The other day, I chatted with an author friend. She’s trying to write her next book, and it’s just not working. For months, she’s been working on the proposal, but the busyness of life, amongst other things, is keeping her from finishing.
She wants this book to be great, to be something special. But every time she puts her fingers to keys, she feels stuck, as if her best idea is nowhere near good enough.
It’s just not working.
So she waits for the words to come, hoping to get inspired. And I have no doubt that eventually she’ll write something. Eventually. But that may very well be a long wait.
On feeling stuck
Of course, this is natural. Most of us can relate to such feelings of stuckness. Steven Pressfield calls this “Resistance” with a capital R, a personal, vindictive force bent on destroying your creativity. And it must be slain every day. Every. Single. Day.
Anne Lamott calls it “emptiness” and prescribes going for a walk or listening to your favorite band, doing something to take your mind off the pressure of creating so that you can return to the work when you are “full.”
You might call it “writer’s block” or something else. I don’t really care. The point is we all face it, this feeling of not knowing what to write — or worse, feeling as if nothing we write is “good enough.”
So what do we do when this happens? What do I do? And what should you do?
Just write something. Anything at all. Just put words to paper. Place fingers on keys and start moving. Creativity lives off momentum, and it dies from inertia.
Permission to fail
What you create today doesn’t have be great, and it probably won’t be. Because we all know how bad a first drafts can be and often is. But the creative life is more about repetitions than revelations. It’s about going to work every day and trusting the mystery.
As my friend Marion Roach Smith says,
Writing isn’t mystical, but it is spiritual.
If you think about the difference between what we tend to relegate to mysticism, those activities are often entrenched in enigma. We don’t quite know how they work or even if they work. However, spirituality tends to be a very personal, and often practical purpose.
At the same time, being spiritual is different from being religious. Not everyone has a religion. But everyone has a spirituality, a worldview, some way of making sense of the universe. And out of that spirituality comes our best work.
No, I don’t think writing is mystical. I think it is very simple and ordinary. And like most things of that sort — relationships, work, parenting — it can be hard. Very hard. But it’s not complicated or impossible to comprehend.
All you have to do is begin and trust process.
The work of writing
I often liken writing to working out, because I’m terrible at both.
I don’t understand the chemical process of how fat burns and muscle is grown. But I trust that if I push the barbell up and let it down towards my chest enough times that something important happens.
The same thing is true with writing. You don’t have to understand the words you are given today — or the way you pull them from the ether or turn them into sentences that communicate ideas.
All you have to do is your job. Which, today, is to write.
Do you ever struggle with not knowing what to write? Share in the comments.