How do we get out of slumps in life? Roadblocks, writer’s block, obstacles, whatever you want to call it, it feels the same: disheartening. Because the future is full of hope, but the present is full of realities. Sometimes we blow through them, other times we find a way around. When I was a kid, I had plans. When I was a teenager, I had plans. When I was in my twenties, I had plans. I have plans now. Everybody has plans. They never work out the way we fully intend them to and I suppose life is about that process of overcoming the things that get in our way.
And for the most part that’s a good thing. I have very little qualms about where I am, who I am, or what I am. I look at what I wanted my future to be when I was in my twenties — I wanted to move to another state for some girl I believed I loved — and I feel thankful that future didn’t work out. (Because they didn’t like cheese and what kind of monster doesn’t like cheese?)
I find that my writing has gone in waves. As I suppose most things do in life. There are times when I write that I feel like I’ve figured things out, like I’ve hit the melody between two notes to create a third. It’s difficult to use something as tangible as words to describe something as abstract as emotion or thoughts or desires. So when expression comes, it hits like a drug. Time seems to slough away and everything that usually dominates my mind, the dreams and the nightmares, grows blissfully quiet. Most importantly, that critic in my mind goes silent, for even he is happy with what’s produced.
Those are the times when my heart feels fullest.
And eventually, waves must fall after rising. I find myself in slumps, little hills or mountains I have to climb over not with finesse or tact, but brute strength. Raw perseverance. And even then, when I write through what blocks my way, it feels like the piece is as desperate as my attempt at it.
I look back at my recent documents, half of them variations of “Document72” (I’m attached to their content, but not proud enough to give them a name), the other half head in the water. They sit in a form of story purgatory, a thousand false starts on a subject that promises a creative spark and yet inspires nothing.
The prominent fiction author Ann Patchett was asked by a student what she does about writer’s block. She responded by saying she didn’t believe in writer’s block. There’s always a way around. She gave his argument to one of her classes, destroying that defeatist attitude that can disarm a writer. One student raised a hand and responded, “Clearly you’ve just never had it.”
Maybe not, Patchett says.
Is that the markings of a good writer? Not someone who necessarily doesn’t get block, but rather someone who figures out how to get around the obstacles? I think craftsman who are good at what they do, they run into dilemmas of construction constantly. How odd would it be if they gave up when a screw didn’t fit or their dimensions were off? They wouldn’t keep a job for long.
I believe the creative process is too ethereal to be so simple. If it were about writing the technical instructions of putting furniture together, that’d be one thing. There are clear steps. The legs must be attached to a table before it can be called a table.
But creating a story, whether it be real or fiction, isn’t as easy as putting precut pieces together. Being creative requires a certain amount of willingness; a willingness to stumble or be vulnerable in some capacity.
For me, my biggest hurdle is that critic in my mind. It’s a voice that tells me if something is worthwhile or if it’s a pile of trash. It tells me where to improve, and what to delete. It’s not kind, and is at times defeatist. It’s a perfectionist. Worst yet, it’s entirely essential because it’s what gives all creative people taste. The trick is deciding how much power you want it to have.
Right now, it lords a lot of power over me. It’s part of the reason I’ve been so silent here. I haven’t posted, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working. Writing, right now, is something that make me feel nervous, instead of proud. I want to open a door into my soul but I’m unsure as to how much I want the world to see. And yet, I fear not being seen far more.
At what point does someone decide their creation is good enough?