I was out for a stroll the other day and came across a woman walking her dog – or trying to. The dog was lying on the sidewalk, refusing to budge. She tried begging, pleading, bribing with treats, etc. but the dog was having none of it. Yanking and suppressed red-faced yelling – because of course she didn’t want to make a scene but she was getting REALLY frustrated – wasn’t working either. The pooch just lay there like a plush toy that had seen one too many pajama parties. Eventually she picked up the mutt, none too gently, and without a glance at the gathering crowd of amused bystanders, marched off home.
I know that dog. That dog is the writer within who’s supposed to be devoting the first hour of every day to a memoir/exploration about my spiritual community experience in the the 1990s. (It’s my main commitment in my 28 Days of Creative Recovery. For more on that, ask me to send you my May 2010 newsletter – firstname.lastname@example.org.) I’ve suited up and shown up most days, I’m proud to say, but the first day I sat down to write, the writer within refused to move.
Determined to keep my commitment to The Muse, I decided I would write about my doubts, usually the ringleader in any case of writer’s block.
“Something about this project feels old, dark, dank…like re-entering a stale, airless room that is better left to rot. Plus I’m buried in doubt, wondering if it’s just self-indulgence, hanging on to old grievances, wallowing in the past… A masochistic way of punishing myself – interminably. I’ve bumped into all of those elements in the back rooms of my mind, and there is a definite danger that any one of them could run the show. They’d like nothing better. Or maybe it’s a futile attempt to bring legitimacy to an experience that I should have moved on from long before now. Or maybe it’s a book that I ought to have written eons ago and it’s way too late now.”
No wonder the writer within was lying prone, declining all overtures.
But the thing is that writing about all of the doubt unleashed something. It wasn’t in my head anymore, preventing the brain synapses from firing. It was on the page.
Next I decided to fantasize about abandoning the project altogether.
“So what do I do? Light a big bonfire on Ambleside Beach, and with all of the nice West Van families with their dogs and baby strollers and matching Lulu Lemon outfits bearing witness, dance naked as all of the notes and journals and yearning and wondering that have engulfed this project crumble and melt and reduce themselves to ashes? And then giddily walk away cleansed and renewed, ready to reincarnate as a children’s author, provided the police whose station is just two blocks from the beach don’t haul me away first? It’s be easier than trying to write this thing.”
That was fun. As it turned out, I went past my hour and got some writing done on the project that day. The same thing happened every day thereafter.
The most important outcome from unleashing my doubt and desire to quit is that I reconnected with my determination to complete this book. Not because anyone is interested in it necessarily, nor because the publishers are clamouring, not for any reason other than it will gladden my soul.
Should you feel blocked in a project, try giving voice to the doubt, resistance, loathing, despair, ambition, fear, whatever feelings might be in the way of your creative flow. And if you don’t know what the feelings are, even posing questions like “What is stopping me from writing today?” or “What is blocking this project?” can take you off the sidewalk and onto the creative freeway.