I just started reading War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, and I’m already smitten with it. With a subtitle like “Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles”, it seems like a no-nonsense manual for dealing with that most dangerous of foes: ‘Writer’s block’. It is one of the most talked about issues surrounding my beloved occupation. In an ironic twist, it’s also one of the most written about. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of galling too. I mean, think about it. You’re sitting there, twisting in the wind, your mind like this:
Not only does some joker not have the same problem, but they get their book published. All on the back of your effort and anguish. It’s almost as if they are profiting from your misfortune. And ya know what? There’s no… Wait a second. … Okay, I’ve taken my ‘chill pill’ and had a cup of coffee. I’m all better.
“Resistance”, is what Pressfield calls it and I like that. Not only does giving it a name take away some of the power and fear, it also externalizes the issue. ‘Writer’s block’ is something that is wrong with you, the writer. ‘Resistance’ is something else, grinding on your productivity, keeping you from succeeding. Damn, I like that idea. Oh, here’s another cute ‘writer’s block’ thing I found, while I was supposed to be working:
For a good portion of my adult, writing life I’ve been lucky to not be afflicted with serious blockage – in the traditional sense. Sure, I’ve had my moments, when I knew what to write but couldn’t figure out how. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by good writers, with lots of insights on productivity. I love the idea of ‘resistance’ and I’m going to plow through this book in no time. But, I do have this other, related, problem. It’s almost the opposite, in fact. I’ve got Muses.
(Sounds like a medical condition, when I put it like that, doesn’t it? “Sorry, sir, but the tests came back positive. It’s congenital Muses, all through your juicy head-meat. And it’s inoperable.”)
I’ve got three and they’re all heavy drinkers, with flaming tempers. I spend a lot of time not doing to writing I should be doing and the Muses get pissed. There’s never much warning before they lash out and drag me into a creative space. It’s happened in meetings, during hospital visits, funerals, weddings – you name it. Whatever I was focused on is out the window and I get caught up in the turn of a phrase, or snippet of dialogue. Sometimes, I’ll find myself doodling and the doodling becomes the blueprint for a series of robot-themed romance novels, or the structure of a hypothetical short film that just has to be drafted right now. Usually, by the time I’ve exorcised one notion, six others have popped up. It’s the desperate attempt to keep my soul in the creative sphere, I’m sure, but the net effect is to torture me.
They’re driving the speedboat and I’m floating in the water. There are skis on my feet and I’m holding a rope. In the best case scenario, I get a few seconds of warning before the boat takes off at outrageous speeds. The Muses, they laugh and chuck empty whiskey bottles over the side. Do they even know I’m behind the boat, desperately trying to stay on my feet? Do they even know they’re driving a boat?! And do they even care? Well, of course they do. The Muses only torture me when I’m not working, silly. If I sit on my ass too long, they fire up the speedboat and we end up doing laps around the Pacific. And they will only stop if I’m drowning or if I get back to work.
Can I complain? After all, at least the Muses keep me well-stocked on ideas. Right? Well, I get both ways, coming and going. And I damned well will hold on to my right to whine and complain. You know what happens after the Terrible Urge to Create has seized me? Right after the flood waters of (hostile) inspiration recede, I’m left with a half-dozen sketches of work – each one demanding attention, each one begging me to save it from erasure and dismemory. It’s a kind of writer’s block, an overwhelming sense that I have too much on my plate, that I cannot salvage a damn thing.
Look, maybe this makes some sense to others, or (more likely) these are the ramblings of an overworked, undercaffinated fool. But the point I’m meandering towards here is simple. The forces of creation are not to be trifled with. ‘Resistance’ wouldn’t be an issue if you weren’t compelled to do this work. The only reason I do write is because I can’t not do it. Heed my advice and listen to your Muse(s). Don’t let them marinate in your laziness. Do your work. Sharpen your tools, pay attention to your craft and let the more angelic nature of your Muse(s) guide you.
When he’s not taking involuntary water-skiing lessons from his sadistic Muses, Patrick Jennings-Mapp likes to write scripts for puppet shows. He doesn’t have any puppets, so he puts socks on his hands. But sometimes, he just talks to his hands. If you send your puppet show script to him at patrick AT escapecollective DOT com, he will give you a free puppet show script critique.