Several weeks…okay maybe a few months…back, I started this meandering talk on writer’s block…ahem…excuse me…writer’s resistance. Calling it a block let’s us off the hook too easily. Oops. We can’t go down Writing Avenue because it’s blocked! That’s an entirely different internal set-up than the idea that we can’t go down Writing Avenue because we are resisting our work in this world. The problem isn’t the road; it’s the car and who is and isn’t driving it.
As I said before, writing is scary. It’s vulnerability and risk. And our limbic system, once it identifies writing as risky, takes over the wheel of the car in subtle and not so subtle ways. The end result of which is our resistance to doing something that we both want and do not want to do.
What we call a thing determines greatly how we treat a thing. For example, for years PTSD has been treated as a mental disorder. People suffering from it were subjected to hour upon hour of talk therapy and taking multiple medications to adjust brain chemistry. And then a pain doctor in Chicago started treating it as a complex brain injury and it broke open an entirely new treatment path that is faster and more effective than those used prior. And as they learn more — depression’s tie to inflammation, etc — they get even more out of the box.
We need to do the same thing with writer’s block. Ahem. Writer’s resistance. And then get out of the box in how we treat it. The first step, of course, is acknowledging that the car is stuck and that a part of you is resisting the drive down Writing Avenue.
In and of itself, the conscious and unconscious fears we have around our writing can be enough to paralyze us. But other things — life events, life stresses, illness, pain, depression — can all make the resistance far worse. And it’s pernicious: The more we let the resistance have its way, the harder it is to resist the resistance and come back to the waiting page.
So how do we resist the resistance? We keep trying until we find ourselves back on Writing Avenue cruising with the windows down and radio blasting “I can see clearly now the rain is gone….” Resisting the resistance is a heuristic process. Keep trying until you find something that works.
Start with the writer. Are you taking care of yourself? Sleep? Hydration? Protein? Exercise? Sunlight? Self care is surprisingly helpful. And beyond that, take a look at what’s going on in your life right now. Are there any big life events (sometimes, rightly so) taking up your energy? Writing is hard work. Trying to write a book while navigating the death of a parent, the birth of a child, the end of a relationship…these kinds of events are sometimes large enough to shut us down for a while because we need all of our creative capacity elsewhere. The goal then is to focus on working through those circumstances while at the same time dipping your toe in the pool to gauge when the water is ready for a foot, a leg, the rest of you to slide back to work. One of the most profound things a writer ever told me (Kris Rusch) was this: “If you want to fix the problems in your writing, fix the problems in your personal life.” Here’s a sneaky hint: Try writing about those circumstances or events. Steer into them. If you need therapy, get therapy. If you need medication, go on medication. Whatever it is, take care of yourself and steer into your stuff.
And experiment with your process. It’s a bit like rocking a truck that’s stuck in the mud. Test where the give and go is. Try changing when you write. Try changing where you write. Try changing what you write. Maybe even how…like picking up a pencil or trying dictation. Try turning off the music. Try turning on it. Try taking a walk.
Find a buddy you can talk about it with but choose that buddy with care. There are some writers who do not believe in writer’s block or resistance. I had a good friend who didn’t until he experienced it himself. In his eyes, I was totally pissing my career away by not writing my books. Of course, at the time, I was riddled with PTSD and just trying to stay alive. So you can imagine how that extra bit didn’t help. But find someone who’s been there and they may be able to help you back onto the road.
And most importantly: Do not, while resisting the act of writing, stop feeding and caring for your muse. Feed it the good stuff. Feed it what it loves. Keep feeding it. Fill, as my editor Beth would say, your bucket. In a fit of desperation, I took myself on a binge of Story that I now call Imagination Saturation. I started feeding my muse, Leroy, the snacks he loves. We had some TV and cartoons, chased with some movies, followed up by some gaming that eventually brought me back to D&D after years away. And I started reading. I blew the dust off my Xbox 360 and loaded up a big, open world game or three. And…and…and…eventually, I found myself wanting to write my own stories again.
What are you doing to resist the resistance?