“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
I struggled to overcome writer’s block for years. It was awful. I had nightmares that there were chickens roaming around my office. My inner critic went from being slightly annoying to practically paralyzing, resulting in writing sporadically until ceasing altogether. Training myself to get words back down on the page every day was a very long process, but I learned some valuable lessons along the way to help sustain me, ones that can help any writer struggling to get started (again).
Like most bad habits, it began innocently enough. There were small excuses I whispered to myself like “I’ll get to it when I have more time” which somehow grew into weeks, then months, of neglect. A third and then fourth baby brought an end to writing daily, and ten years later, I found myself struggling painfully to get my pen and paper to reconnect. I was like many of my former students, capable but afraid.
One summer, I bravely enrolled as a student in a Writer’s Conference at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. It was the salve I needed to heal. I was fortunate enough to have Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket as my first writing teacher after such a long hiatus.
He made writing fun. He made writing manageable. He also made us write every single day. I struggled whenever I started, but the looming deadline and accountability forced me to make the effort. He passed around a felt hat full of random words, and whichever one we drew, we had to write a story about it. I drew the word “bi-bim-bap.” The topics were wonderfully silly, and he was so gregarious and comical that we relaxed and created. Wasn’t that what I had done for my students, too? Hadn’t I tried to make writing fun to help reduce their fear? I am forever indebted to Daniel Handler for his enthusiasm in the classroom that reminded me to lighten up about my work.
Leaving the conference with a renewed sense of self-confidence and a burning desire to write again, I set mini-goals for myself. I decided to contribute to my writing life every week by either reading books or blogs before bed nightly, listening to poetry while driving in the car and audiobooks while working out, or writing for at least fifteen minutes every weekday. Some days I only could meet one goal, but when I looked at the process as a weekly effort, I felt less overwhelmed. As my confidence increased, the blank page became less daunting. Soon, I was increasing my daily writing time while challenging myself to share my work publicly. In need of regular encouragement, I joined Andi’ s writing community for camaraderie, accountability, and assistance. It has been an inspiring and sustaining group.
To not be able to write regularly, for whatever the reason, is a problem that must be solved for anyone who considers him or herself a writer. Writing doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The blank page doesn’t have to be a part of your nightmares. You must find a way to overcome your writer’s block, no matter how long it’s been visiting you. It is what you must do. Begin by taking baby steps. Find motivation and validation from fellow writers in local or online communities. Enroll in a summer workshop. Read while commuting or waiting in the car for your kids. Write daily, if only for fifteen minutes at first. Writing is the act that makes you a writer.
Recently, I dreamed I was cleaning out my refrigerator, tossing out all the chicken.
What one thing can you do this week? Figure it out and write on!
Catherine Kingsley is currently in recovery from writer’s block and bravely shares some of her work with the public at Cathie’s Corner found at http://www.clskingsley.com.