food for writers

Recently I’ve been preoccupied with a number of things that only tangentially relate to fiction writing. Except when in full inspired flow, I am not someone who does nothing but live and breathe writing day after day,  although sometimes I feel an almost irresistable pressure to be that person, as if only a perfect dedication to writing at the exclusion of all else could enable me to produce good fiction.

Despite this self-inflicted pressure, I actually believe the opposite is true. People who do nothing but write (if there are such people) are living in a very limited kind of a way. Intense experiences, such as having a job, a relationship, travelling, learning a skill deeply, grieving, loving, playing – all these are food to the soul. Being outside in nature, being in the endlessness of a moment where you completely forget yourself – this is the kind of nourishment every being requires in order to be creative and honest in the world.

As writers, we cannot allow ourselves to sit comfortably still for long. We must agitate our inner lives, else our writing will stagnate and become rotten. It is easy to become stuck in a phase of writing which once felt fresh and new, watching as the bright phrases and lovely sentences gradually harden and hollow out, until they are empty models of something that was once real. It is easy to pretend that you are still speaking with your true voice. Maybe you can fool others, too. But if that is your voice, why is it so hard to write? Why don’t you ever feel like you are flying anymore?

It is hard to break free from that rut and dig for something deeper and truer. What if no one likes it? No one buys it? What if it is not as good as what you’ve done before? What if you uncover truths that change your life, that disrupt your peace of mind? So you carry on playing with the dead. You become blocked. You can’t rewrite the old stories, and you can’t write the new ones either. You know you can’t go back and you haven’t found the courage to go forward.

It’s a place I have been a few times, that nowhere place of being ‘blocked’. I don’t think there is any way to force a passage through it. It takes as long as it takes. It takes whatever it takes. For me, that is usually a big change. Something wrenched from my heart. Knowing something that is hard to know. Burying something I have been trying to keep alive. It takes a certain amount of forgetting about writing, of walking in the woods, of playing, of grieving, of watching the colour of the sky, feeling the sting of snow on your face, being swept up and moved by waves of music.

Whatever you do to enrich your soul will enrich your writing. Sometimes your writing practice itself will nourish your soul. But sometimes your soul needs other deep and urgent care before you can write again.


4 Replies to “food for writers”

  1. I don’t have writers block, I have loads of ideas – it’s the fingers to keyboard part I have trouble with. A hesitancy to commit it to a solid form something which seems awesome in my mind may look a bit puny and feeble in “the flesh” so to speak… Especially when you give it the 24 hour rule as even the best 2 AM idea can be appalling when re-examined in the cold light of sobriety and/or daylight…

  2. That is about as good as it gets as far as analysis of what is so often glibly dismissed as “just writer’s block” goes. Trying to write write write is no good if you have nothing to say, and life is your fuel.

  3. Thank you Dan and Neon Suntan for your comments.

    Dan, I agree. It’s not writing that’s the problem. It’s life. 😉

    NS, being unable to commit words to the page sounds like a textbook case of blockage to me! I don’t think a creative block is ever because of a lack of ideas. IMO, it’s a sign that something isn’t right.

  4. Have just found some great advice from Elmore Leonard
    And the original article

    The best line in it says something along the lines of “if you’re finding the passage boring to write then it’ll be boring to read, so skip and write the good bit.”

    It’s why I like the concise style of Borges who wrote reviews of books that never existed to save himself the trouble of writing them.

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