So what about that previously mentioned metaphysical and spiritual stuff you ask. And I say, yes – let’s talk about that, shall we?
When I went through my very nasty bout of blockage, I was also going through some very personal and spiritual upheavals as well. Yes, they do often seem to go hand-in-hand like that: writers block + personal difficulties = very hard to get any real writing done. My marriage was in a bad place, my father’s health was declining, and I was going through some sort of mental health crisis on my own (we got that figured out about three years later, by the way. That’s another topic for another time). Feeling the pressure of needing to get my critical thesis written for my Masters degree, I sat down to do some writing and had a complete breakdown at the computer. As I mentioned, panic set in and that further complicated everything.
Fast forward a few weeks. I dove head-long into trying to understand what was happening to me, read mountains of books and articles, got more blocked thanks to Julia Cameron, and then called my dear friend Carol Lynch Williams. We opted to go out to lunch, and when we got back to her house, a very odd and lovely thing happened. Carol and her family happen to be Mormon. I, though having lived in Utah my entire life, am not. But Carol asked if I might want to receive a blessing from her husband, Drew, who is a priesthood holder in the LDS church (most men over the age of 18 are priesthood holders, so it’s not as significant a title as it might sound, but it is taken very seriously). Figuring that, at this point, I had nothing to lose, I agreed.
Drew placed his hands on my head and prayed over me. Now, I couldn’t tell you the words he said, but I can tell you that I almost immediately felt more calm than I had in weeks. Maybe it was knowing that my friends loved and cared for me so deeply, maybe it was the warm, sunlit room and having a full belly after lunch, and maybe it was God slipping in through any available crack in my psyche: I don’t know, and I don’t care. I have my own opinions and I’ll leave you to yours.
That brief respite from my anxiety helped me to settle myself down enough to begin to develop a plan. In one of my many books I had been reading, someone (and I still to this day can’t remember which book) suggested self-guided meditation as a trick to help with artistic blocks. The book suggested visualizing a lovely beach, or a peaceful woods, or some other equally cliche’ setting to rekindle the imaginative spark. Didn’t work for me.
I decided that what I needed was to envision myself being productive, writing in the flow and feeling comfortable. I put on some great music (what I consider great – everyone has their own ideas on this), and allowed my mind to create what I felt would be the best possible environment for me to become a productive writer in. This place exists only in my own imagination, but that’s all that really matters. I envisioned myself, sitting at a computer, typing along comfortably – not in a frenzy – and getting work done that was solid and well-written.
I also envisioned myself writing long-hand on pads of paper, or with my laptop sitting on the floor (my laptop was really new back then – now it’s stinking dinosaur). After a few days, I started sketching ideas out on pads of lined paper. I told myself I wasn’t really writing, but preparing to write, and that alleviated much of the anxiety. Then I began reading and replying to my email. Again, it wasn’t really writing – at least not the kind that had any attached expectation.
After a week of the meditation and “not writing” activities, I decided I would put the outline I had created long-hand onto the computer. Again, I convinced myself, I’m not really writing, just transferring data. A few days after that, I wrote a thesis statement. I told myself that it was already written in my head, so I was simply putting it with the outline I had transferred previously. I kept at this for several days – a sentence here, a few key words there – and none of it really serving as “writing” in my mind.
It had been a few weeks since the experiment had started, and my advisor (Tim Wynne Jones – an amazing, patient, wonderful writer and friend) asked to see what I had done. I fired off a copy of my non-writing. He called, with much excitement in his voice, and said, “You’re almost done! I didn’t think you were going to make it, but you’re in great shape.”
I was stunned. “It’s just some sentences and key words with an outline,” I said.
“Yes, but all you have left to do is fill in a few paragraphs, and it’s nearly done.”
I looked over what I had and discovered that my “not writing” had resulted in close to 20 pages of my thesis being written.
I felt cured. I felt like the doctor had come in, proclaimed me in remission, and sent me out to get on with my life.
The last four weeks of that term were some of the most productive writing days of my entire writing life. Since that time, I have returned to many of my self-developed techniques, and some I continue to use regularly.
I’m not suggesting that these will work for everyone, but in the quest to stave off writer’s block, one can never have too many tools in ones bag of tricks. Feel free to borrow, use, modify, adapt, or whatever, though I hope you don’t actually need them.