Be Nice
Contributor
Written by
Emily Lackey
June 2011
Contributor
Written by
Emily Lackey
June 2011
Where do you start when you haven't written in over two months?

At the beginning of course. You open a blank document, you look at everything but the blinking cursor in the top left corner for a few minutes, and you begin. You get distracted by the things on your desk (dings in your dictionary cover, your Amazon bill, the stack of back copies of The New Yorker), but you begin.

Today I read seven different articles about overcoming writer’s block. Am I the only person who resents that idiom? It’s not a block, really. It’s not the inability to write a sentence. It’s not like there is a brick wall between you and the English language. For me it’s distraction. It's self-doubt. It’s finding an excuse to do everything but write. It’s putting writing at the bottom of the pile, right below scrubbing my ringed toilets and the weird gunk stuck in the corner of my shower. Marvin Bell said to a class full of eager writing students one summer in Prague that there is no such thing as writer’s block. What you produce may be absolute shit, he said, but poor quality is not akin to not being able to write. You can always write. You can always create a sentence. You can always connect subject and verb.

I want this piece to be instructive for those of you struggling to get back in the saddle. I want to use overused analogies like “get back in the saddle,” and I want to compare beginning to write after a hiatus to taking time off from the gym, how your “muscles” might hurt for the first few days and how it might be a struggle. I want to write one thousand or so helpful words that seem to suggest that if you simply follow these rules, you’ll overcome the downward suck of no motivation and an easily distracted mind.

Except: I don’t have those rules. I don’t have a process for getting back on track that you can mimic, and, if I did, it probably wouldn’t be very inspiring. For example, today’s valiant attempt to begin writing again looked like this: an early wakeup, Frosted Mini Wheats while I watched the season finale of The Real Housewives of Orange County, forty minutes trying to put on makeup and get dressed while being easily distracted by laundry that needed to be folded or a bag that needed to be unpacked or a stack of books that needed to be rearranged, an hour of catching up on work, thirty minutes uploading, editing, and tagging photos from this past weekend, and fifteen minutes catching up on facebook. Now, suddenly, it’s eleven o’clock, and my stomach is starting to rumble just in time to start wasting time before lunch.

The other week at therapy, we talked about the tendency to self-destruct—to wear sweatpants for an entire weekend, to not write for weeks, to eat a bag of Doritos for dinner—and my therapist said something along the lines of “Just do something.” The objective isn’t to do everything (my usual all-or-nothing tendency that involves a strict daily schedule of reading, writing, submitting, and gymming), it’s simply to do something. To begin. To open a new word document and write a sentence, to read a magazine, to do something. Being able to do everything, to get up and write and read and edit and submit my work, happens only when I am feeling great about myself and my life. And the only way to feel great about myself and my life when I feel anything but great about myself and my life is to do something that makes me feel great about myself and my life. It is different for everyone, but what makes me feel the most fulfilled is feeling connected. I call a friend. I meet someone for lunch. I put on makeup and real clothes, and I leave the house.

I read an article the other day about the creative process and how it is chemically necessary for your creativity to lessen during periods of excessive logic. It could be anything: a new job, a new baby, dealing with debt, or, say, selling all of your things, quitting your job, and moving to New Hampshire.

I’m in a period of excessive logic. I have bags to pack and books to read and lists to make and boxes to stack. It makes sense then that there is less room in my mind for observation and inspiration. I’m too busy listing furniture on Craig’s List and reserving a U-Haul to think about how the clock on the wall could be a perfect metaphor for—

See. I can’t even think of a metaphor.

Of course I am finding it difficult to focus on a short story long enough for it to evolve when I’m so thoroughly entrenched in my own.

But I’m not making excuses. I’m not. I’m simply saying that it makes sense why I wouldn’t feel as inclined or inspired to write, why I’m so distracted by the few items on my desk, why I feel overwhelmed every moment (even in this moment) by the mental list of things to do and dates to remember. So maybe it makes sense why you haven’t been writing or creating or painting or working out or reading or doing the things that make you feel the most alive too.

It’s okay.

Just begin. And be kind to yourself. The tendency when we don’t write or when we eat an entire row of Oreos is to chastise ourselves. We call ourselves lazy and stupid and fat and untalented. Try this instead (it’s the one rule I am going to give you, but only because I can promise that it works every time): be that person in your life who loves and supports and protects you unconditionally. Be your own best friend or your mother or your father or your husband or your brother. Think of how they would speak to you (in what tone, with what words), and think of what they would say to you in that moment. My version changes depending on the situation, whether I’m calling myself fat and ugly or stupid and untalented, but it always involves the softest of tones. “Darling,” I’ll say, “Everything is okay. You are not (insert self-slander here). You are lovely and funny and smart and talented.” Sometimes I cry a little. Sometimes I cry a lot. Sometimes it takes a few minutes and a few reminders to sink in. But it always works, and I always experience the same swell of well-being that comes from being gentle with myself.

So. I’ll begin slowly. I’ll post this piece. I’ll have lunch. I’ll read from the newest Granta. I’ll order a magnifying glass for my OED. And maybe tomorrow I’ll write the first one thousand words of a short story. Or maybe I won’t. But I will do something.
(You can read more of my musings at www.awordfor.blogspot.com.)

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