Every writer deals with feeling blocked a little differently. Wally Lamb says that if it gets really bad he goes down to a river near his house where his proximity to the flow of the current loosens something within him. Ridley Pearson, meanwhile, just writes his way through it, figuring whatever junk comes out can be rewritten because within junk is often something valuable in its rawest form. I have learned to wait. This is fitting, I suppose, since I am a naturally impatient spirit. But I have learned over many, many trials and errors that there is no point in me putting words on the page until my attention is at least near what I am wanting to share. So I wait. And as I wait, I am like the ophthalmologist changing lens after lens in that monstrous vision contraption. “Which is better, one or two? Now which is better, one or two?” Each lens is a different perspective on the same idea, and gradually my vision clears and I see what I have been waiting for and I can begin to write.
Sometimes the wait is long and sometimes it is short. A few months ago, when I was still working on my memoir, I waited two hours to begin a new chapter. This was unprecedented. If I am not careful, the waiting can become a kind of solitary confinement where the mind offers stories of my cruel isolation and imminent creative demise. But this did not happen. For two hours I sat exactly where I am sitting now, and waited and waited, changing lens after lens, until I’d found it.
I wrote one sentence that day, leaving the rest for the following morning, but I considered it one of my best writing days of recent years. As writers, we encounter all levels of silence. Words hold their own pleasant sounds, and these words are our tools and our friends, and the silence, if there is enough of it, can feel like our enemy. But silence is the soil from which every story grows, the emptiness we need to see the world without comparison. To make an enemy of it is to make an enemy of myself, as if I am just my words, as if I am nothing but noise and gesture, and that I may cease to exist when I close my eyes to enter the fertile silence of dreams.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.