On Getting Rid Of Writer’s Block

DSCF0860I’ve been going through a few weeks of being unable to write. I spent the first week after my trip recovering from a nasty cold. The second week  I finished up laundry and caught up on missed appointments.  I don’t know what took up the third week but it wasn’t writing and that is what I wanted to get back into. During the fifth week, disgusted and scared that I might be suffering from a blockage, I decided to simply sit down at my computer and see what might come forth.  I had no problem writing blog posts. But working on my book was another story.

It probably had a lot to do with the fact that I had finished Part II of my book while I was sick in England. I couldn’t go out much and needed something to keep my mind occupied rather than allow myself to turn bitchy and unpleasant to be around.  But back at home and coaxing those first words out for Part III seemed well nigh impossible. I needed to change my style from a time line narrative to something more free and open, where I  allow myself to become the person I am now …  not the person I was back during the days before I took control of my life and began the process of healing from the trauma I’d been through.

But it was hard for me to change costumes.  Since I started this project, I’d drag out the old screwed-up me every day, dressed in her victimhood and write in her voice. I’ve been doing that for almost a year now and had gotten pretty good at.  Through the writing process the pain of that time has now been dealt with and I no longer feel the hurt, the dread or the fear I made myself return to in order to begin my travels back in time. Who says writing isn’t healing?

In my first attempts to move forward in time, my natural instinct was to return to that old time driven story which I wanted to be done with. I wanted Part III to be more open, philosophical, and forgiving of those who had done me wrong. Whenever I began to write about my process of healing I was drawn into the conflict of who to be … Joan, past or present.  The result?  Nothing! So I gave myself some time to relax and clean out a few closets, which seemed to be a natural remedy for the undertaking of making the shift I wanted. I read through journals of my healing time and otherwise occupied my time with seeing friends and having some fun.

Knowing that I was going to see my writing coach, Kevin, this week, I sat down on the weekend in front of the screen to see what would happen.  I typed a few beginning words.  I didn’t like them. I deleted them, took a deep breath, and started again.  It took a while but before too long I was on my way to writing the transition chapter into Part III.  Monday night having finished that chapter, I started another.  Same thing.  I couldn’t stand the opening words I chose, deleted them and tried again. Words started to pour out in bucket loads.   The next morning I sat down again to continue work on that chapter and wrote another five hundred words before my appointment with Kevin. I didn’t want to stop. All I want to do now is keep going. I have no difficulty getting back to where I was after taking breaks and I seem to have entered the third phase of my book without further difficulty.

As in the past when I’ve had difficulty writing, I’ve taken some time off and allowed the project to simmer on a back burner.  Sure, I pissed and moaned about my lack of words, but eventually when I stopped fighting it, I was able to relax and try again.  It has always worked.

How do you end periods of being unable to write?  I’d love to hear about your ways of getting back to work.

Choppy Waters

DSC01405I’ve been on quite a roll with my memoir writing lately. But suddenly I’m in one of those places, where to move forward even more, means that I must build up my courage and reenter places and times that were cruel and heartbreaking. I’ve been in this situation numerous times in the past as I’ve gone back in time, processing the occasions that brought me to the place on which I stand today. It means remembering and feeling the way I did when both good and horrible things were happening in my life.

The good parts are no problem. Who wouldn’t be willing to revisit the births of their children? As physically painful as those happy occasions can be, they are times of celebration, bringing new life into the world and watching as tiny copies of ourselves take wing and find their own way.

It’s the heart wrenching times that can send me into hurtful funks. But I realize that in order to go where I’m headed, I must enter a roiling sea of emotions and make my way to the opposite shore, where I no longer have to hide from the things that made my life a living hell at times..

By revisiting those dark memories and arriving on the other side, I stand taller, unafraid, and grateful for the chance to move along into my new life. It is a rebirth in which I release myself from the tangle of horrifying events that left me stranded; a broken, needy person.

When I  enter the dark, I find the light and recognize where I am, knowing that I am not all that has happened to me. It is who I am becoming now that is important. It allows me to live each day with joy and forgiveness. It’s a place I never thought I’d find and I’m very grateful to have arrived here.

