This is a piece of writing about not writing. Every writer experiences this in their own uniquely terrifying way. If we peered into the psyche of every writer, we’d see this amorphous chimera of a creature; the tangled roots of the writer’s particular creative wounds, childhood patternings, beliefs around creativity, purpose, and work attached to the underside of its ravenous belly, feeding it toxic information that is then passed onto the suffering writer. The litany of intricate causes and contributing factors in what is commonly known as “writer’s block” is extensive and exhaustive.
Sometimes, all a writer can do is write about not writing.
The curse of perfectionism is a close cousin to addiction. Combine that with an aberrant condition that I call ” fear of lack of an idea”, and what you get is a challenging psychological bind for someone who loves writing as much as I do.
As a younger creative, I too experienced it as a BLOCK; a monolith of total and utter nothingness. I would desparately want to write fiction, but my inner critic had strong opinions about the right kind of ideas that constituted true creativity. Very often I would feel a kind of constriction, like someone had their hands around the very part of my mind where the ideas were attempting to flow out. Pen poised on the page, the sense of an imminent outpouring would be reduced to a laboured trickle of half-birthed sentences, scratched-out phrases and jeering blank space.
So I resorted to copious journal-writing. There, my inner critic couldn’t thwart me, and if I read back over them now, there are so many sections where my recurring themes and emerging style are apparent. For example, I have always written about the sexual experiences I was having at the time in my journals. And its connection to body image, relating, gender dynamics, and love.
As a younger writer/ theatre-maker, I chiselled patiently away at the block I seemed to have around taking my creative impulses seriously, and then cultivating sustained, loving attention to bring them into being. I had enough ‘successes” to challenge my Inner Critic. I doggedly did Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”, the blocked artist’s rite of passage.
Yes. Every damn list and arduous Morning Pages session, every painfully self-absorbed excavating-your-childhood AGAIN exercise.
I had to cure myself of my memories of being a precociously bright child, who could create clever, pretty things three times as fast as anyone else my age, winning adult approval with seemingly no real effort on my part. My creativity process up until middle adolescence was like lighting a fire. It started with the spark of an idea, and with easily-found twigs and branches, very quickly flourished into a crackling, marshmallow-toasting fire.
Gather round. Look what I made.
Sometimes it even felt accidental. I did what I did, but I couldn’t really get the hang of how I was doing it before I was winning first prizes in short story and poetry competitions, and representing my primary school for an essay-wriitng competititon on some dull civic theme.
The problem was, I didn’t trust my own creative writing voice as a young adult, and I didn’t value or even see the subjects I wrote well about. I wanted a different kind of creative voice. I didn’t know what that sounded like exactly, but it alienated me from my own developing voice for many, many years. I also hid my creative writing in my theatre-work as an actor, director and publicist. I hid it in the writing of short scripts, radio plays, monologues, programme notes, theatre press releases, theatre company manifestos, character exploration.
Now, most often, as a published fiction writer taking my writing seriously, there’s actually effort involved. (What?!) I can still fluke a 20-minute publishable flash fiction piece or a decent poem written over a coffee every now and then. But mostly, patience and effort are now involved. Experience has taught me over the last few years that when I tend to any of my ideas for a piece of creative writing, I generally get a creative outcome I’m satisfied with.
So, why, lately, have I regressed to an earlier phase of my creative development, and stopped trusting my ideas? Rather than taking them out for coffee, and listening to what they have to say, I’m circling them suspiciously, trying to glean information from them without getting too close, like an email one suspects might contain a destructive virus.
Why do I feel again the near-lethal grip of my perfectionistic persona around my ideas, throttling them as they attempt to express themselves on the page or the screen? Continue reading