Note: I am honored that multi-author and longtime teacher Laraine Herring is part of the Tracking Wonder Consultancy Team as a Premium Consultant. She is a master at helping writers and professionals unravel the knots that block them. In this guest piece, she shares with us how to leverage writer’s block as a learning opportunity.
Ain’t no such thing, to use my Southern grandmother’s colloquialism, as writer’s block. But you knew that already, didn’t you? That secret part of you told you. The part that kept whispering to you when you got stuck, “This isn’t real. This isn’t real,” which often got shouted down by the fear-based parts of you that said something like, “See. Silly writer. You thought you could do this. You thought writing was no big deal. Gotcha!”
It can become quite difficult to hear that first whisper – your real voice – when the blank page seems to mock you. Seems to dare you to etch anything of value into its canvas. Parades its long history of other successful authors (who don’t happen to be you) in front of you at every turn. It can be difficult to hear your best voice when you stare at the shelves of books in your house full of stories that already found their covers, found their places.
When you feel overwhelmed, you may feel your writing doesn’t matter. The world is already too crowded. You can forget that someone needs to read what you’re writing. You can forget that you need to write it.
If you stay still long enough, in the silence that emerges from the stacks of books on your shelves, you’ll find yourself hearing lots of voices. The voices of your stories. The voices of your essential nature. The voices of those you’ve internalized and come to call your own. That silence, inhabited by all those conflicting voices and bookended by all the hopes you have for what your book could be and all the fears you have about what it can never be, is where this thing that has come to be known as writer’s block lives.
So large is its mythology that it is perceived as a tangible thing. A structure. A wall. A block. And most of all—a reason for you to stop writing that everyone will understand. “Oh, geez, man. Blocked? Yeah. I get it.” And you won’t feel so alone. You’ll feel so validated in fact that you won’t even notice you’ve abdicated your power. There are others who have been blocked. You’ll identify with their sheer numbers. And soon, it will be easier to push that true whisper even deeper. This isn’t real. This isn’t real.
And so the years will pass. Your stories’ calls will go unanswered.
But what if writer’s block became your greatest teacher? What if the natural pause in the creative process was viewed as an invitation to move deeper into your story, rather than a signal to stop?
When our expectations of our work don’t match up with what occurs during a writing session, we may freeze. When our work brings us into unfamiliar emotional territory, we might turn away. When we’re faced with a craft challenge we can’t yet solve, we could throw up our hands and leave the story, floundering and flopping without us on the page. But those aren’t the only options. We could stay awhile. Ask some questions. Pour a cup of tea and listen to our work. We could cultivate a relationship with our writing that isn’t reliant on the product of a particular day, but rather thrives on the interdependence between the writer and her muse.
Writers block is not the enemy. It’s an opportunity. It’s not a storyline about how you’re not good enough. It’s a chance to engage more intimately with your work.
Don’t turn away to soon. Only you can write the story that is standing at the threshold of your heart. “Knock, knock,” says your story.
Your line? “Who’s there?”
Your next step? Listen.