Recently, an article from The New York Times‘ The Opinion Pages came my way (thanks, Dad!), entitled: “On Getting Stuck (and Unstuck),” by Darrell Brown. In this piece, Brown focuses on the problem of attempting to write even after you’ve hit the dreaded wall of Writer’s Block.
The Songwriter Hall of Fame member and recording artist, J.D. Souther, recently reminded me of what the great poet and teacher, William Stafford would tell his students: “When you get stuck, lower your standards.” The ego of perfectionism will cut you off from the very cup you long to drink from.
Brown goes on to discuss with other songwriters what they do when they come up against an inspiration dry spell, and many of them offer some truly helpful and wonderfully honest advice.
I like a lot about this article — I like Brown’s tone, his brevity, and his focus on songwriting. I appreciate this focus because, when we talk about writing, oftentimes we’re blind to what others are writing and working on, and we can forget just how many options, styles, and avenues are out there for us to explore and try our writerly hand at.
But I think what I like best about this article is its base assumption: When you hit Writer’s Block, you keep writing — even if it hurts, even if you’re drunk, even if you hate what’s coming from you, even if you’re horny, even if you’re about to piss yourself (well, alright, definitely take a bathroom break then, but mostly–>) you keep working. At no point does Brown say, You Need Inspiration To Write. Certainly, taking a break from a project and returning to it the next day or week can be useful in refreshing oneself, but that’s nowhere near the same thing as saying that writing or writers necessitate(s) inspiration. As Brown and the songwriters he talks with suggest: Always keep writing. Always keep working.
[As]…songwriter Hall of Fame member and recording artist, Mac Davis…[says]: “It’s better I go away with something instead of going away with nothing.”
After all, Writing is Writing, and, while inspiration is thrilling and wonderful, inspiration will never be Writing.
When I hit Writer’s Block on a project, one of my favorite things to do is to take a dance break. This not only gets me into a different room, but it also helps me engage with myself in a way that is totally different from writing. Dancing’s also a great break in cases of Writer’s Block because it reminds me that it’s okay to look goofy; it’s okay to write things that aren’t perfect the first time (or ever). It’s okay to just do for the sake of getting something done, rather than struggling for ages over nothing for the sake of polish and impossible perfection.
Another trick I use is to simply begin reading or writing on a different project entirely. Oftentimes my articles and stories are connected in some way, whether by topic, theme, or prospective audience. So working on another piece (or reading up for another piece), can often help me inadvertently solve problems in other projects, even in those that have been playing hide-and-seek with me for a long time.
What do you do to help yourself write away Writer’s Block?