creative block

I haven’t written much in the last three weeks. I allowed myself to get distracted by my mother’s memoirs (and I do mean allowed). Then late Sunday night I came down with either a stomach virus or a bad case of food poisoning and have pretty much felt like I was run over by truck all week. But if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit I’ve been on a writing vacation. (Screwing off, in other words.) I’m finally starting to feel human again, health-wise, so I’m rapidly running out of excuses not to write. I need to just hunker down and do it.

I’m about 80k into the novel I’ve been working on. That sounds way the hell more impressive than it actually is because this novel is basically stitching together a bunch of pre-written stories. However, I’d say about 25k of that is new writing. I’ve gotten to the part of the novel where the pre-written material has mostly been used (there’s one more story for near the finale). I’ve completed chunks of partially written stuff and done substantial stitching together. My last bit of serious writing before flaking off was finishing a barely-begun story that had been sitting on my hard drive for years, than slotting it into place. It felt really good. I liked that section so much I even considered ripping it out and marketing it. But it doesn’t really work as a standalone story. It works quite well in the context of the novel framework, so I’ll just leave things be.

Finishing that was an important for me. I’d completed a couple of stories late last year—the first I’d finished in years, and real milestones on the road to recovery from writers’ block. But they weren’t great stories, more like stretching exercises after a long time of sitting idle. But they were finished, and they were stories. The one I just completed inside the novel was solid work. It will have to be edited, et al., in the larger context of the novel, but it was a substantial thing. It had always been a linchpin story in the greater context of the world I created here, but it had existed in my mind, not in actual writing. That was also true of other stories I had to complete for this project, but this one a big deal for me.*

Now I’ve arrived at another story I’ve needed to complete for some time—the last before the big push to the end. I always knew it was going to be the hardest to write. I’ve poked at it a little and edited out some superfluous material, but I’ve mostly been like a horse shying at a jump. I know myself as a writer well enough to understand that part of the reason I’ve shied away is because it was going to be difficult to write. I just didn’t want to go there and had to wait for my psyche/right brain/whatever-the-hell to build up its nerve. (This is a totally unconscious process, by the way, and has to work itself out in the back brain.) So, the time has arrived to get over myself, jump the hurdle, and get on with it.

The good news in all of this, is that I’ve started to tell myself stories again after a long while of nothing. I’ve got new ideas on the back burner wanting to be written and decent enough that I want to write them. (And by stories I’m afraid I mean novels. I don’t seem to be able to write anything short to save my life.) Also today, the end scene of the current novel popped into my brain fully formed, so that’s a very good sign. (I’d been vaguely aiming at a last line before this time.)

It feels good, it feels like I’m a writer again. I’ve even started to take it a little for granted which I haven’t done in a very, very long time. I don’t want to take it too much for granted because I know quite painfully how easily it can be taken away from me again.

By my own psyche, of course, but we’re always our own worst enemies, aren’t we?



*For those familiar with my Dos Lunas cycle of stories, Ramona finally got hers.

Twenty-two or more years after doing Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way course in creative recovery, I am doing it once more. My friend Tara reminded me that I’d sent it to her all those years ago and it helped her. I’m coming at it from a whole new perspective this time, which in itself is interesting.

Blocks, Cameron says, are caused by fear of one kind or another. None of the fears she lists in the Week 1 exercise are really mine any longer (or never were), but she never meant it as an exclusive list, just the kinds of things people think:

  1. Everyone will hate me.
  2. I will hurt my friends and family.
  3. I will go crazy.
  4. I will abandon my friends and family.
  5. I can’t spell.
  6. I don’t have good enough ideas.
  7. It will upset my mother and/or father.
  8. I will have to be alone.
  9. I will find out I am gay (if straight).
  10. I will be struck straight (if gay).
  11. I will do bad work and not know it and look like a fool.
  12. I will feel too angry.
  13. I will never have any real money.
  14. I will get self-destructive and drink, drug, or sex myself to death.
  15. I will get cancer, AIDS—or a heart attack or the plague.
  16. My love will leave me.
  17. I will die.
  18. I will feel bad because I don’t deserve to be successful.
  19. I will have only one good piece of work in me.
  20. It’s too late. If I haven’t become a fully functioning artist yet, I never will.

Only that last one has any resonance for me, and only the “It’s too late” part. Fact is, I was a fully functioning artist for years and I only put it aside because life circumstances took it away. However, going through this list and the exercises she suggests may help get to the root of what’s really bugging me. Even this early on, I see I’m beginning to flesh out what my real fear: that the well has gone dry, that I am all used up.

I have an overwhelming sense of fatigue when I think about jumping back into art with the same commitment I used to have. There are other unidentified fears floating around in the miasma of my consciousness, but I feel now that I’m inching towards discovery. Things are starting to loosen up.

That’s a form of progress, and I’ll take it. As Ms. Cameron says, “In recovering from our creative blocks, it is necessary to go gently and slowly.”

No worries, Julia. I’m going painfully slow. Hopefully, it won’t be painful forever.

Random quote of the day:

“When I sit down in order to write, sometimes it’s there; sometimes it’s not. But that doesn’t bother me anymore. I tell my students there is such a thing as “writer’s block,” and they should respect it. You shouldn’t write through it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.”

—Toni Morrison, Black Women Writers at Work, ed. Claudia Tate


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.


The first time I had a writer’s block of years’ duration was after my father died. I realized, in hindsight and after the words started flowing again, that I was blocked because I needed to redefine myself as a writer. I couldn’t tell the same old stories in the same old way. I had changed; my subject matter had changed; my voice was developing in new ways. When the words came back, it was to write something totally new—and when they came back, they came in a flood. I could hardly transcribe fast enough.

The good news was, after the torrent of words started flowing again, I was able to return to some of the older ideas and reshape them to my new self.

Now I am in the midst of another writer’s block of years’ duration. The words stopped first when I became so consumed by taking care of my mother that I didn’t have time for anything but caregiving and my job and trying to keep life together. My mother has been gone two years now, and still the words won’t come. I’ve poked hopefully at several of the things I’d been working on before crisis descended on our lives, and although I like several of those things, nothing happens.

A couple of weeks ago I had the same old epiphany: I need to write something new. I’m not the same person. I have a new subject matter. What that subject matter is hasn’t emerged. It’s not time yet. I still have to be a while longer in the space I’m in. I suspect, as with the last time, when those new stories emerge, they will come to me instinctually rather than intellectually. I won’t figure out the new subject matter in my head because it’s a soul process. And whatever it is, whenever it happens, it will be exciting to see.

Patience is what’s required of me now. And the ability to let myself be. And see.