Pushing Past Writer’s Block – The Discipline of Inspiration
Pushing Past Writer’s Block – The Discipline of Inspiration
By: Jennifer Lieberman
Have you ever been stuck in a story and still forced yourself to stare at a screen for hours to fulfill a required time limit of ‘work’? Or have you ever forced out pages of nonsense to feel like you were being productive only to delete them soon after? I don’t know about you but I hate when I’m told that to be a writer I have to write everyday. The advice usually comes with a required page amount (5-10 pages a day) or a time requirement (2-5 hours) and although I know it’s well meaning, I just don’t buy it.
I don’t write every day. There, I dared to say it; what many writers are afraid to admit. Granted I wear many hats, and have another career outside of writing, but so do most of us. Sure, we’d all love to get to the point in our careers that all we do is write for a living, but that isn’t the reality for most writers and creatives in general. My writing style and forms fluctuate from plays to scripts, poetry to books; no matter what I’m writing, the process of conjuring worlds, characters, arcs and emotions is the same. Some of us write intuitively where we don’t know exactly where we’re going when we sit down and some of us need to have everything mapped out. No matter what your process, I’m sure you’ve had those moments when you just don’t know what comes next…and if you haven’t you’re a superhero of your craft and please share your secret.
Although I’ve been stuck many times in the past, I’ve never had writer’s block, at least I refuse to call it that. What I refer to as writer’s block is when one is stuck and chooses to have a battle of wits with one’s imagination trying to bleed a stone. I simply refuse to do that. I don’t see the point of fighting with myself, that only fuels my doubt, insecurity and discouragement. I know that one day or one week of inspired writing or being in the zone will yield a better outcome than weeks or months of forced writing. So, during these times of feeling blocked I choose to take a much kinder and gentler approach. I
walk away. I walk away from the screen, from my desk, from the story and I let it breathe.
The most important thing to focus on when we get stuck is to stay inspired, not necessarily about the project at hand, but to stay inspired creatively. Staying inspired is part of the process many of us take for granted when we are pushing towards a deadline or trying to wrap up a draft. Staying inspired in the process is just as much a
discipline as forcing out the arbitrary ‘obligatory’ pages or hours a day. We don’t need to be physically writing to be writing. Story blocks have a way of working themselves out when we give ourselves permission to walk away. Ever notice once you give up on finding your keys they magically appear?
There are so many ways to stay inspired that have nothing to do with staring at the screen, or picking up a pen (yes, I’m old school and still put pen to paper). Most times when we feel blocked, the greatest gift we can give ourselves is permission to walk away and be in process. The definition of process is for you to decide, but it has to do with feeding your imagination. It can be research, it can be listening to music or watching a great movie. It can be going to a museum, an amusement park or the beach. What gets your juices flowing? Painting? Playing an instrument? Exercise? Sex? Connecting with nature? Going for a great meal? A good laugh with friends? The possibilities of what we can do to stay creatively charged are infinite and nurturing our imagination is key. How can we inspire others with our work, when we’re not inspired by our work?
In Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way she talks about the ‘artist date’, insisting that once a week we take our inner child out to fuel our imagination and creative life, maintaining that all creativity is generated from our inner child. This is not meant to be a work exercise, it’s meant to be indulging in some sort of frivolity that our ‘grown-up self’ wouldn’t normally entertain as a reasonable use of time. Have you ever done something like that before?
I like to take Cameron’s idea even a step further…What about taking one of your characters out on a date? Crazy right? But think about, dressing up like one of your characters, interacting outside in the world, speaking as if they would? Maybe go to attractions your character would choose to go to in your city or town, eat what they would eat, engage in an activity they would find joyful. Or even just take them to the grocery store. Imagine what kind of ideas would come flooding through you once you got inside and under your character’s skin.
Granted, this idea may be a little too radical for some, especially if your character isn’t human. In that case, what about doing this exercise in your home? Yes, I’m suggesting crawling around the floor or pretending to fly or whatever it is your non-human character would do. Watch a movie or a documentary or youtube video they would find interesting, choose an activity they would choose to explore. What sounds would they make? How would they interact with everyday objects?
If the idea of embodying your character is still too much for you to digest, what about getting dressed to the nines for no reason, and going to some fancy places you would never go? Or going to a regular place you would go, dressed radically different? The point of the exercise is to get away from your habitual self; if you want something new, you have to do something new. Make sense?
No matter how much resistance you have to this idea and the amount of excuses you can come up with to talk yourself out of it, if you embrace these suggestions the profound amount of ideas and inspiration you will be flooded with will outweigh your doubts tenfold. Just keep in mind, this is meant to be a FUN process, don’t do something that will give you anxiety, the point is to feel joy and excitement. Remember, the magic always happens when we take those steps beyond the threshold of our comfort. Don’t worry about being disciplined about your writing, the discipline of staying inspired is always the most important part of your work.