A friend recently asked me about writers' block and what to do when you have it. If it exists! (Which it doesn't! It can't, right?)
But there are times...
There are times when it does. It isn't a block, exactly. It's like you have the words in you. The ideas. The sentences. A certain shape and sound to what you want to say.
The swirl of words is most active at certain times of day. This can be different for everyone.
Swirls of words like walking.
So when you are out walking, at the furthest point from your house, the perfect sentence will alight next to you, black feathers shining against a winter-grey sky. You will walk more confidently with the knowledge that there it is. You've seen it! All is not lost.
You will carry the sentence in your head all the way home, tenderly, so as not to damage it.
But then you get home. You find the laptop, pour some tea, and sit down.
And I'm sorry. But the sentence might be gone.
That's the trouble. The words are fast, silent fliers. Like owls. You don't hear them when the soar.
You will look everywhere, but even the shadow is missing.
And you can't remember, after all, what it was you were going to say. All you remember is the feeling you had, when briefly you could see it in full relief.
And after that, of course, what it feels like is loss. The key is not to panic.
Never panic, unless panic is necessary.
"Writers block", you call it. Because it is a block. Or is it?
It's a detour. Somehow your words are not staying the course, waiting their turn to spill out onto your keyboard in the correct chute. That's all. They are still in you.
Do not get mad at yourself.
Do not feel frustrated.
Do not wonder why you were out walking. I mean, seriously, if you'd been home, in front of the screen, you would have typed the words.
Or would you?
Or would they have come to you at all?
Don't worry. Word detours happen to everyone.
I have some advice on how to find your missing words. Yes. I can do that. I can give advice. I may or may not have had word detours in the past. (In the present.) (In the future.)
My advice is:
1. Walk more.
2. Walk less.
3. When you are walking, listen to music.
4. When you are walking, listen to nothing.
5. Take a pen and paper with you, when you are walking, just in case.
The last few times I have been out walking in the woods, I have seen older men, running. Not runners, running. And never women. Always men, always wearing unsuitable clothing, like suits or shoes with hard soles. I think these men were going for a walk in the woods. They were walking towards their words or away from them. And while they were walking, they suddenly remembered a feeling from a long time ago, and they began to run.
My kids run through the woods the same way. Suddenly, in short bursts, like they can't contain the rush of energy that suddenly came through them.
The men always look embarrassed if I meet their eye.
Embarrassed but liberated.
I wonder if they were walking, found some words, and went home to write them down, slipping in their hard-soled shoes on the broken gravel paths.
When I am at a certain point in a project, I stop reading. I can't read anything except what I'm doing, or I get confused. Confused is the wrong word, but it is as accurate as any. This has something to do with the way my own memory plays tricks with me. Was that something I just read or something I wrote?
But at other points in a project, I read more. I read voraciously. I read like I've been starved for words and have to replenish my own supply.
So that is the rest of my advice:
6. Read more.
7. Read less.
8. Do not read at all.
9. Buy books to read when you are finished what you're writing.
10. Do not get overwhelmed when you look at all the amazing books that have already been written.
11. Do not start to think that maybe, after all, the world doesn't need your book.
12. Do not, under any circumstances, turn on the television.
13. Go for another walk.
15. Open your laptop and disconnect it from Facebook.
16. Nothing that important ever happens on Facebook.
17. Or Twitter.
18. Or someone else's blog.
19. Open the file that contains the thing you are working on. (This is the hardest step.) Look around the room and perhaps clean it. Looking directly at your WIP can be dangerous.
19 1/2. No, it can't. That was a joke. Look directly at it. But stealthily, from the side, so it can't dart away.
20. Read it. (I dare you -- when reading your own work -- to NOT start automatically editing. I dare you to not turn that editing into adding words. I dare you to not write until you realize you've missed lunch and the laundry is overflowing and the dog needs to go out. You should take the dog for a walk.)
21. Take the dog for a walk.
22. Take a pen.
Repeat as desired.