What I believe about (not) writing…

I don’t believe in writer’s block I said recently. But, what is it that I do believe? Especially when the words won’t come. When the air is filled with noiselessness after every empty utterance, after every desperate, beseeching prayer. Especially, when, after all the coaxing and cursing, I still can’t find my way to what to say.

I believe in the ritual of showing up. I believe in sitting at my desk. Even if that’s all it is. Even if that’s all I do.

I have more days like this than I care to think about it, and it usually comes down to something I didn’t do.

I believe in slowing down and asking questions. Have I been reading? Have I been feeding myself? Have I been resting? Have given myself time & space? Time to walk and wander? Space to stare off and wonder? Have I been stretching? Have I been putting in the reps? Have I let myself write shitty first drafts? Have I refilled the tank?

Writing is the name for searching and scouring. I believe in gathering wool.  It is as much a series of scribbles in the margins as it is the structured sequence of words upon a page. The former lends itself to the latter. The perpetual give and take.

You can’t fill a page if you come to your desk empty. I believe in the work of becoming full.

I believe in preparation and examination. All work, all art, requires research and deep analysis. Sometimes it’s a subject, a topic, an era. Sometimes it is the mystery of ourselves. “Everything is a self-portrait”, Chuck Palahniuk says, “Everything is a diary.” In truth, that’s all there is. You are the only thing you will ever really study. “[T]he angle you use, the lighting, the composition, the technique…You are every color and brushstroke…The only thing an artist can do is describe [their] own face.”

I believe in the substance of readiness. No matter the medium. No matter the expression. No matter what it is. I believe in the willingness of looking deep. “I want people who write to crash or dive below the surface,” Anne Lamott says, “where life is so cold and confusing and hard to see.” We must be prepared to plunge into the places that most others keep shut. Places of hurt and regret and insecurity; “the bleak unspeakable stuff”. The desperate pits we try to fill with the things we know we don’t really need. “In those holes and in the spaces around them exist all sorts of possibility, including the chance to see who we are and to glimpse the mystery.” To sand away the hardened lacquer that covers over the soft and supple grain. To make the pain pronounceable. To give the emptiness a name.

I believe in the law of conservation of energy, nothing is created, nothing is destroyed. There are only transformations. Only conversions of form. Nothing is ex nihilo. Everything comes from something. Everything goes somewhere. The question is only how and when. I believe in working through the change.

I don’t believe in writer’s block I said recently, but I believe that it is real.

Writers block is real in the way that the self is real, in that it is a side-effect of something else. A consequence of another cause. An apophenic amalgamation. A pattern of seemingly discordant things. A clever fiction. Ultimately illusory. An emergent property of complex systems, but never an individuated entity.

In Ancient Near Eastern cultures to know the name of a thing was to have power over it. I believe in calling something what it is. There is fear. There is perfectionism. There is being unprepared. I worry that by calling something writer’s block we make it into something mystical rather than something we can work to solve. If we have awareness and compassion, if we can call out the thing we’re scared of, we can take back some semblance of control.

I believe in time and patience. I believe everything suffers when we push for too much, too fast, too soon. I believe that there are no short cuts. I believe that we have to keep going. I believe we have to fail boldly. Over and over and over again. I believe that the way to quality is through quantity. I believe we have to make a metric ton of absolute shit to find a diamond, to find the gold.

I believe that every small effort amasses to something bigger. All the iterative attempts. All the grindy bits. Everything that lives outside of and around the page.

I believe that inspiration is the fruit of something planted. Something that grows and yields. It requires light, and air, and water, and nourishing. I believe that sometimes even the ground needs rest.

Thanks so much for reading, it means the world to me! The blog and newsletter are free and I plan to keep them that way. If you’d like to support it, please consider Buying me a Coffee. A little bit goes a long way. Thanks again!


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