Over the weekend, I was writing in mud. I spent over seven hours in front of my computer, toiling away on something that should have taken me an hour and a half or two hours to finish. I battled with every word, for the most part unsuccessfully. They stood stubbornly in the distance, flipping me the middle finger. It’s actually been like this for about a week now. I keep pushing down on the gas pedal. The gears grind and grind but I can’t seem to get forward momentum. Just like everyone else, I’ve got life stressors and relationship challenges. But typically, they do not interfere with my ability to produce. I can usually compartmentalize. I usually have the wherewithal to power through.
But every now and then, inertia has me in its ruthless grip.
I’ve never really bought into the concept of “writer’s block,” however, I’m not sure that I have a better terms for what is happening right now. I do know that this unfortunate malady is not limited to writers. Painters, musicians, dancers and other creative sorts also occasionally hit a wall. The question is: what do we do?
The immediate word that pops into my mind is compassion. Perhaps when we’re stuck, the first thing we should do it to treat ourselves with compassion. I think gentleness and curiosity would be in the mix too. Sitting in front of that computer for seven hours yesterday was not a very compassionate response to my struggle. My thinking was that I would muscle through and make it happen because that’s what good writers do. Ultimately, I was able to complete the task but when I finally got up from my computer I was depleted, cranky and a little depressed. Why did I do that to myself? When I think about it, I know a lot of other writers. I would never suggest to anyone that she anchor herself to her desk and slog through the day like that. Instead, I would invite her into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. I’d smile, squeeze her hand and remind her to breathe. I may suggest she grab a camera, go for a walk and shake off the stress of not being able to make it happen. I would also remind her that this is temporary. So, why couldn’t I do that for myself?
How we treat ourselves when we’re in the mud is really important, not only for eventually getting out of the mud but also for our overall sense of well-being. Part of honoring our creative process means honoring ourselves within that process. If we’re experiencing a block, then something in our creative psyche is not working in the moment. The logical approach would be to slow down the spinning, lean in a little closer and investigate as to what’s going on. But most of us just push harder. I don’t know anyone who responds well to a boss that cracks the whip and yells at us, but that’s what we do when we attempt to override disruptions in our flow. And I think it ends up having the opposite effect. We tighten up, which only serves to constrict the flow even more. It also makes our hearts very weary.
Because I write to live, running into the mud feels like a death sentence. This is especially true right now; I have a lot going on and every word that I write is like a blast of air into my personal life raft. The pressure to produce is at an all time high. When words aren’t coming to me, the flames of urgency start to take over. But that very pressure only serves to perpetuate the difficulty.
Maybe when we’re in the mud, something is trying to get our attention. Perhaps a soul conundrum is seeking resolution or an old hurt is asking for release. Maybe we really are too hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Maybe our brains are simply overheating. Maybe our bodies need us to lighten up and go out and play. (Or stretch out and take a rest.) No matter the issue, I have the feeling that the creative psyche goes into lockdown until the problem has been addressed.
So after treating ourselves with compassion, the next step is to ask ourselves what we need. The answer might not come immediately. We may have to step away from the canvas or the piano and allow ourselves some gentle space to reflect. And once the answer comes, can we give ourselves the simple permission to address whatever needs our attention, even if it means stepping away from our work for a while?
Ironically, I’ve been able to write this post this morning. However, I still feel very much mired in the mud. What I need today is a long, strong hug from someone who loves me. I need to go to my dance class and sweat. I need to make some space to grieve a little death that I experienced this morning. I need to pull myself off the grid for the rest of the afternoon. I need to stand on my porch and breathe.
The final thing I need to do is to trust. I need to have faith that the flow will return, the words will come scampering back and that I will indeed get out of this eventually. I am human and as such, I am subject to certain forces of rhythm and time that I can’t control. Yet if I can remain compassionate and patient, there is grace to be had, even in the deepest mud.
Deep, unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state.
– Ira Gershwin