Sometimes, when people tell me they want to use writing to explore their lives, but they’re not … and the reason they give is that they’re “blocked.”
Ah, writer’s block … that well-used phrase that could just mean not-sitting-at-the-page-and-getting-started.
OK, maybe that’s a less-than-compassionate perspective, but it’s one worth considering. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to people who “want to write” or “would love to journal” but never pick up a pen. Trust me, the muse doesn’t just strike most people … the muse needs to be cultivated, nurtured, and welcomed.
So how do you do that?
When interviewed by The Paris Review in 1996, the Israeli writer Amos Oz said that when it came to his writing, he would go to his office “… sit at my desk … without reading, listening to music, or answering the phone. Then I write, sometimes a sentence, sometimes a paragraph—in a good day, half a page. But I am here at least seven or eight hours every day … I think of my work as that of a shopkeeper: it is my job to open up in the morning, sit, and wait for customers. If I get some, it is a blessed morning, if not, well, I’m still doing my job.”
When you’re writing for personal growth and self expression, you don’t have to sit for 8 hours, but we all need to sit; we need to “open up the shop.”
And once you’re sitting, there’s a lot you could write about. If you think there isn’t, think about this: What do you talk to your friends about? What things have moved you recently? What annoys you? What do you dream about? Who do you admire?
Bet you can answer those questions. And if so … could it be that “writers block” is also just another way of saying that you can’t figure out where to start?
How ’bout starting by making a list of things you could explore?
Don’t wait for a just-right first sentence, or a perfect bit of mind-blowing deepiosity and profundity that will encapsulate all the existential questions of the universe before you get moving. (cause that’s gonna happen …) Just pick up a pen (or get your fingers on the keyboard) and start.
The challenge (and beauty) of writing (and life) is that when faced with abundant options, you get to make choices. So choose a place to start and go.
It doesn’t matter where you start, because whatever you’re supposed to unearth is bound to surface if you give it time and attention. In my workshops I’m often amazed that when I toss out a prompt, a group of women will go so many different places with the same starting springboard.
So start. Choose the first thing that pops into your head. If several things are ping-ponging about in there, pick one. Or combine them and play with what shows up.
As Bright Lights, Big City author Jay McInerney said: “I actually have to write to discover my ideas. I think you could allow yourself to never get started if you tried to guess in advance what was going to inspire you.”
Try this at home: Write a list of things you could write about. Write to discover and uncover. Starting is where it starts.