A Writer Blocked

I sit down at my computer and open it up. I know I need to write something, but I procrastinate. I check my email and my bank account and Facebook for the hundredth time that day. Then I remember that I need to switch the laundry and I set aside my computer and wander off to the laundry room. Soon I’m doing the dishes and organizing random drawers – anything but writing. It’s official: I have writer’s block.

That term is too narrow, though. Because it’s not just “writing” in the official sense of the word that I struggle with. When that mood strikes me it’s more all-encompassing: I can’t respond to emails or return phone calls or pay bills. I can’t focus on anything or make contact with anyone. That last sentence makes it sound like depression, but it’s not that, exactly. I think, in a way, it’s the mind’s self-protection mechanism. After being bombarded with internet and radio and a whining toddler and traffic and the dogs barking and The Economist and two dozen emails and a to-do list that never seems to end, the mind just needs a day or two to shut down.

When I first started writing seriously, those days of writer’s block terrified me. I was sure it meant that I’d written all I was going to be able to write, that I’d used up my muse and I was done for. I thought I’d never escape it. I thought it meant that I wasn’t supposed to be a writer. I thought I was a failure.

Then I made the connection with previous shut-downs I’d had. I remembered that even before I started “writing” I’d often had writer’s block. How many emails had I sent that started, “Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, I’ve been really busy.” Busy? That’s one way to put it. “I just couldn’t make myself open my email and respond to a single email. Don’t worry, it wasn’t just you.” That would have been more honest.

So now I try not to fight it so much when the inevitable day of writer’s block comes along. I remind myself that one lost day won’t ruin my fledgling career. I try to give myself that space to relax and recharge. And I try to think about what caused the shut-down. Was it mere overload? Or was there something specific going on that wasn’t right and that my mind was protecting me from? Was I trying to force myself to write something that I didn’t really want to be writing?

For those of you who look for solutions above all else, let me share this with you: as I write this post I’m experiencing a day of writer’s block. I used the writer’s block itself as a starting point and I just started writing. I got this advice from Anne Lamott in her book, Bird by Bird.  Just write.  Simple, but amazing.  Just write.

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