So this week, I’ll probably spend a few days procrastinating.  I’ll sharpen pencils, clean up the huge mess on my desk, and feel slightly depressed. I’ll listen to my inner critic who seems to think I’m useless and a horrible writer.  When I get tired of  her ranting about how useless I am, I’ll don my Super Woman cape, hold my breath and jump headlong into the mess of living.  I’ll arrive on the other shore with much less baggage, watching her as she tries to catch up with me, rowing a small, leaky boat across the choppy sea.  She’ll eventually make it and will try to torture me with her presence once again. But she’ll still be carrying her oars and hauling the little boat that holds all of her heavy stuff, behind her. I will be freshly bathed and ready to dive into the next waves that roll my way.  She’ll be screaming at me as I go, but I’ll reemerge on the other side once again, even lighter than I was before.

Unplugging Blocks With Insight Dialogue Practice

IMG_1135There’s a lot going on at the Rough House these days.  Along with trying to keep some sort of social life in tact and weeding the garden, the launch of my new website took much of my time. I felt anxious about getting it up, feeling I’d never understand the technological stuff behind it.  Thank goodness I had lots of help.

I’ve also been cranking away on my memoir. Most of the time I have a clear view of the road ahead but occasionally I get lost, winding down picturesque side streets, looking for the perfect beginning or ending for a story I’m particularly keen on. And when I write about the tough stuff, like my Mother’s last years of life, sometimes a thunderstorm is set off in my brain and I need to take a break.

In the past when that’s happened, I sat around bemoaning the fact that I didn’t feel like writing or revisiting the past. I’m a very happy person right now, living a tranquil life, and though I’ve dealt with most of my s%#t, I can sometimes find it uncomfortable to go back to a time that was particularly hard for me. But you can bet that I’ve always learned something new about myself in the process of visiting those dark days.

That’s what happened last week when I was trying to complete a chapter on the dynamics of my family of origin. I sat in front of the screen, rereading what I had already written. I couldn’t find a place to jump into a new thought or paragraph. And I was unable to find words to describe how I felt when I thought my world was falling apart, bit by tiny bit. All I wanted to do was take a nap, read a book or see a movie that would make me laugh or inspire me to go off on some new adventure to a place I’ve never been before.

So instead of sitting around fighting my lack of written words, I took action.  I went to see the movie, Francis Ha, about a young woman trying to figure out where in the world she belonged and with whom.  It was funny, and occasionally a bit depressing. But it was also about the serendipity of life and provided me with something I needed to be reminded of … that Francis would just have to trust that she would eventually find her path, by being open to whatever came her way. And so it is with me. This is a lesson that I often forget, as I try to control everything around me.

This past weekend, I did what felt like a spa weekend to me.  No, I didn’t get a facial or a massage or a pedicure.  I went to a one day Insight Dialogue Retreat taught by one of my favorite teachers who lives right here in Central Virginia, Sharon Beckman Brindley.

Insight Dialogue is a practice developed by Gregory Kramer, co-founder and president of the Metta Foundation, and author of INSIGHT DIALOGUE, The Interpersonal Path to Freedom. Sharon has studied with him. And this was my fourth one-day retreat with her.

If you go to the Foundation website you’ll read that, “Insight Dialogue is an interpersonal meditation practice. It brings the mindfulness and tranquility of silent meditation directly into our experience with other people. As humans, we are relational beings; as we begin to wake up, clarity and freedom can illuminate our relationships with others.”

And though it draws upon traditional Buddhist wisdom, it is not necessarily a Buddhist practice. People of any faith and belief system would find it useful in building more meaningful relationships with the people in their lives.

During Saturday’s retreat I partnered with another participant; someone I didn’t know well or at all. We sat facing each other, and with eyes closed, were led in a guided meditation, concentrating on our breath, the way our bodies felt, relaxing, pausing, and opening to the process. We were then given five or so minutes to silently contemplate our own generosity, something some of us rarely speak about because we’ve been taught that publicly showing that we are generous is bragging.

When the bell rang announcing the end of the contemplation, we opened our eyes. One of us became the speaker and the other became the listener. The speaker’s job was to tell the listener about his/or her generosity or lack thereof, pausing, relaxing and regrouping when the body felt a sudden tightness or discomfort.  The listener was to listen deeply without judgment to what was being said, noticing how her body was reacting. The roles would then be reversed. Further discussion can follow with the partners telling each other how it felt to talk about themselves and their kindness.

