Writer’s block stinks!
There were so many poems I wanted to write this year but it felt like swimming through treacle.
I could relate to fallow rather than failure but I didn’t want to feel blocked, and had no idea it was going to last so long.
Creativity is mysterious. It’s taken over a year but the words came back and I’ve been reflecting on the process. Where does writer’s block come from? What to do if it happens again?
Throughout this year, the poetry has been absent. but I continued to work with words and I think this may have helped. Writing needs you to be writing. It seems the routine of practice matters, like keeping a door open.
This is what I learned during a year of writer’s block.
Writing needs routine
Routine matters. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write, so every day needs a time when you do it. I continued with morning pages, Julia Cameron style. The idea is to stream your consciousness onto the page and immerse yourself in the physical act of writing. Habitually. The days when your head feels empty are possibly those days when you really must. Spelling and grammar don’t matter. Morning pages are personal. No one is going to read them. They maintain your relationship between inside and outside via the written word. You need an established routine to allow inspiration in and yes, it might feel nothing is changing at first, but any relationship takes time. It will happen!
Writing needs interaction
Writing is solitary by nature but it helps to interact with other writers. Throughout this year, I continued to write to prompts from online courses and workshops. Wendy Pratt, Angela Carr and Jim Bennett all offer such opportunities and while it’s not compulsory to share, facilitators and participants tend to be lovely people. Even if your words don’t feel original or stylish, there will always be encouragement. Try to comment on the work of others. It will make you analyse their words as well as offer good practice with constructive feedback. Try to attend events like open mics and readings, either face-to-face or online. Listen to how a poem sounds different when you can’t see the page. Find your people. You don’t need to be producing new and exciting work in order to talk about a shared passion for words. Few will understand your sense of despair at the loss of your own like another writer.
Writing needs food
Feed your writer’s mind. If you want to write poetry, you need to read poetry. Some worry this will influence their own words and be detrimental. I’d suggest it’s worth the risk, but if you’re really concerned, try biographies of poets instead. Discover how they started writing. How they faced challenges. Read anything and everything. When I left work, reading fiction felt incredibly self-indulgent. I knew it was crazy but there you go – we all have issues! It’s taken time but now I can read without feeling guilty. Books are food for a creative mind. They stimulate the imagination and good writers lift us into imaginative worlds, which is what we want our poetry to do. Read and feed. Try to get out and about. When feeling blocked it can be hard to protect your creative self, but you need to fill your inner world with new experiences. Julia Cameron suggests artist’s dates where you do something different. Get out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to cost or can be as little as a cup of coffee or a bus ride. It sounds a bit cliché but just as your physical body needs food to function, you must feed your writing mind too.
Writing needs observation
Life is a dichotomy. You feel internally and see externally. They’re often very different experiences but writers put them together to create unique perspectives. Detailed observation is essential. Use what you smell, feel, touch, taste etc. When do you experience resonance or fear? Who attracts you? What turns you off? Emotion lies at the heart of all effective writing. Carry a notebook for when ideas come from nowhere. These flashes need to be captured in the moment. Build time to reflect on what you’ve seen. Ten minutes might be enough. Anything is better than nothing. Whatever comes to mind write it down. Every now and then read through. The most unlikely partnerships can morph into great poems but each one begins with regular observance and notes.
Writing needs research
Research is the foundation of writing. Read around your ideas. Find the shared consensus on what interests you then look for the gaps. Poems often lie in the spaces and boundaries of accepted knowledge. Follow whatever sparks you off. I wasn’t writing poetry, or at least nothing I was proud of, but continued background research on my favourite topics. Become an explorer of what resonates. Be brave. Look up stuff outside your sphere. Sometimes the unexpected is gold. As well as books, the internet is your best friend. Sacred Texts and Gutenberg have a wealth of freely available resources. Wikipedia is great for summaries, especially if the page is not flagged for attention. Explore content creators on YouTube. They offer independent and interesting approaches. Try Jen Campbell for the background to fairy tales and Resurrectionists for the deconstruction of nursery rhymes. Referencing is key so make notes of page numbers and always paste the link so you can find it again. Because you will want to. Research is the foundation of good writing and you are a good writer – this blockage is temporary. It too will pass.
Writing needs structure
Writing can be many things but above all, it’s work and work needs structure. Not feeling able to write is no excuse for not being organised. Keep a journal or planner. It will help you feel more in control. Also, you might not be submitting during a fallow spell, but accurate submission records show what went where and when plus the outcome. This might be a good time to catch up if you’ve let it slip. Keep everything you’ve ever written which felt complete at the time and revisit. It helps to have all your poems in one place, either printed, digital or both. Drafts mount up so have a structured way to retain the progression of ideas. Badly named files containing gold get lost in the depths of your devices. Title files clearly and store them in folders with dates in their names. Keep printouts in chronological order. It helps see the development. I have a snippets file where I store words and phrases I like, especially those which stand out from otherwise terrible poems. Find a physical space to work in. Not everyone has the luxury of a writing room – I don’t – but I’ve a drawer to store work, shelves for poetry books and a favourite writing chair. Structure brings your writing to the surface of everyday life and creates an environment to help it thrive.
Writing needs social media
Not everyone loves social media but online identity can help build an audience. Think of it as professional practice. Advantages outweigh negatives if you take control and make the internet work for you. Check every online profile of those who want to follow you. No one will mind, especially if they’re genuine. Block anyone dubious. The minimum requirement for a writer is to be findable. Add links to your work if you are published. Current top sites include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (now X) and LinkedIn. If these are really not your thing, consider a Google website or start a blog. Social media involves the practice of writing (tick) and online engagement has the potential for building a network (another tick). Many others know what being blocked feels like. You are not alone and social media can be your gateway to supportive friends and encouragement (tick tick tick!)
I hope this helps.
When the poetry came back it wasn’t a trickle, it was more like an explosion. I could hardly keep up. To be honest, that scared me a bit but it left me thinking maybe I dealt with my writer’s block in a useful way. If poetry is in your soul, it will come back. So long as you keep the doors open and keep on writing.
all images from https://pixabay.com/