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Moving Beyond Writers Block

What do you do when you feel your creativity has dried up, you have nothing to say, or you feel everything you do say, has already been said? There are several solid strategies for transcending these blocks and getting the words and ideas to flow with confidence once again.

What do you do when you feel your creativity has dried up, you have nothing to say, or you feel everything you do say, has already been said? It can be paralyzing. I’ve felt it physically like a blob of cement in my throat, knots of dried kelp in my belly, or a swarm of hornets set afire in my skull. Writers block can be a very real issue for many of us, but the good news is, there are several solid strategies for transcending these blocks and getting the words and ideas to flow with confidence once again.

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Guest post by Albert Flynn DeSilver, internationally published poet, author, teacher, speaker, and writing coach. He is the author, most recently, of Beamish Boy, a memoir about transcending addiction through writing, mindfulness and meditation. His work has appeared in more than 100 literary journals worldwide including ZYZZYVA, New American Writing, Jacket (Australia), Poetry Kanto (Japan), Van Gogh’s Ear (France), and many others. He has read and performed with many of America’s literary legends including Maxine Hong Kingston, Michael McCluer, Anne Waldman, Quincy Troupe, Kay Ryan, and many others. For 15 years, he has taught writing and meditation workshops ––from the University of California-Davis to AWP in New York City to the British Institute in Paris. For more about the author, please visit his website at albertflynndesilver.com.

Beamish Boy
Albert Flynn DeSilver

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There are two strategies I use for dealing with writers block. One is the bulldozer method; where you simply write through and over all the resistant thoughts and doubts—just plow them under, bury them. Be willing to write piles of dirt (crap) and move them around, but for now, keep them on the surface, because you just might find flecks of gold shimming in the muck. I keep a “compost” folder on my desktop where I drag all the edited out crap. I hold on to some of it, because sometimes what I think of as crap, is actually quite good, or could become good with a bit of tweaking. Every successful writer I know is willing to write crap, even the most brilliant ones who you are convinced spin gorgeous effortless sentences with ease and grace every time they sit down to write. Not true. Being willing to write crap is sometimes painful, but more often exhilarating, as the process slowly and unexpectedly reveals your true creative genius. When I started writing my memoir, “Beamish Boy,” I hadn’t actually written much prose. I had been writing and teaching poetry for fifteen years, so part of me was unsure whether or not I could even complete a sentence. My first drafts were filled with embarrassing, solipsistic self-absorbed, clap-trap that sounded too “therapy journal” to ever share with the world. But I pressed on. And the more I read other favorite memoirs and novels (very important as a memoirist to read novels, in order to master the structure of a story, not to mention dialogue, pacing, time, and character development) and the more I wrote, the more exciting, unexpected phrases, scenes, and dialogue started to emerge. Each mini success built on the previous one, and soon I was quite happy with a single scene, and then a chapter, and then an entire section, and soon, the book began to take on a satisfying level of completeness. I had to surrender to “the three P’s,” process, progression, and patience.

My other tried and true antidote is silence. This might sound absurd, but really the most consistent way I’ve ever been able to reinvigorate my writing practice and get the vibrant ideas churning again, is to turn off my chattering brain. Let’s be honest with ourselves here, as artists, writers especially, we are consumed with thought, idea, and opinion. It never ends. Our brains prattle on like a babbling child. We need to take time to shut it off periodically, lest we start believing some of the negative, mind-numbing chatter. Here’s a suggestion: Sit down and do nothing. Sit in silence. Or walk contemplatively in silence. Focus on the simple fact of your breathing. Just notice your breathing. No need to modulate, control, or manipulate your breathing, simply bring your attention to the experience. Notice if it is fast or slow, up in your throat or chest, or deep down in your belly. Where do you experience this breathing? Tune into the body, the body is your ground and center. Entertain or glom on to no thoughts, just let them stream on through. If you have a particularly vexing issue or life challenge, try an hour of vigorous exercise first, and then come to a period of silence. If this is difficult for you, try it in short increments at first, 5-10 minutes, and then extend to 20, 30 or 45 minutes. This is a powerful practice that can change your writing practice and your life forever! I would recommend a class on mindfulness or meditation, or hire a coach who has meditation experience. You will be amazed. Writers block is often a case of “monkey mind,” a mind consumed with difficult memories, obsessions, fears, anxieties, anticipations, and doubt. Meditation helps calm the mind, settle out the thoughts, and restore the body to a state of peace and openness. With repeat practice over time you will notice more space in your mind for original creative ideas, and a renewed energy to put those ideas to the page with confidence!

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