Something hits my down-button every winter. Usually it passes as spring returns, but this time feels worse because I’ve lost my words as well.
Forget Eliot’s lilacs in April. For me, February and March are the cruellest months.
So what to do?
I’ve been up and down for years, but this is the first time a connection between low mood and writer’s block has been so evident. I lack energy, and my poems are in hiding, but I’ve managed to keep up the habit of journaling.
The routine comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Each chapter of the book focuses on elements of creative identity. Every day you write a few pages of stream-of-consciousness thoughts. Don’t think, just write what comes into your head. The process is more important than the content.
It’s not a new idea. In 1934, Dorothea Brande wrote a book called Becoming a Writer. Old-fashioned in style, the advice is sound and worth looking out for.
….rise half an hour, or a full hour, earlier than you customarily rise. Just as soon as you can – and without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before – begin to write.
Dorothea calls the practice training to be a writer. Like Julia, the idea is to focus on the act of writing rather than the art. It’s easy to spend too much time chasing the perfect phrase or poem, but writing also needs to be habitual. Giving yourself permission to write freestyle on a regular basis can be unexpectedly liberating.
I’ve been feeling pressure to produce in 2023.
It’s self-imposed but 2022 was such a good year, I want to keep the momentum going.
In March I won the Dreich ‘Slims’ competition with Heaving with the dreams of strangers, one of four out of 240+ submissions to be selected by Jack Caradoc and his team.
In November Thetis was published by Felix Hodcroft at Esplanade Press. A blend of storytelling, script and poetry, this poetic narrative retells the Trojan Wars through the eyes of Thetis, mother to Achilles. I’ve been working on it for several years so it’s strange to have no further projects in preparation and even worse, to feel my poet-voice has gone AWOL.
Maybe post-publication blues is normal, especially when combined with winter and a scarcity of new ideas.
Over the years, I’ve learned the risk of giving into the dark is the further you fall, the harder it is to surface again.
One of the ways I’ve learned to deal with this is to take structured opportunities to be creative.
In February, I took part in Into the Underworld, a poetry course facilitated by Wendy Pratt. I managed 7 out of 8 drafts and although I’m not sure if any will become poems, it’s 7 more ideas which wouldn’t have appeared otherwise.
In April I’m taking a prompt-a-day course called Gods and Monsters with Angela Carr. This is based on Greek myth which I love, so it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Do other people feel like this?
Problems with self-promotion?
It doesn’t take much for my Imposter Syndrome to rear up and the voice start to natter in my head again.
I was lucky.
Last year was a fluke.
If I don’t produce anything publishable this year, it will confirm last year was a fluke.
I enjoyed the online poetry events I did last year but promoting in real-time, face-to-face, terrifies me. I learned to cope for work, but the last time I presented was over 3 years ago and poetry is so much more personal.
Imposter Syndrome is tough. For most people, it has childhood roots. Comments such as ‘you’ll never be good enough‘ and ‘no one will ever listen to you‘ make me doubt my own abilities. Despite learning coping methods over the years, self-promotion remains a challenge.
Here’s a TED Talk about Imposter Syndrome.
In this talk, presenter Lou Solomon says 70% of people are familiar with what she calls the fantastic four; anxiety, perfectionism, self-doubt, and fear of failure but suggests the figure 70% is way too low.
During the short winter days, when it’s too cold for the allotment and my bees, there’s still books to read and these are some of my go-to titles…
- Why I Write Poetry edited by Ian Humphreys
- How to be a Poet, by Jo Bell and Jane Commane
- The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- A Journey with Two Maps by Eavan Boland
- Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood
…and some additional resources on writer’s block:
- 12 truths I learned from life and writing Ted Talk by Anne Lamott
- 8 Weird Techniques to Beat Writer’s Block
- Defeating Writer’s Block: 10 Ways to Get Out of a Slump
- 10 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block
To finish with, if you’re new to the concept of free writing, here’s another advocacy statement.
Freewrite is good advice for any writer. Write without pausing to worry about sentence structure, grammar, spelling, or whether what you’re saying makes sense or not. Just write without second-guessing anything. While most of it will be unusable, it’s a good way to push through the block. Masterclass
Over the years, freewriting has become such a regular practice it feels strange not to do it. The morning journal is a bridge between bad days and good ones. Most of all, it’s a valuable way to re-ground myself in the concept of being a writer. The poems might be taking a break but there are always words (and images!) offering reassurance and comfort.