a personal demon. Then find out who is wanting to be seen and heard inside those thoughts and emotions. See them. Hear them. Let them do handstands, leave piles of tissues, and yell obscenities. Then sit back down and write something. Even if it’s an article about not being able to write.