I wanted to share a poem of mine that was published on Genius in a Bottle a publication on Medium that I really admire.
I’ve been going through a literary theory course through open courseware. (You can find it here) And I’ve learned so much and in such an in depth way. The last few articles I’ve read that were required for the lectures gave me some clarity on how I can incorporate the strong arms in my life and use them to propel my art rather than allow it to stifle me in any way. Please click the link the link to enjoy the full poem and to support our art.
Am I but once Am I left for dead strapped head to a bed chasing after the wind’s howls? strapped to a life unplanned but a life always wanted it’s a yellow wood-left goes right right goes left As above so below so they say I zippered, then tore, now I’m here
Writer’s block’ is an emotional or logical incoherence in a future work slowly working its way through our unconscious. — Alain de Botton
So you’ve hit it, the emotional block. It grows. That block grows and grows until you’ve spent the day avoiding the one thing you love doing. It then turns into doubt and fear and all sorts of negative thoughts. So you shift your focus some more. It can turn into a vicious cycle gnashing at the little bit of confidence you have left.
I’m here to shed some light.
What is a writer’s block? More importantly what is a writer’s block for conscious writers?
Well, let’s start by discussing the fact that you are an amazing writer and you having a block does not make you any less or any more of a writer. It makes you a healthy functioning human being. If you’ve written to the point of a writer’s block, you are doing a phenomenal job. You have gotten past the hardest part and that’s being consistent enough to reach a block. On top of that, you are reading a post about how to unblock that block, which means, you are actively seeking to fix the problem instead of just walking away when it got hard. This is progress. This is maturity. Seriously. You are doing a great job. Do not let negative thoughts make you think for one second that you are not cut out for this, because let me tell you, if there’s anything you’re good at, it’s this.
So what is writer’s block?
It isn’t just a part of the story you can’t figure out. It is a psychological barrier that is holding you back. Before you can work on the block you’ve get to get yourself back into that creative space. Some things that help me step back into my creative space are to:
walk talk it out put away the story edit parts I’m not stuck on do something else creative focus on something else I’m interested in like research, empowering friends, or whatever else will take my mind off of it. write an unrelated poem or short story
These things really loosen up my brain space from tension. Once you get relaxed you can return to the writing space.
When you get back to that space it doesn’t mean the block is gone. It means you’re ready to figure out why it’s there so you can continue. Is the block emotional? Is something in this scene or idea triggering you? It seems at surface value that you’re fresh out of ideas but this isn’t true because you are an idea machine. You are made of amazing ideas sparked by infinite creativity.
How to get to the block.
Look at what you’re adding to your story. Is it something directly related to your life? Is there something you feel limited from in your life. If it is, how can you change your perception to use what’s limiting you in a positive way?
Another way I’ve learned to look at a block is what’s going on outside of my writing. Am I exhausted? Have I been pushing yourself too hard? Am I getting too comfortable or eating too much junk. Now, don’t let your head spin from all these questions. These are good questions to ask regularly whether you have a writers block or not.
When I first started writing, I’d walk away and say I can’t write or I don’t know what to write. I’d have all sorts of writers block excuses but the truth was I was frustrated about something else. The longer I tried to ignore it, the longer I couldn’t write. So when I was ready to face the reason why I couldn’t write, things would begin to fall back into place.
Even if you’re not going through the dreaded writer’s block, these questions will help you learn who you are.
Now when you first hear the writers den, you might think of Roald Dahl’s writing hut (which can be found here). A place where a writer goes to find solace so they can write novels, think, daydream, and nap. This is not the writers den I’m referring to. I’m referring to the writer’s den where writers are thrown to the lions. This is where their only option is to have faith.
There is a biblical story about a man of God named Daniel. I respect this story because so many times we roll over on our true beliefs or dreams or endeavors to bow to someone who doesn’t understand our vision. In this story, Daniel was demanded to stop with his religious practices of praying to God. Instead of having religious freedom, he was ordered to pray only to the king. Daniel, knowing his faith is where it needed to be, refused to obey this law, and continued to pray to his God. So, they totally saw Daniel pray and snitched on him to the King who was friends with Daniel.
So now, the king has to be a man of his word because he’s the king and it’s a written decree. When they bring Daniel to the king, he doesn’t waiver in his own belief. He stands tall for his beliefs and allows himself to be thrown into a lion’s den per order of the decree.
The king is friends with Daniel so the next morning, he runs with angst and worry to the lion’s den and finds that God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions.
The point here isn’t to question whether this story is true or if the lions were well fed before he was thrown in there. The point is that Daniel stood his ground in a time of great trial.
So, as writers, who are consciously writing (which means we are writing for more than just a story, we’re writing to grow) there are going to come times of great trial when it comes to your writing. People are going to speak ill of your belief and faith in writing. People are going to have great and logical reasons for you to stop writing, but you are going to be resilient. Like Daniel worked on and invested in his relationship with God, you have work on and invested in your relationship with your writing. Not only will you survive but you will have an even stronger ability to trust your work as an artist and as a conscious writer.
