I’ve been in a dry spell, writing-wise, for a couple of months now. Maybe more. There are plenty of things I could blame it on: pressures at my day job, changes in life’s externals, my cat (have to get a cat first…), you name it. The truth is, it’s my fault.
I think of writer’s block as a sort of mental arthritis. If you’re still young and haven’t had the pleasure, arthritis is one of those things that happen to you as you age. You start getting pains here and there, your shoulder hurts, your knees hurt, and so on. So you begin cutting back, you pamper yourself to minimize the pains, and as a result you begin losing flexibility and range of motion. After a while, the muscles you’ve quit using begin to atrophy, and as your abilities decrease, your life becomes smaller. It’s a gradual process and you might not notice it much at first, and when you do, you might not want to think about it, because who wants to think about getting old? And if you accept all of that as a natural part of aging, you slowly turn into a shadow of your former self.
You don’t have to accept it. Yeah, it hurts, trust me, I know, but you can fight back. You can pop some anti-inflams, you can keep your weight down to reduce the load on your joints, instead of babying yourself you can hit the weights to strengthen the muscles around the joints, you can get into yoga (I recommend Purna, if you can find a teacher). Don’t buy it? Do you believe in evidence? It is not uncommon to lose height as you age, time, gravity and misadventure tend to compress the vertebra and the discs between them and a person who was six feet tall at twenty can easily lose an inch or two by the time they’re sixty. Yoga and exercise can give you back some of that height, and you can measure your progress with a ruler. Numbers don’t lie.
With me, at least, a similar thing happens with writing. Normally I keep a wall between my writing process and any expectations I might have for things I’ve already written, but that’s not always easy to do and once those mental barricades start to leak, my expectations begin to poison my new writing projects. New ideas start to dry up because my attitudes have changed and either I have unrealistically lofty expectations or I disrespect any new idea that comes along and kick it back out the door. And the longer I allow this to go on, the worse I get, to the point where eventually I don’t want to write anything, for any reason. It has become uncomfortable, maybe even painful. (Why am I doing this? What’s the point? Why am I wasting my time?) And even though I’m aware of what’s happening, I don’t want to think about it, and over time that barricade that used to protect me has eroded until my writing life is basically swamped by unmet expectations and lousy attitudes. Mental arthritis: reduced flexibility, no range of motion, discomfort if not actual pain, smaller life.
Well, screw that.
If there’s a yoga class for writers, I haven’t heard about it yet, and if you know about one I’m all ears. But lacking that, I can pick up a barbel, or a pen, which feels almost as heavy right about now. And I can start bricking the wall back up, because whatever may or may not happen with anything I’ve written is really out of my control. And I can go back to work, even if it feels like I have to teach myself the whole bloody process all over again. I can start listening, too, which is actually pretty easy. Last night a guy told me that he wasn’t ready to die yet, so he went to the doctor and they gave him the angioplastic…
Yogi lives, and I ain’t dead yet either.