I’ve found on my journey that there are two types of writer’s block. At first I thought all writer’s block was the same. But no. Not really. One involves my having Context as my primary strength. This is the “Dang it, I love the fact that I got my characters through the horde of minions and into a room, and they’ve barricaded the door, but I went and made a one door room on the fourth floor when one of them can’t climb down in a frilly dress. How the heck am I going to get them out of this without some sort of Deus Ex Machina?” type of writers block. While scary at first, now that I know my Strengths, I can recognize the problem, and I know the cure. I put the iPod on shuffle and walk the hamster trail. Usually within a few days, a solution will come to me. My back-brain just needs time to process the information I’ve written, figure out why it was a good idea in the first place, and make a connection.
It’s the second type of writer’s block that is more insidious. This is the one where you can’t find words at all, where you know you need to be writing, but can’t seem to unlock the door and let the words out. It’s emotionally draining, terrifying (What if I’m never able to write anything ever again? What if I’ve lost all my stories?), and incredibly lonely when your characters go off and leave you by yourself. This type of writer’s block requires a weapon…a B.U.N. So what do B.U.N.s have to do with writers block? What is a B.U.N. anyway? Hot Cross? Some sort of weird dim sum? Nope, but I’ll start my answer with a blog post I read recently.
In “The Best Twenty Dollars You’ll Spend All Year”, the 06.17.2013 edition of Write with Warnimont (Check his blog out at http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/ – it’s really good stuff!), Joe Warnimont talks about buying a beautiful leather bound notebook in Italy. He speaks about it freeing his creativity, and how it transcends time and place to encourage writing down thoughts and ideas and stories. Many of the comments to the entry agree that just such a beautiful creation has helped them through spates of writer’s block by allowing them to journal (it seems journal is a verb now…who knew?) and set down the thought of the moment on paper while they’re out and about so they can remember the inspiration when it’s needed.
If its picture is only half as gorgeous as it is in person, the book should hang in a museum. I took one look at the photo and, well, I admit it…I drooled. It’s that amazing. In fact I do own a similar book. My host family bought it for me when I was an exchange student in Wiesbaden, (West) Germany back in 1982. It has a spine and corners of blood-red leather (Rich Corinthian Leather – I do miss Ricardo Montalban). The front and back covers are teal silk embroidered in crimson and gold with dragons and phoenixes. Each whisper-thin, parchment page is lined and adorned with an intricately drawn peacock, whose tail feathers drape across the bottom edge.
To this day, not a single word has been written in it. I take it down from the shelf, look at it, hold it, and put it back, unable to bring myself to mar its intrinsic beauty with my horrible chicken scratch, or worse, with an imperfect piece of prose. How on earth could I dare to spill any old thought into such a masterpiece? Hermes, Thoth, and Ganesha would all show up behind me and slap me soundly about the ears for such a heinous crime. I would be afraid to set a single comma in the wrong place.
Because for me, that’s what the second type of writer’s block is all about. Fear. Fear of many things, lack of perfection, that no one will like what I’ve written, that people will tease me for having such stupid and unbelievable characters, that I’ll be back on the playground with the bullies and the divas…because that’s where the fear came from in the first place… And the original solution, “If I can be perfect, then they can’t laugh at me anymore” was a drive to get away from that feeling of inferiority…but there is no true perfection. It’s always a journey. So how do you force that little voice that tells you you’re going to fail to shut up so you can keep writing?
This brings me to a second blog entry. In Chris Hill’s 06.29.2013 entry “Writer’s Block” (another great blog you need to check out if you’re a writer http://songoftheseagod.wordpress.com/ – amazing writing!), he talks about the fear of not being perfect, and how to combat it by lowering your standards and moving on. And he hits the nail on the head for me when he says “The feeling that what you write might not be good enough could be enough to stop you writing anything.”
“Stop you writing anything…” For me, that fear is worse than inferiority. Writing for me is like breathing. I can’t not do it. And writing in the moment is an important tool for authors…to keep the words flowing. So how do I combat the fear?
My last episode with the second type of writer’s block was in August and September of last year. My father passed away in August, passed away 3,000 miles away from me. Writing the book kept me going for the first day, and then my characters walked away and left me. Alone. Writing stopped. Talk about terrifying. At the same time, my husband’s father was dying, and passed away in September. This meant my support system was also 3,000 miles away so that he could be with his dad when he needed him most. Being prone to blood clots, I could not fly home for either event, leaving me in a very dark place in my head.
I wallowed and stared mindlessly for a day or two, but then the fear of never writing again grabbed me by the throat and shook me like a rag doll. Never write another story? I’ve got to do something! First, I tried to make myself get back into the groove, and would open the story up on my laptop and read it over and over, but I never added new text, just tweaked commas and dialogue, and then drifted away to poring over Facebook or playing games. I was truly at a standstill.
But when the thought of not being perfect worked its way back out of my memory, I got an idea. Enter the B.U.N. (you thought I’d forgotten, hadn’t you…) B.U.N. Butt-Ugly Notebook. I remember someone, not sure who, saying that you have to allow yourself time not to be perfect. Not to be perfect. What a thought.
Part One. I made a promise to myself. No laptop. No internet. Old school blood, sweat, tears, and ink on paper. I went to Target to the “back to school” section and bought the most hideous hot pink and day-glow orange, zebra print with froofy flowers notebook that I could find. Butt-Ugly is the only kind way to describe it. Spiral so I could rip out the garbage after squeezing out the essence of goodness at the heart of the blemished fruit. There is no way in hell I could ever feel guilty spilling out poo or lining out mistakes in that thing. It was the ultimate in un-perfect.
Part Two…I offered myself a reward for surviving on my own for the first time in a very long while. I drove to Peet’s Coffee every day after work with my butt-ugly notebook and ordered my favorite drink in as big a size as possible. I promised myself that I would sit my rear down in the coffee shop and write. I promised myself not to leave until the drink was finished. I promised myself that it didn’t matter what went down on paper…I could write “Squirrel Monkey” a zillion times, but the pen could not leave the page until the drink was done.
At first I was mad at myself for making such stupid promises and had my own dialogue in my head as I scribbled, day after day. “It won’t work.” “Shut up and keep writing.” “I’m tired. I’m lonely.” “Shut up and Keep Writing.” “This is horrible…nobody will like it.” “Shut Up and KEEP WRITING.” Until finally, after about a week, that little voice said, “Hey wait a minute, that’s not bad….what if I do this?”
I’m not saying a B.U.N. will work for you when you face the most terrifying thing in the universe…a blank page. But in allowing myself not to be perfect, I worked through one of the worst periods of writer’s block I’ve ever had, and came out stronger.
What do you do when your characters walk away? Let me know in the comments!