Write what may – how to overcome writer’s block

Ah, writer’s block. Death knell of creativity, sedater of my inner muse, how I despise thee. 

But despite your best attempts at thwarting my ‘genius’, I know I will persevere. Because first and foremost, writing is about being patient with something you love to do: 

You have to simply love writing, and you have to remind yourself often that you love it – Susan Orlean (author and staff writer for The New Yorker)

And the best starting point to writing is knowing first what makes you tick,  because ultimately, that is how you can write from a position of strength, and in the process, overcome whatever it is that blocks or stops you from writing. After all:

Each of us has a unique way of seeing life and this is a best place to write from. – Kylie Supski (Melbourne spoken word poet)

This is why so many writing workshops begin with the you – where you came from, what your name means and what inspires you. While this is a good foundation, I encourage you to dig deeper and honestly ask yourself: 

Why do you write in the first place?
Why don’t you write?
When do you find yourself writing the least? 
When do you find yourself writing the most?

For me, I don’t write when I am caught in life’s ‘heavies’, those messy strings that need time to untangle. When I am busy comparing myself to others, walking away from a poetry performance and thinking: “Wow, how could I ever write that?!”  

Because nothing kills your creativity like pointing a gun to your head loaded with the bullet: “I am not good enough.”

write least when my sister’s cat jumps onto my laptop and decides that her paw patters can do better. When I come home too late from my analytically-focused full-time job, too tired to think of anything beyond the yawning covers of my bed.

On the flip side, I write to express myself and my place in the world around me, to capture and distil the moment I am in. 

write most when I feel inspired, when the ache of not writing outweighs anything else that I could think of doing or being.  In other words, when I ‘yes and’ myself – something I learnt during spoken word artist Fleassy Malay’s incredibly powerful Speak Up course, where I was encouraged to ask myself:

How much simpler would my relationship with my writing be if I gave permission to myself to say ‘yes’ to writing?

How much more would I write and create if I simply said ‘yes’ to calling myself a writer, a poet, an artist?

How would life be if I answered yes all the time?

So for me, the secret to unblocking is learning to say ‘yes’ to the things that encourage me to write more, and move away or shift focus from the things that make me write less. 

Notice so far I haven’t said anything about writing well, because everything you write improves you as a writer.

I am not one of those prolific writers who spits soliloquies like the rest of us hurl insults at myki machines. My writing drips slowly from me like a leaking tap. Months may pass between poems, but I read and write every day, squirreling away a line here or there in my notebook until I find them a home. 

Over time, I have found that great ideas that once cut lone figures along the long desert roads of my notebook, now line paragraphs along the forest of my creativity.

And this was no accident. 

Perseverance and openness to new experiences – not perfection – are key to writing better. 

When my writing tires or repeats, I take time off work, and seek the solitude of long walks around my leafy neighbourhood. I expose myself to new thoughts; catching a train on a different line to the very last stop, watch a ted talk, listen to a podcast or read a book on something that is utterly foreign to me. 

When I’m looking for feedback, I check out the Melbourne Spoken Word website for upcoming gigs to attend or the plethora of poetry workshops – like Fleassy’s – on offer.  When money’s too tight, I hop onto Facebook groups dedicated to daily poetry prompts (think The Dirty Thirty Poetry group), or log into my Daily Page account for more general writing prompts, ranting about topics like the person I want to become or the state of high school education.

And when I’m stuck, I follow Kylie’s advice:

…the best way is to move and keep moving until we find a space where we feel like writing words again… [for a] “creative process” is not a process but a way of being aware of life, the here, the now where it all happens 

The key is to keep trying until you find something that works for you, and trust that you will find the words – if not today then sometime in the future – to breathe fire into your story, for: 

[i]f there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that make a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story. – John Steinbeck (author)

Happy writing!