Sunday, March 18, 2012

Writer's Block as a Transformative Tool

I’ve moped here and there on this blog about my issues with writing lately, including this statement from a few weeks ago:

“I am in a weird place with the writing...still feeling a strong impulse to branch out, but forcing myself to come back to poetry, even though it's not working very well for me right now. Last weekend, I took a stab at starting a novel, but I feel funny about it, like it makes me undisciplined and unfocused; like I shouldn't be ego-maniacal enough to assume I can cross over into anything new. I am reading dire warnings about not trying to become a ‘cross-over’ writer, which are depressing me, but I continue to read them.”

I have been managing to eke out a few poems for the latest series, but the experience has been fairly joyless of late. I’ve had to torture poetry out of myself, and in spite of popular myths to the contrary, I’m not one who believes that creative writing should be onerous, painful, or otherwise feel like drudgery. Or that we must “force ourselves” to produce when there is nothing in the well. But the well has been empty for far too long now, and I’ve been stuck in a state of suspended animation, too anxious, passionless and unmotivated to write, while frantically trying to get anything at all onto to the page just to prove to myself that my writing “career” wasn’t just some weird anomalous blip on the fuzz-crackled radar screen of my creative life.

At the same time, my urges to branch out became so strong that I recently spent several days writing a short story to submit for an upcoming themed issue of Big Pulp. The process of writing the story felt great. Simply changing my focus seemed to burst open my creativity, and the writing flowed better and faster than it has than with almost any poem I’ve tried writing for a while. It felt disconcertingly effortless, and I’m fairly happy with the end result. But the anxiety around poetry and writing still had its icy finger on my throat chakra, so I last week, I whisked myself off to see a writing coach, hoping for some help in breaking through the fog of confusion and general creative doldrums. 

The most compelling thing I learned from the session (and I learned a lot), was that experiencing a block means that you are hovering on the verge of a breakthrough. Writer’s block had never been explained to me that way before, and this was an exciting concept—mostly because I think it was something I intuitively knew without knowing I knew it. Acknowledging this somehow granted me “permission” to go right on ahead and plunge headfirst in what I’ve wanted to do for years—begin writing a novel. And I haven’t felt this excited and energized around writing in quite a long time. In two weekends, I’ve been able to flesh out the entire plot, and am ready to begin writing the narrative. And I’m actually experiencing passion and joy in the characters, in the story and in tackling the challenge of writing in an entirely new way. The thought of writing energizes me, rather than making me feel drained and dim.

I believe that writing should feel joyful, playful, and expansive. For me, there is no joy without playfulness, without humor, without some sense of quirky mirth and even silliness. Maybe right now, poetry and its denizens have begun to feel too serious and relentlessly heavy-hearted. With my very daunting day job in a busy urban hospital, maybe I need an outlet from the grimness rather than immersing myself in further seriousness of the poetry world.  Or maybe I just simply need to stretch. I have faith that poetry will return to me in its own time, and when it does, I will be here to receive it. Right now, I’m excited (and a bit scared) to be on this new leg of my creative journey--writing a humorous novel.

If you’re looking for a great Seattle-based writing coach, I recommend mine—Robyn Fritz. Personally, I need hard-nosed practicality blended with a liberal dash of intuitive insight and guidance, and Robyn fits the bill perfectly. You can learn more about her here.  

--Kristen McHenry

1 comment:

Jo-Ann said...

Great news, Kristen. I look forward to standing in the book signing line up on your cross North American tour!