Ever noticed that writer's block only strikes when you aren't writing?
Ha, ha: joke right? Not really.
Writer's block isn't something that happens to people who have never written anything. Which means, we who suffer from it can write. We have written. So why do we suddenly fear that we cannot do something we have proven we can do?
This is me, by the way. Oh, have I been blocked! I have even relabeled it as my "process." I can write for three months, I might tell you during a bad spell, but then I have to let it marinate for three months. I have to gear up, recharge my juices, blah, blah. All bull, of course.
I teach at Goddard, in the Masters' Degree program for Creative Writing, so I am surrounded by writers: beginning new projects, juggling multiple projects, despairing of ever being as good as the writers whose books they have just read. And who are publishing too - quirky, experimental, popular, and always unique creations of imagination. And yet - or maybe just "and" - once a month I will get a letter or an email from someone who scrubbing the floor on her hands and knees, who is throwing out all her old clothes 29 and a half years after she wore them (when we all know they will become fashionable again after 30). Who isn't writing, who's sure she will never to write again, but who has just finished color-coding all her shoes.
I could, at this point, give you a list of the essential dos and don'ts of all successful writers. I could continue to make fun of us, as if we writers are alone in our limbo of doubt and paralysis.
Instead, I want to talk about fear.
One of the things I have noticed recently is that people aren't nearly as afraid of what exists now as of what may happen. We worry about the fuzzy future, and about things that are out of our control.
This is not just writers, of course. Some of my doctor friends were recently in Washington D.C. to march in support of health reform. They want everyone to be able to stay healthy, even if, in some cases, they may not make as much money as they could. They listened, quite shocked, to people screaming epithets that I won't and don't have to repeat since their threats, and "N," "F," and other words, are all over the news. This anger is not about the details of a government bill. It comes from fear.
It's real. People are afraid. Not of what exists, but of the possibility that we aren't actually sure what's in front of us. It might be worse than we thought; there might be some underlying problem. We worry that we have something - it's ours, it belongs to us! - and someone is going to take it away or ruin it. Danger, danger! Warning, warning! It is as if we are standing on the very edge of the cliff and are too afraid to step away in case we slip in the opposite direction and fall over.
We are afraid, too, of the judgment of others. If we are "blocked" and therefore can't write the book, then no one can hate it. No one can reject us, as William Faulkner was rejected by the publisher who said: "Good God, I can't publish this!"
How can we be so afraid of something that is unwritten?
How can we fear, so very deeply, the scenarios of death and loss and doom that might happen in some unknown future situation with health care reform? We can make predictions about the future, but we don't really know what is going to happen. Why then, are we frozen on the edge of the cliff?
Who knows what the future could hold, if we let go of our fear?
Which brings me back to writing.
As a reader, I can't imagine a world without stories. How could I know half of what I know about the world, about myself, if I didn't have access to other people's stories? We need authors, and other artists and inventors, to dream the impossible so it can become possible. If we are so afraid of how our unwritten work might be received, we will never write it. And we will never have the chance to change people's minds - and our own - about what is actually scary about the future. And what is not.