Friday, July 12, 2013

On Unicorns, Rainbows, and Rest


I came across this photo in my Facebook feed last week (courtesy of The Institute of Children's Literature), and I couldn't help but breath a giant sigh of relief. Which was immediately followed by a torrent of doubt. But so many other people say you have to work through it. Write every day even if it sucks. Write yourself out of writer's block! Don't stop, no matter what!

For weeks I felt like I was beating my head against a wall with my current work-in-progress. I just couldn't seem to get back to that beautiful place of writerly bliss. You know, the place where I sit down and look at the blank screen and suddenly the story begins to flow effortlessly and the words stack up as my fingers fly across the keyboard like a unicorn galloping across a rainbow on the wings of inspiration.

Okay, in reality maybe there's not quite so many rainbows and unicorns, but you get what I'm saying.

I was forcing myself to write, waffling between two ideas--both with potential--but coming out with exactly what the above quote describes: uninspired dreck. The more I wrote, the more frustrated I became, and the more I fell into an "I love you but I don't like you right now" relationship with both of my stories. So, with few other options and still feeling like I was breaking some sort of set-in-stone, thou-shalt-not-stop-writing rule, I took the above advice and stepped away. I didn't touch my laptop for several days in a row, worked on other creative projects that didn't involve writing, and curled up for some much needed reading therapy. I cleared the clutter from my word-mired mind and made room for inspiration to return from its vacation.

And it did.

After a week, I began to feel the itch to take up my pen. And as of today, I finally have a solid outline for my book and am ready to press forward. 

Also, my house is freakishly clean.

I learned a couple things from this little exercise. One: At some point I think you have to release yourself from the notion that there's a perfect formula for anything. Otherwise, you'll waste valuable time trying to follow other people's strategies. Everyone's process is different, and that's okay. Maybe your path to inspiration looks like plowing forward now and straightening your plot lines later. Maybe it looks like taking a long walk or watching your favorite comedy. Maybe it looks like closing the laptop (or notebook) and only writing to jot down notes as they come to you. Whatever works for you, go forth and do without guilt.

Two: I think it's important to remember there's a difference between quitting and resting. Quitting is a result of fear. Resting is a result of movement. It's a natural and necessary part of the cycle: work, recharge, work, recharge. 

No matter what your strategy is for getting unstuck, I think it would benefit all of us to give ourselves permission to rest. You can't go forever without burning out. Just because you take a break, doesn't mean you're giving up--it means you're filling up. And that's not just okay, it's good.

What about you? What strategy works for you when it comes to tackling creative block? What refills your cup of inspiration? I'd love to hear from you!

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