A while back I wrote an article about writer’s block called “Writing and the Dead Bedroom Phenomena”. In it, I discussed practical ways to alleviate this particular condition. I likened it to a relationship which needed spicing up and discussed specific habits by which to do this.
Now I’d like to address why writers seem to face this challenge ad infinitum. And not only that, but the underlying reasons for why it is, in actuality, a grace. Writer’s block, or so I argue, is nothing that we should be bemoaning.
Ever since I began adopting the philosophy we are going to discuss, I have been ailed fairly little if at all with writer’s block. That’s not to say that I don’t struggle with time management, procrastination, outside responsibilities, etc., etc. But when it comes to facing a blank page and getting the words out when I need to, I can safely say that all ten of my fingers have been cured of this disease. A disease which seems to be the bane—at some point or another—of all writers and artists.
This isn’t a linguistic trick, either. I am not going to solve the problem by saying it doesn’t exist, or perhaps goes by a different name, and now I suffer from that instead. No. So you might be wondering how I cured it. Either that, or if I am suffering from self-delusion or narcissism. To which I may innocently suggest that, just for once on the Internet, you may have to assume a stranger is not peddling a clickbait article for no good reason.
The answer isn’t obvious. It isn’t a particular routine, a diet, or a specific method of outlining. It is, in all likelihood, something you are already working towards. You just may not know it yet.
Inspiration is crucial for any creator. I am no different. When I am grasping for ideas, I read books, watch films, and exercise to get the cogs turning. When sentences start slowing down I seek the aid of a journal to plan out future chapters so that excitement can return.
I am no different in that my modus operandi owes some of its credit to that ethereal concept of becoming ‘inspired’. What seems to be the last sacred belief of atheistic writers and artists everywhere.
But make no mistake, inspiration is a trick. An evaporating fog. A fool’s counterfeit coin. Indulging it may very well be the sacrificial rite which summons up the demon of writer’s block to begin with. For our intents we will imagine it just so. It is there and then it is gone. But the world of trouble it invokes isn’t so transient.
But that isn’t to say it isn’t still valuable.
Inspiration provides the idea. That which sparks us to movement. Yet, it offers no raw technical ability. It gives no instruction. Provides no strategy. It is the doorway which appears when we least expect it to. Upon opening it, it shows a path which winds as long as we follow it. A path which extends, twists, and wraps us up in its complexity until, at last, we reach its end.
It is so perilous that countless writers start down such paths but never see the end. The final chapter, the final word, that is, of a novel. But inspiration, though it may be the beginning to this journey, has no practical application for helping us through it. In essence, it is not the means to an end, but a means to a beginning. And from there—a method.
Inspiration is and can never be the method. It is and forever will be the kindling which gives itself up so as to provide flame for thicker substance. Most importantly, it is what leads us to the Struggle.
The Struggle is every manner of obstacle we face as creators. Every roadblock and screaming match with a blinking cursor. Steven Pressfield calls it ‘Resistance’ in his book The War of Art.
We find it after we take that first bold step to write a story, a novel, or even a single page. It accompanies ambition. Follows every damn dream we follow. The obstacles we face can be everything from writer’s block to self-doubt, depression, time management or a keyboard that needs replacing. Unlike our word count aspirations, it has no bounds. That is what makes it so devious. It appears in every facet of our lives so as to destroy one single aspiration: to write.
Yet it is our strongest ally. If we are lost, search for the Struggle. If we are in pain from it, embrace it closer. If we fear it, certainly, that means we must peer deeper into the darkness.
This hit me when I started querying a novel.
I began to realise that a writer must shed off the romance of being a writer who only writes. I decided to accept that, just as much as the task itself, a writer must also collect all manner of skills which are the requisite components of success. Success being, in this instance, writing consistently. A writer must know how to edit, to finalise, query, take rejection, translate critiques, market, etc. Not just so that they can accomplish these tasks individually, (though that’s a great bonus, of course), rather so that they can get on with the damn passion that started this whole circus to begin with.
And it is a circus. Make no bones about it. A dazzlingly performance of self-devouring neuroticism and psychoactive masochism.
The next story, the next book, the next inspiration. Every unwritten word following the conjured ones before it. That is, after all, what we seem to be putting up with all this for.
Within the chaos of the Struggle is where true mastery begins. At this point, an unprecedented opportunity reveals itself.
In the Struggle, progress may be attained. Not the surface progress of a single story. Instead, the overarching, far more important development of the writer herself. The Struggle exists so that we may learn to write without inspiration, without time, without the perfect environment. And here, practicing that essential art of disregarding one’s preferences, we can start to observe intuition taking the place of its predecessor: inspiration.
Simultaneously, technical ability and those all important skills of a writer often are seen flourishing here. Here, we find out not how we’d prefer to write (drunk on inspiration at all times) but how we ought to (with consistent vigour and self-made zeal). In whatever way that is achieved for each individual.
With intuition we can predicate our work with willpower and vision rather than the ephemeral fuel of inspiration. Consistent practice without what we call inspiration is, paradoxically enough, the cure to its absence. Or shall we say—our dependence. Intuition fills the void which inspiration addiction is prone to create.
This is where the plot twist arrives.
Without writers block. Without the Struggle. Without our dependence on inspiration, our subsequent war to find a more consistent source with which to work with. Without all of those trials in the first place, there would be no path to mastery. No challenge by which we learn to overcome our weaknesses. Hell, to even discover them! And consequently, no state of mind to practice. One wherein we learn to reliably attend to all that which requires our attention.
There is no master swordsmen without countless opponents. No master of anything that does not have a journey which begins with a thousand strokes of effort, at least. That is why any obstacle are graces in disguise. Opportunities for which we may accomplish something. Anything. This goes far beyond stories and writing. It is the primordial struggle of being human, itself.
Our pain lends itself to our joys.
Here, during the final steps of our journey, at the last page, we turn back and witness something divine: that it was not in spite of our demons that we became fantastic writers, but because of them.
Thanks to Harlequin for this magnificent blog piece. You can read more about him and by him on his website here and follow him on Twitter as @HarlequinGrim.
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