It’s the most disturbing occurrence – next to a malfunctioning spell checker – that any writer will ever face. It’s the moment when all time and space compress into a chasm of darkness so deep and so horrifying as to cast doubts on one’s sanity and debunk the meaning of life. It strikes the mind and heart of the aspiring author with a sickness of soul so profound that he or she is forced to question his or her original decision to pick up pen or keyboard in the first place. Yes, we all know it as – (Queue the dramatic music, please!) – “Writer’s Block.”
You may laugh or even get angry with me over my teeny exaggeration; but for a creative writer, going through a period where there is neither the impetus nor the desire to move forward with a writing project is unsettling to say the least. I used to dread the occasional bout of Writer’s Block, not because I saw it as a precursor to some future mental degeneration, but because it gave me time to contemplate my purpose in life as it applied to my yet-unachieved fame as an author. While waiting on my apparently unmotivated muse to supply me with my next prize-winning phrase, I would start to wonder whether my writing had any real value at all and whether I was even a good writer in the first place. But that was before I learned to transform my perception of just what Writer’s Block really is and how it can serve a profound purpose in shaping our craft as writers.
Writer’s Block can indeed stem from a sense of under-appreciation and underachievement. When we’re struggling to give birth to our latest, greatest masterpiece, it’s easy for us to think about the masses of ungrateful publishers and consumers who have yet to notice our greatness and wonder where we went wrong. Our writing is also often derailed by those many “less important” distractions like our families, our jobs, or anything else that seeks to steal time away from our craft. We feel guilty for not spending more memorable moments with our kids and we’re worn out from doing all those day-to-day things we do to pay the bills and relate to the world. When we’re not writing, we feel unproductive, uninspired and unworthy. We’ll do anything to snap us out of our doldrums and reignite the spark we fear we’ve lost. But the beautiful truth is, barring a production deadline for a writing contract (and even then, this still applies), every once in a while we need to face our under-appreciated, under-achieving and totally distracted selves in order to cleanse our creative palates and discover a new idea or a fresh perspective on our writing.
Let me give you an example. Back when I was writing my second novel, I ran into a writer’s roadblock so big I thought I would never get back to my project. It was second part of a series I was finishing, one I feared would never break any Barnes & Noble selling records. In addition, I had started a new job that was demanding and distracting to say the least. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to move on in the story. The scene I was working on involved my version of the antichrist standing on the brink of world domination, poised to implement a world-wide mind-altering mass illusion that would cause the entire planet to fall at his feet in worship and submission. I knew the character needed to say something more than, “Throw the switch, boys!” but I couldn’t find the right words to place in his mouth, no matter how hard I prayed, researched or sought the advice of others. After a while I gave up and put the writing aside – reluctantly, I’ll admit – and decided to be done with it until the right inspiration came to me.
After two weeks, I was able to move from a place of desperation to one of frustrated waiting, then on to hopeful anticipation, and finally a deeper openness to what the Spirit within wanted to say through me. Then one Sunday in church I was sitting in my seat ready to take notes on the sermon the pastor was about to preach. Suddenly he broke into a talk on Ezekiel, chapter 28. My ears perked up when he got to the second part of verse 12…
‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
topaz, onyx and jasper,
lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
on the day you were created they were prepared.
You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.
By your many sins and dishonest trade
you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
in the sight of all who were watching.
All the nations who knew you
are appalled at you;
you have come to a horrible end
and will be no more.’”
I included the words to show you how perfectly they fit into my novel. It was as if God was saying, “You wanted a bad guy speech? Well, here you go!” It was flawless: the perfect words arriving at the perfect time – the bad guy speech of all bad guy speeches – complete with a neat and tidy built-in prophecy I knew I could never have come up with on my own! God had allowed me to take the time I needed to reform my mind into a vessel ready to receive the right words, right when I needed them! While the rest of the congregation was happily recording little snippets of wisdom from the pastor, I was hastily scribbling notes about how I could adapt this little bit of prophecy to my übervillain and once more hit the gas pedal on my project and bring it to completion. When I arrived home I immediately set to writing and the words flowed like a rushing river moving swiftly until it spills into the mighty sea! I was able to shape the sinister nature of the character while throwing in a good dose of foreshadowing for his fiery finish. After that, the rest of the story practically wrote itself! Eventually I published my novels in print and in audio form for radio – all because I let myself surrender to the lessons I could learn during my time away from my story!
We spend so much time trying to force our writing based on our misperceived notions of timeliness, productivity and worthiness that we forget that the true purpose of writing is to produce a work of art that stirs the hearts that are ready and waiting to receive what we have to say. And along with that, creative writing is meant to express our inner story and shape our own journey as writers and as human beings. That’s the beauty of writing: It transforms both the reader and the writer in the cosmic connection that takes place in the sharing of the written word. I understand the need for deadlines and the debilitating power of procrastination. But the end result that comes when we learn to use our Writer’s Block to transform us is well worth the time. It’s a wonderful reality that can’t be rushed into existence or manipulated into the beautiful form it is meant to take. When the writer allows the true process of Writer’s Block to unfold as he or she crafts a gift of poetry or prose for the ones who were meant to read it, all is right with the world!
So the next time you feel yourself coming to the preverbal brick wall in your writing, don’t give in to the feeling that you’re failing! Let your block become a pregnant pause in the message your heart longs to speak to a weary world. Do something else – go for a run, have a snack, love your family, do your job – whatever comes your way to do. But let the time away from your project help to refashion your mind, and your spirit and make you more open to receiving the message in whatever form it chooses to appear. I look forward to reading all the wonderful words that your next “Writer’s Block” brings out in you!