When someone mentions the writers den, I’d like you to think of it as a strong commitment to your craft. Not a place of solace away from the world, but a place in the world where you are doing exactly what you are called to do.
The writer must learn to accept that and trust that they are where they are for some reason. – Scott Myers from “Trust the Process”
Freedom is great when no one gets hurt. But what is freedom? Is it the ability to have a finished product without putting in the work? Is it being able to lay around and do nothing all day? The truth is that freedom is in neither of those things. Freedom comes from discipline. Freedom comes from doing the hard work every single day and watching your writing bloom and grow into exactly what it needs to be, truthful. The ability to tell the truth is liberating.
Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.
-Henry David Thoreau
There’s freedom in being able to speak your truth. Most times digging to these truths takes more work than most are willing to put in. The nuggets of truth get so buried, that they haven’t seen the light of day since who knows when. So getting to them is hard work. Don’t think for a second that your conscious writing is no sweat. It is hard work mining. So once we get to the truth, we write it down and we say it out loud and we are finally freed from hiding it under false belief for so long. Every time we find one of our hidden truths, we are one step closer to whole.
This is where the discipline is essential. It helps to keep you moving forward even during the darkest moments when you no longer want to. You are going to need more than motivational quote on those days.
There’s always a million other things to do.
There’s always time for a nap or cleaning or even an extra hour at the gym. If there is anything I’ve learned it’s that there is never enough time to write. It’s not just the clock, it’s the amount of energy, the amount of focus and mental stamina. It’s ok to spend time taking care of your priorities but when it’s time to write, it’s important to show up.
There’s not a huge expectation here. It’s just show up and write everyday. You don’t have to want to. You just have to do it. One more scene. One more detail about your character, one more juicy tidbit about your world. There’s no need to be enthusiastic or energetic. The page could care less about your mood or your energy. The characters just need you to be there, giving them a reason to come to life.
A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
— Richard Bach
This is your path to the truth. This is your path to freedom.
When you’re feeling like you’ve got nothing left that means you have just a little bit more in ya. -Saschia Johnson
I believe in rest. I believe that we shouldn’t have to oppress ourselves in order to be successful. I also believe in discipline and hard work. Which means there should be a daily writing goal that you’re carving away at. I don’t care what your writing goal is, you should be doing it even with your lids shutting.
As a conscious writer, it takes a different kind of discipline. It’s the kind of discipline that is only seen by other conscious writers. It’s doesn’t have the same return as showing up for 8 hours somewhere and getting paid for it. It’s personal. It’s between you and the page and it’s no one else’s business even if they did understand.
We have other disciplines like cutting the grass, washing dishes, laundry, and showering. But completing a small writing goal everyday doesn’t give you the same instant gratification as a task you can complete in one sitting. You’ve got to trust yourself and you’ve got to trust your writing.
An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. — Benjamin Franklin
As a conscious writer, you already know why you’re writing, to accept yourself, love yourself, learn yourself, those are your rewards. Yes, money is important. We need to eat and we need to pay the bills. The point is that when you are developing the discipline, it is not for the money, it’s for the discipline. And when you develop the discipline, you learn to trust yourself, not the money. At this point you’re patient, you’re wiser, and you trust yourself. Then take those tools and multiply them by writing daily over a long period of time. You’ll develop trust, confidence, discipline, self love, you develop clearer thoughts and feelings, better communication, patience, understanding and so on. It’s ok to be a conscious writer and make money doing it.
It’s not a conscious writer who writes simply to make money.
A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart. — Jonathan Swift
It’s amazing how quickly writing 150 words a day turns into a novel. It’s amazing how your thoughts mold and change from writing 150 words everyday. And the most beautiful thing about getting 150 words down everyday is that you begin to observe the world rather than be swept away by it. We so easily get caught up in problems that don’t take priority in our lives and in our own growth. Writing everyday changes us. It makes us see things differently. It challenges us. The world becomes less impossible through the eyes of a conscious writer.
What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open for us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play to us. — Julia Cameron
It’s ok to be tired when you write. So when you’re tired and you feel like you’ve got nothing left to write, make sure you finished those writing goals. If you haven’t finished those goals, you’ve always got just a little bit more in ya.
I vividly remember when I finished reading Charlotte’s Web in fourth grade. I cried when Charlotte died. Her loss left me in a strange place where I was contemplating death for days. I also remember the day my grandmother died. These two experiences are not the same. The loss of Charlotte did not prepare me for the loss of my grandmother. There is no book that can prepare you for some life experiences.
Literature supports in experiences we are going through or have gone through. When I thought of death without the real life experience of losing someone, the understanding felt distant. It was something foreign to me that I wanted to grasp without gaining it through my own experience. I was left with a world full of uncertainty and hugged my mom a little tighter after reading it.
Trying to prepare someone for a new experience is like describing what an orange tastes like to someone who’s never tasted an orange. We can explain how to eat it and that the peel isn’t the good part. We can even tell them the juicy fruity part is on the inside, but we can’t tell them if they will enjoy it or how much they will enjoy it. They may even find a different way to eat it than we taught them. That’s how I feel about literature. It can explain what to do and give some insight on how to do it, but an individual can not be prepared for how they will feel in new experiences using literature.
