A ruminative and re-starting perspective.
Gerard Richter famously remarked, "Waiting for an idea to come to you is dangerous. "You need to come up with a concept." Of course, it's simpler to say than it is to accomplish. There is a sense of loss when you sit down at a computer with a Word document open and no words come out of your mouth. The last six months or so have been spent producing a weekly newsletter in an attempt to become a "real" writer. The prior four years have been spent publishing periodically to a good number of likes and follows (although it could always be more, you remind yourself).
In the words of a self-hating person, "I'm ashamed of myself Letter from Joseph Conrad apologizes to his editor for not being able to complete book installment of The Rescue, which had been agreed to be written. His next statement was, "I sit down faithfully every morning for eight hours a day, and that's all." On an 8-hour workday, I write three words, which I then delete before walking away in despair."
A newsletter was the first step in my quest to become a "real" writer, so I developed a routine. Contrary to Conrad, I did not sit for eight hours a day. The most of the time, I sat down for an hour or two. And I was on a roll for six months.
Then I encountered a brick wall and couldn't move forward. Since it is difficult to discover originality in creative work in today's society, I felt that I was not providing them with something fresh to enjoy. I pondered what else I could write about. In what way would you promote yourself to potential customers? Exactly why is self-promotion so challenging? Who cares what I have to say?
Insecurities greeted me every time I sat down to write, like an uninvited acquaintance. Coffee and solitude didn't help my incapacity to create.
As I sat in front of my computer, cursor blinking on a blank page, I was angry with my own lack of progress. This sensation of drudgery is familiar to me because it has happened many times in the past. My surroundings would remind me of how difficult being a writer is, how many are struggling (especially during the months of quarantine), how impatient I was becoming, and how far away I was from reaching my goals.
I realized then that it was time to take a break from the project altogether. After letting my readers know that I would be taking a break to work things out, I took some time off to do just that. I spent the following few months researching the science underlying motivation and daily routines, trying to learn from the accomplishments of other bright minds throughout history.
Mason Currey's email Subtle Maneuvers and his book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work were discovered through the wonder of the Internet, which is how I heard about Joseph Conrad's painful spells of writer's block. Others — normal folks like myself — have also experienced similar degrees of non-euphoria when they create. Writer's block might also be reframed in a different way. According to writer and cartoonist Austin Kleon, "reporter's block" is the cause of a lack of creativity. In this case, you should travel somewhere else and do something else.
Other writers and creators inspired similar feelings in me. Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of numerous best-selling nonfiction books, a writer I really admire, is a proponent of intellectual rabbit holes, as is David Foster Wallace. While traveling from home to work (even though it is just a few minutes away), Spanx creator Sara Blakely would come up with the most brilliant ideas. Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter behind hit TV programs including The West Wing, believes that the finest ideas occur while you're on the move.
As a result, I put everything I had learnt into practice. I ruminated over the following few months. I went for walks every day. In addition to going for runs, I allowed my thoughts wander when I was out there. I make an effort to be aware of my environment. In my spare time, I like reading a variety of novels. As a matter of fact, I've even read cartoons and saw images on Instagram. I copied and pasted interesting portions into Google Docs. There were short story, novel, newsletter, and art history ideas written down.
In short, I wrote as little as possible. Taking a vacation from writing would help my brain re-calibrate itself and lessen the friction that it was experiencing from its two sides — the good side telling me I could produce and the bad side warning me to stay away from the pen.
Abandoning something on which you've spent so much time and effort is undoubtedly heartbreaking. Although it might be difficult to stand back and review, it is important for personal growth. According to the author of the aforementioned NYT piece, "the notion of us all attempting again and again propelled me over the finish line."
A few months later, I felt ready to start writing again. This time I was prepared with a lot more wisdom and acceptance.