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Running around Writer’s Block

How fun is writer’s block?


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Apeksha Atal

3 years ago | 7 min read

How fun is writer’s block? So fun. It kind of hits whenever it wants to, doesn’t it? Recently it’s been hitting me at a particularly weird instance.

I’m somewhat of an impulsive writer. I’ll find myself in the middle of a routine activity and suddenly a thought will pop into my head — a prompt, a piece of dialogue, a flurry of colorful imagery that needs to be noted down. In an effort to honor these thoughts, I pull out my phone and type what’s on my mind, hit with a little adrenaline rush, thinking about the marvelous piece that is going to come out of this little burst of inspired genius that has hit me.

There may be a grand total of two thoughts like these that have made it from my phone on to a page. I don’t think it’s fair to say that I “forget” about them, even though I kind of do. It’s just that by the time that I remember they’re on my phone, the spark has faded. Sometimes I smile while remembering the spark, but that’s about it.

When I’m lucky enough to have my computer or a notebook on me, I notice that these thoughts usually get to live more dynamically, and see themselves to fruition. At least that was the case until about a month ago, when I moved home.

Moving back home, I suddenly had a lot more time to plop in front of the computer when thoughts hit me. They were plentiful and diverse: one-liners, character outlines, little scenes that could find meaning when united with others down-the-line. So exciting, I thought. Take the other day for instance. I was finishing up an episode of a favorite show and was instantly charged with a surge of creative energy. I scrunched my forehead in an effort to lock it in there and crouched over lest it try to escape. I sprinted up the stairs, rushed into my room, slid (and almost fell out of) my spinny rolly chair and opened up a blank document. My fingers were ready to type, the images were whirring by, and then suddenly, they froze.

I didn’t quite go blank. No, it was more of a creative seizure. Everything started glitching. I was so sure that something good was going to pop out; so sure, that it got stuck. Suddenly any first line that I wrote was awful, any paragraph didn’t seem detailed enough to match what I was imagining, and any amount of words couldn’t catch up to the bigger picture I was trying to paint.

I’ve been thinking about it for the past few days and think I’ve sort of figured out what’s wrong. I think it was the anticipation of greatness that hindered anything minutely mediocre from coming to life. Whatever came out had to be good, and it had to be good right then.

Why have I been so frantic to write something good? I think I’ve been eager for a while, and now I finally have the “time”. I remember a lot of professors in college saying that we all have stories inside of us. For some people those stories are songs that they write or paintings that they compose. Some people choose to create, and some people choose to capture. My story, is a novel. It’s in there. I FEEL it, even more so now that I have the time to bring it into this world. I know I can do it; I’ve written a novella, I’ve written short stories, I have ideas, I have a computer. I can do it. The only different between now and when I’ve written before is that I’m really the only one motivating myself.

I’ve started running recently. I’ve never been a runner, but I’ve always been enchanted by the aesthetic of it. I’m thinking Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs making her way through an obstacle course, and Casey from Atypical getting out of the house in a baggy gray sweatshirt early in the morning, running and running and running. There’s a lot of strength and elegance to it all, and I (if you recall) now have the time to give it a shot. So I’ve been working on it, and I’m oddly seeing a lot of parallels between my physical activity and my ability to write.

Physical fitness aside, running is a really mental sport. If you’re alone, you’ve suddenly got to keep yourself entertained. You’ve got thoughts that you’ve pushed aside trying to make a guest appearance, asking you why you need to be sweating this hard and wearing such an itchy sports bra at 7 am on a Saturday. You’ve also got music that you thought you loved suddenly becoming too peppy for the mood you’re going for, or sometimes not peppy enough. Sometimes you’ve just got to quiet everything out, and go into a zone, focus on your legs or completely ignore them, keep your chest open and breathe, sweat and remember to wipe it away before it stings your eyes. It’s meditative; you have to ignore the noise and keep going, and the more you do it, the better you get.

I, personally, still need my Nike Running Club coaches to help me keep my thoughts on track and stop me from thinking about if I’m thirsty or tired or irritable, but I am getting better. I’m building endurance. I’m enduring past every excuse that kept me off the road until this year.

Writing books is a lot about endurance too. I’ve written before about how my thesis advisor talked about having time to dream and watching your characters live. You have to watch them with your minds eye and let them sort of dilly-dally around until they do something really interesting. It takes a LOT of patience, and a lot of work. Sometimes the characters spend excessive amounts of time just buying groceries and visiting the bathroom. Sometimes they keep talking to people, but just out of earshot. Sometimes their voices sounds like yours, and sometimes they sound too foreign to claim with an “I” pronoun. It’s exhausting, and it’s so easy to get distracted.

What’s more, sometimes you’ll see your character fully and vividly, and not know where to put them. Sometimes you’ll have so many disjointed thoughts that you get more caught up in trying to connect them than getting them down in the first place. I’ve caught myself making lists and roadmaps, charting courses for characters that just want to relax, and willing something, anything, to inspire something meaningful. It’s hard to want to keep going when every stream of consciousness is halted with a record scratching and skipping, refusing to let you see a sense of flow and rationality in your thoughts.

You have to be so strong to be able to write fully and truly. You have to be vulnerable to your thoughts, and accept that sometimes they won’t make sense, and sometimes your writing is just going to be straight up awful. You have to give yourself grace and be kind to yourself.

That’s so much to handle alone, especially when you’re trying to create something long-term, soul-bearing, meaningful, and noteworthy. If you’re a perfectionist, that’s another level of yourself that doesn’t want to make anything bad.

Sometimes I need someone to remind me, scold me, coax me even, into writing something bad. I need that because I know, from every mentor and writing book I’ve encountered, that you need to write something — even “badly” — if you want to create something beautiful.

I think what I’m beginning to see is how mental health and mental strength intersect with so many tasks that I used to dissociate from them. Running, in my mind, used to be about how strong your legs are, your lung capacity, and your overall physical health. Writing used to just be about being creative and having fancy ways to say things. I’m realizing that I can’t force either of those muscles, the muscles being those that make me run and those that make me write, to do the work I want them to do, if I don’t support them in another way.

Coaches are amazing. I feel so lucky to live in a time where I can find coaches in my family, friends, and on an app, that can push me to push myself mindfully and productively from a physical perspective. It’s inspiring me to take a little more action on the writing front, not just to push me, but to help me be kinder to myself so that I can write fearlessly. I am a reasonably self-motivated person, but I think it might be time to start seeking out some writing “coaches”. I had so many mentors and peers that served that purpose in university, and in Thailand, that I assumed the will was coming from somewhere else entirely. Well, I guess that’s not fair to myself either. I have the will, I just need a little pushing to find the coveted “way”.

Until then, at least I’ll have space to write thought pieces like this.

Huh. Writing about writer’s block. Oddly therapeutic

This article was originally published by apeksha atal on medium.

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