Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Down, Dog! I'm Writing.

By Deborah Sharp

The question is common at book-signings, workshops and panels: How do you deal with writer's block?

During my days as a newspaper reporter I learned there's no such thing, I tell people. Take one ill-tempered editor with the power to fire you, add a looming deadline you know you must not miss, now sit down at the frickin' computer and write. Abbacadabra, writer's block disappears!

The truth is even the best writer's flow can hit a snag. Not saying MINE has . . . just sayin.'

There's all kinds of advice out there for overcoming that blo ... er, snag. John Steinbeck counseled blocked writers to pretend they're writing to an aunt. P.J. O'Rourke said: ''Write badly. Bad writing is easier.''

The Internet is rife with offers to unblock through meditation and yoga. Hmm ... I've practiced yoga for many years. I wonder if this yogic writing thing could work for ... er, a friend?

I have my doubts about yoga helping my concentration, though. I usually spend about two-thirds of my class thinking about food. Indian food, in particular. Though sometimes I dream about layer cakes, too.

I’ve dabbled in yoga for almost 20 years. But I’m old, so my down dog refuses to learn new tricks and my half-moon pose is more of a crescent. Even so, I’ve pretty much grasped the physical aspect. The meditative part has always been a bit more slippery for me.

Here's my typical yoga class:
Instructor, employing guided imagery: Imagine the tension in your neck and shoulders floating away.

I’m with her---picturing the stress of the day soaring off; a gray ball of bad energy cushioned in a cleansing white cloud.

Instructor: Now, relax the muscles in your jaw and throat.

I swallow. My mouth waters. I think: Wow, some tandoori chicken would taste REALLY good about now.

My meditation skills are even more lame. The teacher is chanting OMMMMmmmm, and I’m compiling a mental to-do list. She instructs us to center ourselves to the soothing sound of ocean waves. That makes me think of water, which reminds me my dishwasher needs to be unloaded, and the water heater at my mother's house just sprung a leak.

I crack open an eyelid and steal a glance around the room. Am I the only one incapable of clearing my mind? Hey, who's the hottie with the buff biceps? Haven't seen him in class before.

Finally, the instructor clinks her little finger cymbals together: Binggg . . . Binggg . . . Binggggggg. Class is over. We’re at one with the universe. And I’m that much closer to dinner.

Still, I might be getting more mentally from yoga than I realize. A recent episode convinced me something might be sinking in. Near the end of every yoga session, we can hear the Abs-Workout people clamoring outside the door, wanting in. They’re the stalking tigers of the gym, versus yoga’s fluttering butterflies. When the studio door finally opens, in rush the abs people, nearly trampling the mellow yoga folks.

A few days ago, a twenty-something taut-ie grabbed a floor mat right out of my hand as I was trying to put it away. Once upon a time, I’d have growled, tiger-like, and yanked it back. Instead, I smiled serenely, and bid her Namaste.

My spirit salutes yours, it means. Which was true in a way, since I had centered myself by imagining her head as a giant slice of coconut layer cake.

Step aside, Frosting Face, I chanted to myself. Nobody makes me late for dinner.

What do you do to clear your head? Writers, have you ever tried meditation as a cure for blo ... er, a snag in your writing flow?


Robin Allen said...

Oh, Deb, this post pains me! I teach yoga--nine classes a week--and encounter my students' wandering minds in every class. And now you're saying that it still happens after 20 years of practice. Oy.

I agree that there's no such thing as writer's block. I put my butt in a chair and write every single day. If I hit a snag, I go over earlier scenes and fiddle with those until new words start to flow.

Karen said...

Great post, Deborah! I've tried yoga, meditation and balancing my chakras. The only thing that really helps when I hit a, um, snag, is writing long hand, on paper, with a pen. Something about that connects the words to my brain in a way that typing doesn't.

Good luck with your blo, uh, I mean snag. I'll have to remember that trick about coconut cake. Yum!

Beth Groundwater said...

The best thing for me when I feel blocked is a good night's sleep. Usually the problem in my manuscript is solved when I wake up. The second best thing is to get outside--take a walk or ski or soak in the hot tub under the stars, where my mind can wander while my body is engaged.

Deborah Sharp said...

Robin: Yikes! I bet you've put me in the dunce's cap in yoga class. FYI, I'm more a health club practitioner than a serious student. Hope that helps with your pain ;-)
Karen: I'm picturing you balancing your chakras ... is that like spinning plates? I also love writing in long hand. Good tip!
Beth: I guess you don't take a glass of wine into the hot tub ... using alcohol to unclog a block is definitely NOT recommended!

doug_eike said...

The cure for writer's block is to keep writing. The problem for writers who write for publication on the Internet is that so many things get in the way. Writer's block is the least of my problems--mostly, a lack of time stands between me and finished manuscripts. Thanks for the insights!

Alan Orloff said...

The best cure for writer's block is to untether oneself from the Internet.

Cricket McRae said...

Great post as usual, Deb! Made my stomach growl, though. Mmm...tandoori chicken. Sometimes I have to trick myself to get over snags -- work on something else or a different scene, tell myself I don't have to write but I do have to sit in front of my computer for an hour and not do anything else either, or use the Freedom application to block the Internet as Alan suggests. Lately I've been writing longhand after prompting myself with, "If I *were* to write what comes next, what would I write?" That somehow takes all the pressure off and I end up getting a lot done. Weird, huh.

Kathleen Ernst said...

What a hoot! I struggle with meditation too. I do it anyway, but oh my, does my mind wander.

If I get really stuck I take a break so the problem can simmer in my subconscious, but most often I agree with the advice to plough on regardless. Crummy writing can be revised.

Deborah Sharp said...

Hi, Doug: Yep, you and and others hit it right. Just keep writing. As Kathleen says, ''Crummy writing can be revised.''
Thanks to Cricket, for that great tip about using the exercise, "If I *were* to write what comes next, what would I write?"
And,to Alan ... yep, great advice to untether from the 'net. Facebook me about that, and we'll discuss further ;-)
Thanks y'all!