Tag Archives: writer’s block

Overcoming Writers Block: Tickling the Muse II

In last year’s TED Talk speech the author of Eat, Pray, Love explains how she is able to handle the terrible pressure to make something genius after having a huge breakout bestseller. Her solution is to do as folks did before the Age of Reason, and think of your genius as something outside of yourself (the bonus is a great Tom Waits story).

This has been unbelievably helpful for me lately. If you are a creative person who has been haunted any kind of creative block, I highly recommend you watch it.

Don’t worry, the rest of my post will still be waiting below…

To open in a new tab: Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on Personifying Your Genius

Finding Your Genius

In short, she suggests that artists need a way to “create a safe distance” between ourselves and the anxiety we feel about our work. Thinking of genius as some kind of separate entity frees us from our fears that our brilliance won’t match our expectations.

It also means I get to have a new imaginary friend, a Puckish deity that hops like an invisible monkey around my computer desk, taunting me with unfinished sentences and half-baked ideas.

After I began to think of my own creativity as this impish being it assumed a greater importance in my life. My art and my creative space was no longer a task to be mastered or even a puzzle to be solved. It was demigod as revered as Dionysus (I suspect they’re cousins). It was also my oldest and dearest friend. In both cases, the measure of time and respect I had to give to the creative process increased dramatically, as it would if the Macy’s window mannequin came to life and offered to be your sweetheart.

So I would like to take a moment to speak to you about your demiurge, the fiery creative beast who lives in your belly, showers you with presents, abandons you for another woman, only to wake you from a dream as if she’d never left.

You know you, your muse. Let’s talk about her.

Have you been treating her right? Or have you been resentful? Avoiding her calls? Talking trash about her to your friends? Putting off quality time so you can watch telly, play Spades, or other trivial nonsense where she’s clearly not invited? Do you really think a Goddess, no matter how lonely, wants to hang out while you update your Facebook page? And if she did, you’d likely be annoyed that she showed up at such an inopportune moment.

Remember, time devoted to your genius need not be a two-way street: she is a demigod, and under no obligation to hang out with the likes of you in the first place. Know that there are many whose shrines to her greatness far surpass yours, that there are those who have devoted whole temples to her—and so many of these devotees with their trinkets and their affirmations have only seen the brightest glimpse of her visage. She owes you nothing, wretch.

Is your shrine tidy and free of cobwebs? Do you offer her gifts? Do you meditate daily on her awesomeness? If you hesitate (as I do!) to offer anything but a resounding “Yes!” to these queries, consider yourself lucky, chump. Lucky that she comes to you at all. Considering your petulance, she probably has a thing for you.

Don’t make that face, I’m sure you’ve had your suspicions. You wouldn’t have gotten into this whole creation thing in the first place if you hadn’t suspected the Muse pays more attention to you. Admit it, she makes you feel special. All those nights facing off with the keyboard to create something that will likely never put a penny in your pocket or a lover between your sheets were only fun when she was there.  And when she didn’t show up you resented her. Who the hell was she, besides a Goddess, besides the very thing that makes humans beautiful and inspirational, who the hell was she besides the reason we have libraries and museums and video games and Cathedrals—so what to all that, you could have gone drinking with your friends, both of them.

No matter that when you’re swilling Cosmos at cocktail parties you slur that her creative spark is your goddamned reason for living.

Here’s what I believe: you like her; she likes you. When you are ready to settle down and put her first in your life, she will be there for you. When you are a monk in your devotion and a lover in your ardor, when each day begins with an act of devotion to your creative urge, she will reward you with all the brilliance of your ego’s fantasies. You know, and I know, she will be waiting.

Better Than A Rubick’s Cube

On Tickling the Muse

[Part I]

pieces of the Grand Canyon

I enjoy writing. Sometimes I write a blog comment on some random blog because I am looking forward to stringing the words together. Connecting ideas like a Lego castle. I have to remind myself of this when my novel is broken down into chunks that look a great deal like homework assignments.

When you have writers block, it’s about not being able to find the words to match your ego. Unfortunately, you need a hefty ego to write a novel. It’s a huge fucking task and you need the possibility of greatness as a carrot on the end of the stick. The problem becomes that we let the ego frame the questions we’re asking. Instead of just telling a story or writing a sentence, we ask the pen to produce the most brilliant and witty thing ever written. No wonder we spend so much time staring at blank paper.

I have to remind myself that this is all just a game and I write the rules. The game is not “write the most amazing thing ever” because that would be a sucky boring game full of disappointment and everyone knows it. Instead I must see what little dance I can get the words to do. A much more fun game would be “Let’s see if we can make the rhythm and cadence of the paragraph match the intensity of the characters’ current emotional state” or “Let’s see if we can make a really off the wall pop culture metaphor.” How’s about: “Let’s see if we can find a way to make an allusion to Jorge Luis Borges.” It’s a puzzle with a practically infinite number of solutions. You can always solve it one way and come up with a more elegant solution later.

Of course this is easier said than done.

I have a lot of “talking head” scenes, where I’ve come up with the dialogue but the descriptions are *weak. I would edit such a scene and it felt like playing “fill in the blanks” with description. This stifled my creativity as I had a preconceived notion about the length of each passage. I was asking myself the least creative questions (“What does the furniture look like?”), thinking inside the box.

And when I am producing this kind of blanks and boxes drivel, it helps to remind myself of the game. I do this—I write—for fun. Despite any bitching about “writer’s block” in some ways I can’t help but play this game.  If I’m going to write a sentence, I’m usually going to take the extra time to think of the best possible way to say it. I will not hesitate to ask myself if there’s some way I can throw in a joke, a bold visual,a  fresh metaphor—yay, even a pun. It may even be second nature, but I’d hate to say so because I know I lose points for allowing a cliché. Every tweet, every grocery list, every note in the margins will be scrutinized and scored, as fast and sure as any Yatzee roll.

From here on out, I’m not allowing myself to think of writing as a chore. Sodoku is a chore. Farmville is a chore. Word search? A chore. Character, story, dialogue: Not chores—challenges. Some things to wrap my mind around. If some beauty happens, so much the better.

 Pieces of the Grand Canyon

Something I’ve been listening to: Just Jack – Writer’s Block

*which is weird because when I was young I always prided myself on writing descriptions but felt very insecure about my dialogue.