What is ‘writer’s block’? Someone once defined it as “When your imaginary characters won’t talk to you.” I like that definition. For me, though my characters never ‘talk’ to me, my book often does.
And now that I’ve used up my allotment of quotations for the day, let me explain further. The other night my wife and I watched a documentary about Magnus Carlsen, the current World Champion of Chess. It’s currently on NetFlix if you’re interested, and I highly recommend it. What Magnus is able to do, in brief, is to tap into a higher power, which he refers to as intuition. (I almost used another set of quotations there…)
He stated that, by simply looking at the board, he would simply see the most logical and next best move to make. He once proved this by playing ten games at once – while blindfolded. Meaning, he not only had to keep track of his pieces on the ten game boards, but the pieces of the other ten players as well. All in his head. Amazing.
On days when he didn’t play as well as he could, he said it was like his intuition was turned off. He just couldn’t connect, couldn’t see the best move to make. You could see in his face the difference between his good days and bad days. You could tell before a game even started it was going to be a good day. There was light in his eyes, his posture was relaxed, and the speed with which he moved his pieces showed confidence. On bad days, that was all gone.
For me, this describes what I feel when I experience writer’s block. It just isn’t there. My book, which most days literally writes itself, just doesn’t happen. I don’t feel any different, my fingers just don’t move. And though sometimes I still write on those days, what I do create requires far more edits. At times, when I read it back, I simply delete it. No sense wasting time trying to make a pig look pretty.
Luckily, I can tell fairly early on that I’m not having a good writing day. The words just don’t seem to flow, and I don’t feel the same level of wonder and awe as I write. It just feels flat. On the good days, I’m like a child on Christmas morning, falling in love with each new paragraph like so many presents under the tree. On those days, the editing process is far less strenuous.
As I talked about yesterday, life is cyclical. There are days when things go great, and days when things don’t. What I’ve found over the years, is the less time I spend fretting about the no-so-good days, and the more time I simply accept them as part of the process, the far fewer of those days I have. When they do happen, I’ll just grab a book and head out back to sit in the sun, or take a nap, or cook something. Whatever I feels right in the moment.
You see, fighting against these days just makes things worse. I’ve had far more than my share of simple moments that turned into multiple days of frustration, simply because I focused on what was going wrong. One bad situation turned into a day of spilled coffee, angry conversations, not getting my way. You know, like two-year-olds have. Except for the coffee – at least I hope.
Now, there is a clear and definite difference between accepting these moments and liking them. Accepting doesn’t mean you have to like them. Think about your boss for a moment, or maybe your neighbor. See what I mean? Accepting simply means understanding that you can’t change what’s going on, at least, not right now. Accepting means letting things be as they are, and knowing that, eventually, they will change.
Now, when I get writer’s block, instead of trying to push through it, I simply imagine the block is real, and that it’s made of ice. Then I just wait for it to melt. It will. Soon enough. It always does.