The last time I posted here, I said on Facebook that posting weekly was part of my self-compassion practice.
Then I promptly skipped a week. (I love the universe’s sense of humour. It seems like as soon as you put something out there, it ups the ante: “Oh yeah? Prove it.”)
So what happened? The short version: all the moving-driving-packing-unpacking finally caught up to me, and the wheels fell off.
Slightly longer: I’d gotten a good start on something the day after I posted the last piece, and then I put it aside for a few days… and allowed myself to be distracted by building Ikea furniture, moving things around our new place, and making chili. Alas, it turned out I’d left it a little too long and by the time I got back to it, it had left me. It was stale and dead, and I kicked at it for a while but it stayed dead. So I eventually set it aside and tried to come up with something else — I always have a backup plan — but sadly, the backup piece was equally stubborn. I was tired. Anxious.
Bored. Massively self-critical.
So I gave up. I let it go, broke my streak after 28 weeks, and decided to pick up again this week. No shame, no
blame. Okay, maybe a little shame at first, for a little while. But I got over it.
Here’s the thing: there was a time—not so very long ago, not at all—when I would have kept beating myself over the head with my failure to produce. I would have berated myself into utter paralysis, and then I would have said I had “writer’s block.”
But now…I’m not even sure I believe in writer’s block anymore. I mean, I’m not denying the experience of this thing that stops your pen in its tracks and freezes your brain. I’m not denying the panic, the sense of just not being able to get the words out, the sense of creative juices drying up. It happens all the time. Just google “writer’s block” and you’ll see. In fact, what I experienced last week felt, in my body, exactly like what I remembered as “writer’s block.” It felt dark, heavy, my whole body felt heavy, achy, mopey, eyelids heavy, limbs made
of lead, trying to swim through a swamp of molasses full of alligators.
The thing is, there are lots of other things that feel the same in my body: boredom, depression, fear, ennui, apathy, distraction, procrastination, indecision. Oh, and fatigue, brain fog, hunger, dehydration and/or seasonal allergies.
So maybe there’s a more helpful way to look at this. Maybe there’s a way to actually do something about this paralysis we’re calling writer’s block. You know, while we’re waiting for the Muse to come back from snorkeling in Aruba or wherever she got to.
Simplest of all, and what I did first, was to just start with the body. I needed rest. Never mind all the things I coulda-shoulda done differently. Maybe I shoulda-coulda gotten back to writing that piece sooner, instead of making one more trip to Ikea, or watching GoT on Netflix.
Whatever. Done is done, move on. Have water. Eat. Sleep. Move your body.
Then I applied a little mindfulness to notice what was really going on. What did it mean, really, to be “blocked”?
Ah. Of course.
I noticed that what looked like a block at first was in fact just my inner critic slipping in while my defenses were down. Tricky, tricky!
I was tired and vulnerable, I’d let the story go cold and now I was pushing it, and the critic was having a ball: that’s no good, you can’t
say that, that’s just stupid, that’s crappy writing, it’s boring, I’m bored, you should just give up.
And I did give up, but—and this is such an important distinction—not in despair, not because the critic told me I sucked, not because it was boring, none of that.
Giving up was an act of self-compassion, not aggression. I gave up and went to bed because I was tired and I needed to rest more than I needed to finish that piece that night.
I noticed that I’d started pushing too hard, and the story was pushing back, resisting me. I was too invested in getting it to be a certain way, and the story wasn’t so sure that’s where it wanted to go. I’d sta
yed away from it for too long, left it at a more delicate moment than I’d realized, and now it wasn’t going to give up its secrets so easily. All right then. Time to give it a rest.
But that didn’t mean I stopped writing altogether. I do a daily practice of meditation and then writing, for a total of 20 minutes a day, whether I feel like it or not. I skip days only very occasionally, when I’m truly overwhelmed or unusually distracted. So I kept doing that.
And you know what?
I noticed that in fact words hadn’t abandoned me at all. I still have lots of words. No dearth of ideas. So maybe my creative juices weren’t in fact drying up at all. Maybe all that aversion—boredom, fear, etc.—wasn’t about writing at all. Maybe it never had been. Maybe it was about deciding. Choosing the right words. The ones I wanted. Crafting the story. Understanding it. Telling it as well as I can. Decision fatigue, not writer’s block.
What a gift. I’m exhilarated by learning so many things about my process. I’ve learned how a story can have a life of its own—much more so than I may think. I’ve learned how important it is to
honour that. I’ve learned how to step out of my own way (this time). To listen more. Judge less. I’ve learned, too, not to expect it to be the same the next time. And there will be a next time.
And I’m learning more about what writing as a self-compassion practice looks like: I’ve been building trust through writing practice, through writing every day even when I don’t feel like it and even when I’ve “failed” at something. That trust, in turn, makes more writing possible, because I know it’s safe to fail. That trust also makes life more manageable, because I know how to be more compassionate. And when I’m more compassionate with myself, I can also offer more compassion to others.