Most writers call it a block, but I personally prefer the term one of my writer friends used in a comment on my last post: freeze. When I get hit by the inability to write, I feel frozen rather than blocked. I feel like my body and mind have been stuck in some kind of writer’s Ice Age and need to thaw out in order to get my brain and fingers to start functioning again.
This is exactly what I’ve been going through. I have spent so many years frozen, thawing out temporarily, and then getting frozen again, that I’m becoming an expert on the subject. Forget what Hollywood says, because the Ice Age is NOT a fun place for writers — woolly mammoths, sloths, and saber-tooth tigers maybe, but not writers!
Working in the media as an editor, manager, and sometimes-journalist, completely drained me, and I simply had no energy or motivation to do anything after I got home from work, especially if that thing was writing.
I’ve been labeling myself as a writer ever since I was in 9th grade, and used to write a lot of poetry and short stories when I was in high school in India. I had the good fortune to have teachers who recognized my dream and encouraged me to write. I was so into it that I diligently researched the whole publishing process and started to send out to publishers when I was 17. That year, I received a bunch of rejection slips which I think I still have somewhere and I’m very proud of. I’m proud of them because out of about 10 rejection slips, I got one acceptance letter and two of my poems were published in a Canadian poetry magazine. All this before I started college.
Once I started college, I got too busy studying, reading, writing essays and research papers, and then I went on to do my MA when I got back to Egypt, and then started working as an editor/journalist/media manager. Most of the writing I did was some articles, book reviews, and reports. The only creative writing I did was about 5 or 6 poems, a couple of short stories, and the assignments of about 4 online writing courses I took in a bid to keep the creative spark alive. In 8 years! Needless to say, that is a pathetic portfolio for someone who labels herself a writer.
I left work in August 2009 in order to stop my dream from being completely destroyed, and knew that because of the creative drain that 8 years of that work had on me, I wouldn’t be able to start writing seriously right away. I gave myself time and didn’t put a deadline on my “recuperation” time. I decided that I had experienced enough stress for 8 years and was going to give myself a real break.
Within two months, I had written down an outline for a novel, started doing some light research, and wrote the rough draft of the first two chapters. After that, I realized I needed to do more research, but wasn’t really ready for that kind of dedication, so I let it go. Now, almost 6 months later, I feel that I’m ready again, and hopefully soon, I’ll start doing the heavy-duty research needed for the novel and writing out some of the scenes I outlined earlier.
For now, I’m happy to do stress-free blogging about what I’ve learned the hard way about the writing process in a very personal, down-to-earth, non-professional manner, and whatever else I want to write about. I’m also starting to get a little more active in online writers’ communities, especially through Twitter and through other blogs (check my list of great blogs & sites in the side-bar for some of them) and the Writer’s Digest website. Again, I will never pressure myself until I heal what the 8 years of stress has done to my creativity.
What’s more is, I know I’m not the only one who’s been suffering from this kind of freeze/block. Many of my writer friends are going through the same. And when I read what other professional, published, famous authors say, they also sometimes go through these phases.
I think that the important thing is to know that this is a phase, and to not beat yourself up about it. Relax. Don’t pressure yourself more than you already are. Forget about writing “for publication”. Do something fun and completely unrelated to writing. I started gardening, drawing, and learning how to crochet, for example. A friend of mine took painting classes. Take some language classes in whatever language you’ve always wanted to learn. Take horseback riding classes or grab a camera and start photographing whatever you find interesting.
All of these non-writing activities will not only allow you to de-stress, but will also provide you with new experiences which you can bring to your writing. It’s all food for your writing soul.
But I think it’s important to always keep one foot — or even just a toe — in the writing world. That foot/toe may be different things: reading (that always ends up motivating me to write), lurking around writers’ blogs, listening to or reading author interviews (there are a ton of them on the Internet — check out Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust podcasts, iTunes Meet the Author, Barnes and Nobles Meet the Author, Book Reviews with Simon Mayo, Writer Unboxed, authors’ websites, and so on), and/or reading about writing.
These are my suggestions about how to defrost your writer’s soul. Some of them I’ve learned through personal experience, and others I’ve learned from other writers.
I’d love to hear your ideas. How do you defrost?
Remember, it’s ok to hang out in the Ice Age for a while, but it’s better for your writing career if you defrost before you turn into a woolly mammoth.