Last week, the only thing I managed to write was the blog post that came out last Thursday. It was the only time I came far enough to sit down and write for an hour or two and even then the quality wasn’t what I had been hoping for.
Bad writing days. The awful days of not putting pen to paper and eventually feeling dread or fear that you’ll never get that writing flow back.
If we forget the past four months of travel and what effect it had on my writing, I can’t even remember the last time I had a writer’s block like this.
But after several days of reflecting and journaling, I managed to find my way out from that awful gravel pit of not-writing. You know: that pit, the one that keeps you occupied with everything else than writing. But this week, I climbed up from there with a self-made ladder – and came up from there wiser than I was before.
The Awful Block
It’s a weird feeling, not being ”able” to write. I mean, I’m in the same room with my computer where all the necessary Word-files are open. Even the battery on my computer is fully charged – but I can’t seem to get myself there, make my fingers work that keyboard, produce the words my mind can’t even consciously put together before they’re already in front of my eyes, black on white, the small writing cursor waiting for the next letter.
I even know what to write. I have an idea for the first sentence (something that helps me immensely when I start the writing process of the day), but something in my body or mind or both pulls on all the breaks and I just avoid the whole writing thing. Turn my thoughts to something else. Read a book, do the laundry, obsess about the grocery list.
I did, however, manage to write diary on six of those seven days (which turned out to be the key to the whole thing. But I’ll get to it later).
Every day, I started out hopeful. Maybe today I’ll be able to get back to my writing. But at the end of the day, no words were written.
On day three, I really started to panic. My to do-list did not allow this kind of non-writing to happen. I love ticking of those boxes but day after day there were more boxes to be ticked rather than the other way around. Talk about the nightmare of an organized person.
On day seven, my panic had turned into this gray thick fog that is in your mind, clogging everything, but does not hit you in the head with the hammer. One only feels it, like a heavy theatre curtain that has just been lowered on your shoulders.
But I don’t believe in writer’s block, not really. It feels more like a shortcut to say that you haven’t been writing because you have The Block – but it isn’t some kind of illness that keeps you from putting words down. It’s resistance or fear of something, it’s an effect of something else.
And because of that doubt, and especially because I rarely experience consecutive non-writerly days like those last week, I was very determined to understand why this was happening.
Finding An Explanation for It
For the last few weeks, we’ve been staying put in Christchurch, New Zeeland. That has been helpful for my writing routines, to getting back on track.
As we are sharing a family house with one person who is roughly the same age as we are and who works during the days which means we have the house to ourselves most of the week. There’s a space with a desk and a chair for journaling and fiction writing. We are close to shops so everything is near, and there is a good supply of tea and coffee in the kitchen. Even brownies and cookies for occasional sugar boosts.
So why, even though I had a sound basis to get started, did I have such trouble investing myself in my writing?
I pondered and pondered, wondering if there was something wrong with the writing space or the chair I was sitting in. Maybe I should get out of the house or try getting to my writing earlier? Was it the other person’s, the house owner’s morning routines that threw me off? Or maybe it was my partner’s moody days that disturbed my writing flow?
After listing out possible reasons for my writer’s block in my journal for five days, I finally realized to turn my thoughts inward and try to find a reason from there. And I found one. It is too personal to get into it here, but just know that the real reason for my not-writing could be found in me – not around me.
The thing about being a writer, at least for me, is that I’m quite sensitive to and observant of the things happening around me. There is so much data to take in especially when you live with two other people and the toilet is clogged for the fourth day in a row (yes, that happened last week and is, actually, still happening) – and when you take that data inside you, analyze it and let it affect you, like I do, it has an effect on your writing.
I would like to live in a neutral, balanced environment with only a few or no conflicts so that I can channel all my energy into my writing – but unfortunately it’s more or less impossible to create that kind of environment, now and in the future. I wonder if it’s even possible.
(Unless you’ll be able to isolate yourself in a hotel with full hospitality.)
I’ve written previously about my deep-analysis habits and how they can, if not controlled, lead to a momentary burn-out. My analyses of situations give me food for thought and ideas for writing but when channelled wrong they can turn against me. This leads to not-writing that leads to panic about not writing which definitely does not help me to get back to my writing.
And I believe that was what happened last week.
Showing Some Mercy
So, coming out from last week a bit wiser, this week I decided to take a new start. To forget that I reached none of my writing goals last week and start fresh.
I wrote my to do -list for the new week on Sunday night, keeping my writing goals simple. Only one project for one day, options for what project to work on and how many minutes or how many words. And on Monday, I started with an optimistic mind-set and managed to complete the first writing task for the week with 1,900 words.
I took the step ladder rather than the shovel and beat that gravel pit I had ended up in.
What I learned from last week is that there are a few key things that can help get out of the not-writing pit. The first one is to deep-dive into yourself and figure out the real reason why you have trouble writing. To be honest with yourself and ask those awfully straightforward questions: what is bothering me and why? What can I do about it?
The other thing is to show yourself a little mercy. Forgive yourself for the poor results and give yourself a fresh start when the new day or week begins. Don’t start too heavy or keep beating yourself up for missing all those writing days the past week.
Funny enough, as awful as staying in that writer’s pit was last week, I think I learned surprisingly lot. About myself and how my surroundings affect me which in turn has an effect on my writing. But I also learned how I can try to work around those surrounding events, moods and conflicts around me without letting them have an effect on my writing.
It’s a slow process but I believe journaling about it will help me figure out enough answers to it.
How do you beat your way out from the deep gravel pit?