I do believe seeing how characters react to an experience can suggest the right thing to do and it may even give some insight on how someone else is feeling. I don’t think literature can prepare us for how we will feel going through our own life experiences. I do feel it can help readers learn to use understanding and empathy toward someone else’s experience by seeing the world from another characters point of view.
Impending loss has an aura of grief around it. It stalks the ones closest to it and it has not one ounce of sympathy for our very fragile emotions. -Saschia Johnson
When writing a character who feels like they are losing the one they love, they should overcompensate. They might think that going above and beyond will help them keep what they love. This isn’t just in romantic relationships. This is parenting, friendship, and loss, maybe even a job someone is passionate about.
We hang tight to the things we love, it’s natural for us. Some think it’s even romantic. Whatever it is, if your character is losing the one they love, it’d feel right and believable to have them overcompensating in some way.
All you need is one safe anchor to keep you grounded when the rest of your life spins out of control. -KATIE KACVINSKY
In what ways can our characters overcompensate as human beings?
They can become overly controlling.
When we feel like we are losing control of the things we love, we tend to try and control everything around us. It makes this illusion of having more control over the loss.
Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. –MEGAN DEVINE
They can become overly generous
They give. They bake and clean. They do other people’s work with a smile and an oppressed heart. They justify the oppression with the idea that this is better than losing the person or the job. They’d give the shirt off their back if that meant they’d be together for just a tad longer.
They don’t hold their love accountable
In fear of losing what they love, they allow things to slide. Over time this snowballs. They mention here and there that something isn’t right or that things need to change but there is no action behind it. Their boundaries become gray. Then they become doormats.
They can become overly critical and judgy
This is the opposite of the last one. Instead of being walked over, they become overly rigid. They don’t allow anyone else to replace their love. They don’t allow themselves to feel weak about losing their love which in turn makes them critical about others who show weakness. They turn their noses up in disgust at the mere suggestion that they may be weak to the situation.
Instead of facing a smooth ending. Instead of allowing things to end civilly, they run away from having to face an ending at all.
These behaviors can happen to any person. Even mature individuals who are dealing with losing what they love are changed by that loss. I say that because it would be a good idea to use loss in your story as a way to show your character’s growth from not being themselves for a time.
The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.
A little bit about For the Conscious Writer
There’s different types of writers out there. I prefer to speak to the writers on an inward journey. I prefer to speak to writers who write to become better human beings and who write to survive this insanely beautiful and chaotic world.
“There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Nelson Mandela
Passionate characters can drive the story forward. Passion can drive us as writers forward and make us do things we never thought possible. In my last post Resentment and Passion, I explained that in order to help me let go of resentment, I had to change my perspective. (You can read more about it here.) What I figured out from changing my perspective is that it wasn’t what I was resentful about that I needed to let go of but what I was passionate about.
So, let’s talk about passion.
I said in that post I was passionate about mothering my children. It’s something I hold dear to my heart. The passion I have for mothering comes with intentionally investing in the relationship I have with my children. It comes with creating moments for them to engage in self-discipline and self-discovery. It comes with snuggles, tears, hugs, frustration and so much more.
So, when writing a passionate character these are the actions and emotions you want your character to engage in. But we can’t stop there. This is just a character with their passions in check.
A character with unchecked passion ultimately turns into a villain. One of my most favorite characters with unchecked passion is King Pin from the Marvel comic books. Creating a great character with unbridled passion should start with a checked passion that grows out of control. I think we can relate to those characters better. Which helps us to better understand the bad in this world.
Unbridled passion is often brushed off and claimed as just mindless evil but that’s just not enough for us conscious writers. We need to understand. The answer to some of the most misunderstood villains is passion.
“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” -Benjamin Franklin
How can we keep a character’s passion in check?
Take who or what they’re passionate about away, you might think.
Ah, but this is where you must know your character. Is your character mature enough to grow from that loss or will removing that passion will bring them into villainy?
The best way to round your character with a passion in check is to mature the character in other areas of their life. Give them a sense of something outside of their passion.
When a character loses something, they were passionate about and doesn’t have the maturity in other areas of their life, they should plummet into an existential crisis because they don’t have any other thing driving them forward. (Besides what you throw at them.)
As conscious writers, we should take note of that. If we want to be well-rounded writers, we must keep our passions in check. We should rule our passions, not let our passions rule us.
Some ways we, as real living humans, can keep our passions in check.
Have hobbies outside of what we’re passionate about
Have healthy relationships with peers and family
Work to live don’t live to work or Write to live don’t live to write
Understand that without your gifts and talents you are enough
Create things perfect, imperfect, doesn’t matter just create things
Invest in your physical health
Focus on growth and forward movement
Having passion is a good thing and a great tool. I think we should all invest in our passions. It might rule from time to time, but like Ben Franklin said, allow reason to reel you back in.