4 Ways Your Body Can Help You Overcome Writer's Block
Starving resistance to get past "stuck"
Posted Mar 14, 2019
As I slog through the final pre-submission draft of a fiction project three years in the making, I'm reflecting on what has worked when I've felt stuck. Two years ago in this column, I wrote, "Our answers find us in the stillness we create." That has certainly been true of my writing process and for moving past any sense of what some call writer's block. I'll call it resistance. That pain of feeling stuck when otherwise expecting to move forward — in writing or in life. That blankness we see when facing new decisions and new directions. We stare and stare, waiting for an answer. Then we throw tomatoes at it and smash wine glasses in the fireplace.
Over the three years, I've found that feeding resistance what it wants — frustration, anger, disappointment, depression, tomatoes — nourishes it and makes it stronger. So, I've learned to offer resistance to a limited menu. It slinks back to its dark cave and I emerge the chef triumphant. My resistance menu consists of four offerings:
Often when I feel stuck I step away from the problem at hand and take a shower or bath. As I step into the water I pose a question or problem I'm struggling with. How should I end this chapter? What do I need to buy at Trader Joe's? By the time I grab my towel the answer has come to me. Just what is it about the body's primal relationship to water that helps ideas flow? I'm curious if anybody else out there experiences this. Shouldn't someone be researching the phenomenon? It's simple, surprisingly reliable, and always remarkable.
Sleep is equally remarkable as water, it just takes more time. When I encounter resistance that is particularly exasperating I use sleep with the same intention as I use water. Before dozing off, whether it's bedtime or a short nap, I focus on a question or problem I'm having. It's like sending the problem off to another dimension for someone else to deal with, trusting that they'll return with an answer. And 'they' often do. I'm known to wake up in the middle of the night with a solution to a problem, which I promptly write down on my phone. I also rely on dreams as a source for new writing material. Again, before falling asleep I'll put in a request that my dreams produce fresh ideas. The trick here is to train yourself to wake up and record them once they are produced. If you wait until after you shower, paradoxically, they seem to get washed away.
Similar to above, but I like meditation for meditation's sake. Meditation is like sleep, but on a budget. If it's the middle of the day and I only have fifteen minutes, or I don't want the grogginess of a nap, meditation fits right in. And it seems to clear space in the brain that answers and new ideas soon occupy. But in this case, I don't necessarily approach it with the intention that they do so.
I've accepted that some projects or decisions simply need more time that I thought they would. Part of working on my manuscript the past three years was the time devoted to not working on it. When water, sleep, meditation, and unadulterated groveling didn't forward the movement, I had to accept that some mysterious inner process needed more time to generate answers and ideas. I've gone months without writing, trusting that the simple passing of time is as important to the process as slogging away. This trust did not come easily. At first, I pelted it with tomatoes and wine glasses.
Maybe we don't have to suffer to create art, but provide serenity for it to arrive.
P.S. When I didn't know what to write about today, this blog arrived, nearly in its entirety, while taking a bath.