I sit in my office, fingers stalled over the keyboard as I begin work on my current book and I find myself at a loss. Where fingers usually fly across the board, it now hovers, uncertain about the direction I am going with this story. I find myself doing everything else I’ve been putting off – like cleaning the house. As if the act of un-cluttering my environment would somehow dislodge this blockage. Writing is like exercising when you have a regular practice the words flow better like a well-honed muscle, it knows what to do. But when you stop for a few months like I have, it is like coaxing a sonnet out of a lump of clay.
My current manuscript about the complex relationships between mothers and daughters is something I have a lot to say about. But yet words fail me, and I am groping in the dark searching for some spark of light to show me the way. Writer’s block – the dreaded moment where the blank page suddenly overwhelms. What are all those tips writers give to overcome that? Take a walk and meditate on your thoughts, read voraciously, work uninterruptedly…all that has been almost impossible of late as I fight a losing battle to fit my time in between work, parenting my three-year-old and 10 month old and then writing. Or rather the lack of writing.
Writing is a rather solitary business, spent cooped up in a room for hours on end in front of a keyboard or pad of paper. On a good day, the words pour forth like a torrent, other days like today I can barely eek out a coherent sentence. It’s times like these that I am ever so grateful for the support I have in an amazing mentor and an equally fabulous writers’ group. The group started out as a bit of an experiment two years ago when the facilitator of the writing workshop I was at suggested we get together as an informal group. Since then four of us have stuck it out and we are now adding a fifth writer to our ranks. We make for an interesting lot as we write in different genres, but I think it makes our diverse contributions and perspectives more complex. Adding depth and nuance to my work.
A year ago I emailed the leader of our group about my frustrations one afternoon as I struggled to complete my first manuscript. He responded with kind words and then sent me one of his favourite quotes by author, Isaac Asimov:
‘You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.’
So, I kept at it. Even in times where I was ready to chuck it all in. And then I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and this paragraph reminded me again of my purpose:
“I have a friend who’s an Italian filmmaker of great artistic sensibility. After years of struggling to get his films made, he sent an anguished letter to his hero, the brilliant (and perhaps half-insane) German filmmaker Werner Herzog. My friend complained about how difficult it is these days to be an independent filmmaker, how hard it is to find government arts grants, how the audiences have all been ruined by Hollywood and how the world has lost its taste…etc, etc. Herzog wrote back a personal letter to my friend that essentially ran along these lines: “Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.” I repeat those words back to myself whenever I start to feel resentful, entitled, competitive or unappreciated with regard to my writing: “It’s not the world’s fault that you want to be an artist…now get back to work.” Always, at the end of the day, the important thing is only and always that: Get back to work.”
So, back to work, I go.