Writer’s Block is a Gift

Writer's block is a gift. It means you went the wrong way. And you know it.

I've hiked a lot in my life, and my sense of direction is not bad. But it was common during an archaeology survey to put down my pack after finding a few scattered artifacts, and to get a little lost.

I would focus on what I found (perhaps some pottery sherds or lithic flakes), then wander away to look for more artifacts in the area. Occasionally, I found that the archaeological site was extensive, and I would spend a half-hour or so finding the site boundaries, with the intention of returning later for a more complete recordation. But sometimes I would wander too far, and lose sight of my pack. On a few occasions I became lost.

It is a real thing, to be lost in the woods, in the heat of summer, without your water or equipment. The worst thing to do is to panic or to run forward. You must stop, think, review your map, try to find your footsteps and follow their meandering path back to familiar ground.

Writing follows the same process of unexpected discovery, exploration, and meandering. When you go wrong, I mean really wrong, the writing stops. Writer's block is the realization you are lost.

Getting lost promotes anxiety, and it should, because the purpose of anxiety is to get you to pay attention. But it's an archaic mental system, that can overwhelm you if you don't control it. Fear is the mind killer as Frank Herbert once wrote.

The best way to handle getting lost (either writer's block or in the woods) is to backtrack until you know where you are. Go back in your manuscript to a point where things were "right" and spend a few hours or days there thinking about why things are right. Yes, focus on what's going well, so your brain understands what the goal really is. If you obsess over what's going wrong first, then you'll just remain lost, locked in anxiety. So first, ground yourself.

Then examine your path from beyond this point. I find it helpful to cut the "wrong" words out of the manuscript and put them in their own file. Maybe I never use that work, or maybe it goes into a later scene, or maybe I rewrite it from memory. But the important point, is that I don't rush forward, and ignore the anxiety. I go back and find a better way.

Writer's block is a gift. It's your Intuitive brain speaking loudly (but wordlessly) using the language of anxiety if you've gone wrong, and the language of contentment if you're on the right path. It wants you to try to find the right path. Or to wait for someone else to find you (but in the wilderness of your mind, there is no one else).

We can say that writer's block is your gut telling you to turn around, that this is not the right way. You missed something, and now, an important part of your story is not going to happen. So you feel fear, and think it means you've failed. But that's wrong.

Fear is the beginning of wisdom. You better pay attention.

Copyright (c) 2018  E.C. Stever  - 

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