Happy Little Writer Sarah, Words for Food

Shake it Off: Finding Whimsy Again

I’ve been writing for decades. I’ve been writing in some professional capacity for ten years. I have never faced what I would term “writer’s block” until this spring.

Let me be clear: I procrastinate. Sometimes it is hard to sit in the chair. There are times when I  would rather be taking a run or joining my friends at the brewery or binge-watching Netflix.

That is NOT what happened this spring.

I sat in the chair faithfully, every day. I had a looming deadline, and so I sat at my desk and stared at a blank piece of paper. Sometimes I’d get so far as a paragraph written, but upon re-reading, it was nonsensical. What was in my head wasn’t translating through my hand correctly; it was a garbled mess. The more I tried, the harder it got.

This, my friends, is writer’s block.

18 months ago I left my full-time job to pursue writing full time. It took a great deal of convincing and planning and then just straight-up moxie to do it. It took a great deal of vulnerability and trust to let my husband financially support my art. But the more I produced, the more writing gigs I got, the more pieces were published, the more I was affirmed–you made the right choice.

When the words dried up, I began to spiral into an ugly web of self-doubt and low self-worth. The voices in my head told me I’d made a mistake, that it had been irresponsible to leave a steady income for this writing nonsense, who was I kidding anyway?  

The voices, incidentally, are a mixture of the teacher that mocked my work when I was young, a super judgmental colleague that once brought me to tears and the ex that referred to me as unbelievably stupid. The louder the voices grew, the harder it was to find words.

I’d always viewed writers block as laziness. Procrastination. I’m from good German stock and was brought up with a work ethic that insisted that one work until the job is completed (and in satisfactory fashion, we don’t half-ass anything). Then you can play. I’d always applied this same work ethic to my writing.

Unfortunately, writing, while three-quarters hard work and tenacity, is also a quarter childlike whimsy. Writers are first and foremost storytellers, and when you step away from the joy that is telling the story, then you’ve lost what makes good writing, well, good.

I began, with the help of some pretty great book-teachers, to reconnect with my what was purely fun about writing. I listened to my body. As anyone who has trained for anything knows, there is a fine line between pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and into a place of new achievement and over-training. Over-training can do  way more harm than good. I believe my writing self needs to be given the same treatment my running self got when I was training for marathons. I wrote until it was no longer fun–some days that meant just ten minutes. I wrote what sounded like fun to write, even though it had nothing to do with my looming deadline. I took long walks, I read, I watched great movies and went to see local art.

Eventually, it began to work. My whimsical writer-self came began to emerge. I do my best to listen to her voice even when the other voices speak louder. It continues to take practice.

I have found–and am continuing, every day, to find new ways to loosen myself up. And, I’m hoping to share what I’ve learned. I’m hosting several workshops this fall about how to shake off the writer’s block.

Please join me Wednesday evenings from 6-8, September 14 and 21st at the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts. Class is $45 or $40 for members. Register here!