Creative Detox: Using Writers’ Block to Refocus

Doors of opportunity

Doors of opportunity

I hold my hands up. I’ve been struggling with what I can only assume is writer’s block these past few weeks. Not in a hand wringing, anguished kind of way, rather an intellectual curiosity as to why the creative juices have not been flowing. Or not at the level they had been.

I know writers who go into meltdown when the muse goes AWOL without warning and for an unspecified duration. Books have been written on the subject presumably making a fortune for those who, smugly, still have the muse under control and at their fingertips.

This past few weeks has not been like that for me. Ideas that would normally see me rushing to the keyboard have left me bored and uninterested. Completely disengaged. Surely this state of affairs should have me pulling out my hair, frantic at the loss of what is as important to me as breathing. Alas no, nothing of the sort.

Of one thing I’m absolutely certain, this is only a temporary blip. I am confident enough to accept my limitations but also to have faith in what I know to be true. If I’m not writing then there’s a reason and my subconscious is desperately trying to send me a message.

I feel sorry for my subconscious.

Usually I’m quite turned in, instinctively understanding what’s going on underneath the surface. Rarely does the old SC have much to do. Something is seriously awry if the poor dear is behind a locked door hammering away and yelling like crazy and I’ve been oblivious. In a final attempt to get noticed she’s (definitely a she, no doubt about it) gone and pulled the plug on every creative nuance in my brain. Smart move really.

What may have put a spanner in her works, though, is that it hasn’t had the response she hoped for. I don’t feel despair or loss, rather I’ve enjoyed the disconnect and it’s given me time to reflect and refocus. Maybe this was her plan all along. Lord, she’s devious.

As regular readers know I’ve spent the past several months helping to set up an English speaking paper in The Hague, which has taken all my time and energy to the detriment of everything else. It’s been a glorious, frustrating, energizing and exhausting experience.

As the workload has become more organised, things are starting to gel. There have been arguments and frustrations as we’ve found our voice and niche. The lessons I’ve learned have been intriguing. Personal strengths and abilities have been tested and honed and new strengths have come to the fore, but most of all it’s been helping me fine tune the direction I really want to go in.

This was never meant to be a full-time or permanent commitment and now it’s getting established and can stand on its own feet I can step back a little – although I hope to keep a hand on the tiller for a while yet (I accept I have control issues).

Reading other writers has always inspired me, I’m intrigued by the different processes individual writers use to create a finished piece. How they chose to craft words, how they paint the pictures they do. I’ve been in a privileged position to observe this over the past months and the experience has intensified my love of words, their patterns, nuances and power.

Whilst my own writing and creativity has stalled, the payoff has been more time to let my mind wander, something essential to creativity in any field. It’s something we don’t allow ourselves the freedom to do in the hurly burly of our hectic lives, where there’s always another item on the ‘to do ‘ list.

Letting my mind wander is something I’m spectacularly good at.

Ask my family, they have (allegedly) entire conversations with me that I tune out. On especially good mind-wandering days I have been known to put items of clothing in the fridge, dirty laundry in the tumble dryer and regularly leave saucepans simmering on the stove and forget about them. Do I worry about early dementia? Not at all. I know exactly where my mind is at any given time, but can’t always guarantee it’s operating in the same reality as anyone elses.

So where is this lyrical waxing leading? The wandering mind, loosed from the ties of deadlines and ‘must dos’, has the freedom to head off in multiple directions at the same time. Confusing for family members who are intent on engaging in a rational conversation while the randomness is in full flow. Where’s James Joyce when you need a like minded spirit?

The results have been extraordinary. I have planned out two books, drawn pictures in my mind and replayed scenes in my imagination as if watching a movie. I know the time will come when the next step happens, the pictures in my head translate to words on the page. It will happen but I’m not quite ready yet

I’ve decided to balance my writing with editing, but instead of monthly deadlines with the stress and drama that inevitably entails, I have chosen to focus on larger projects where I can work one on one with authors, helping them make sense of their words and bringing order to their creative process. I know, without a doubt, this helps me to focus on my projects too. It’s something that stirs and excites me and I can’t wait to get started. Projects have started to line up and I can’t wait to see where this road leads.

Sometimes to move forward you have to let go – of people, preconceptions and patterns of behaviour. A de-cluttering of the mental processes is a normal, healthy and essential part of being creative and sane. Trust your instincts, have faith in your abilities and see this time for what it is –  a chance to find a new focus.

A positive not a negative.

About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
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14 Responses to Creative Detox: Using Writers’ Block to Refocus

  1. Maggie Myklebust says:

    Once you relax your mind will generously hand over the secrets and solutions it is now stubbornly withholding.

  2. Invader_Stu says:

    I’ve gone through a few temp writers blocks dips. The best solution I’ve found is not to worry about them. When I do I end up getting myself and more annoyed and unable to write. don’t throw away the ideas you are not excited about either. Sometime I find I’m just not in the mood and don’t want to write an idea I had but later when the mood catches me it becomes easy to write about.

  3. I’d like to go on record as wishing to invite your beleaguered Sub Conscious to visit over the holidays. Anyone who can arrange for a periodic clearing of the mind of the trivial fluff and noisy pesterings of the proverbial writing ‘to do’ list is a Godsend in my eyes. Imagine: rest, reflection, refocus, sound decisions on where you really want to be headed AND fully planning not one but TWO books? I’m glad you aren’t concerned because I certainly am not. Your SB will let the Muse out of the closet when she is (and you, too) good and ready. In the meantime I could use her for a girl’s day out (or three). I can promise her a lovely glass of red 😉

  4. yarnsongyoga says:

    These are words that always help me: Only when you empty a cup of stale water can you refill it again with pure crystal water. Sounds like, far from fighting it, you embrace the time. We are, after all, human ‘beings’ not ‘doings’.. Down time is essential to our health.

  5. Kym Hamer says:

    Jane, I am a firm believer in the philosophy that when you let something go you make space for something extraordinary.

    I look forward to what’s next for you.

  6. Carrie says:

    Fantastic blog post, Jane, wonderfully written. 🙂

  7. Jane says:

    Very true…

  8. Jo @ SummertimePublishing says:

    Aaah, writer’s block. When I last had this I tried everything to get me out of it, even wrote a list of ‘cures’ and found there were over 50 of them. In the end I discovered two that worked. Bach flower remedies (yes I know it’s whacky) and Tom Evans’ super little book, called Blocks. However, Jane, I find your own attitude refreshing… ignoring it, safe in the knowledge that it will go away. And if I know you, Jane, it already has, right?

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