In the second half of the day we partnered with new people, this time working in groups of three. We continued our contemplation, this time about our virtues, another topic most of us rarely speak of. It was a freeing experience, especially for those of us who haven’t believed we have much goodness within us.

At the end of the day, we spoke to the entire group about what we had learned about ourselves and what new thoughts came our way. I can’t speak for everyone, but I left feeling relaxed and pampered.  What could possibly be better than being listened to deeply, without judgment.

During the retreat I came to the conclusion that this tweaking this practice would be helpful in my writing process, especially when I feel blocked and unable to forge ahead.  In taking a few minutes to relax and have an inner dialogue with myself instead of another person, concerning the difficulty of the situation I’m writing about, I’m now finding words, where  none existed before.

The weekend was topped off on Sunday by an hour and a half of Restorative Yoga, taught by another gifted instructor, Christine Davis. For me it was a perfect weekend and one I hope I’ll be able to participate in again sometime soon.

What about you? How would you spend a perfect weekend?

A Work In Progress

DSC01581“This is a work in progress, a process of uncovering our natural openness, uncovering our natural intelligence and warmth. I have discovered, just as my teachers always told me, that we already have what we need. The wisdom, the strength, the confidence, the awakened heart and mind are always accessible, here, now, always. We are just uncovering them. We are rediscovering them. We’re not inventing them or importing them from somewhere else. They’re here. That’s why when we feel caught in darkness, suddenly the clouds can part. Out of nowhere we cheer up or relax or experience the vastness of our minds. No one else gives this to you. People will support you and help you with teachings and practices, as they have supported and helped me, but you yourself experience your unlimited potential.”

Pema Chodron, Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears

I’ve been rolling along working on my memoir for the past couple of weeks with little difficulty. Words have been flowing like a mountain stream spilling over its banks with snow melt. I’m more sure than ever about the structure of my story and where I’m going with it. It’s about my relationship with my mother, and how being her caretaker during the last seven years of her life forced me to take a closer look at my own life and how I’m living it. 

Two days ago, starting on the seventh chapter, I hit a brick wall and was stopped in my tracks.  I sat in front of the computer for several hours for two days, typed in a couple of paragraphs and immediately trashed them.

I was feeling pretty bummed out about it, because I’ve set myself a goal of having a finished draft of the book in nine months. I did what I too often do … immediately started worrying and beating up on myself, fearing I’d begin getting behind and never make my September first deadline. Then I started calling myself names for being worried and giving myself so much grief. It’s the kind of thing that can just go around and around in circles until I throw up my hands and consider eating a pint of ice cream and/or several bars of delicious dark chocolate.

I was trying to write about a particularly difficult time in my life, which I apparently blocked off with several layers of cinder blocks and three or four layers of concrete. I could remember the time period, but could not find the words to describe how I felt and what it was that had made it so difficult.

I decided I’d go back through my journals and reread a few to try to figure it out what I was missing. But they are stashed in a storage bin we rent, way across town. Working around other appointments and warnings of a major snowstorm heading our way, I stopped and picked up a box of journals dated with the two years I was trying to recall. When I got home I realized I had mislabeled the box and those dear, yellowing journals were not the ones I needed.

Foiled again, and unable to return for more journals, I told myself I’d simply make myself start writing again. I figured words would come to me if I didn’t get in the way with all that worrying crap. Sitting down again at the computer and pulling up the ridiculous stuff I’d written the day before, my fingers began moving and words started forming on the page.  It was painful stuff about things I’d completely erased from my memory tapes.  It may or may not have much to do with what I was trying to write about, but it certainly cleared the channels and I feel good to go once again.

Writing memoir can be very challenging, but I’m finding it to be one of the most healing things I’ve ever done. Revisiting the past has brought so many new perspectives on the people and experiences that have helped to shape my own being.

I’ve been journaling for years.  But writing memoir is helping me to explore even more deeply the way of the world and the person that I am still becoming. I understand how precious the gift of writing can be. Should my written words never make it into book form, I will be forever grateful for the words that have found me and the time I’ve taken to write them down.

Two Muses … A Thought About Creating

Store Window, New York City, 2007

Store Window, New York City, 2007

“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” – Wendell Berry