Writer’s Block? Think Horses, Not Zebras

Oh-so much has been written about writer’s block that a person would think it’s an old disease, like Freud’s hysteria, that’s long been cured.  Um, not so much.  Writers are still talking about it and swimming in the deep end of that dark pool.

I guess it goes with the territory.

Or maybe we’ve made it out to be more than it is.  How can we be blocked if we really enjoy what we’re doing, even if it doesn’t pay the bills?  Chocolate doesn’t pay my bills, I enjoy it, and there’s nothing blocking me from having at it on a daily basis.  Ditto with reading and sex and even paying bills (warned you I was odd).  Sure, money’s flying out the door when I pay bills, but it makes me feel grown up and responsible.  Nothing blocks me from going after those goodies.

So why did I wake up this morning with a whopping dose of writer’s block?  Especially after a week of so much good fun writing bad first drafts?  When the writing is gong well, life is going very well.  And when life is going well, nobody gets hurt, especially me.  I’ve faced down my fears of failure and success and every other blockage of the writing digestive tract, so this morning’s dead zone was a mystery.

As usual, when I need a little dusting and cleaning of the mind, I take the dogs to Clear Creek for a romp in the ragged outdoors of the Arkansas River Valley Region.  For the first time ever, we had the entire place to ourselves.  Gone was the gray haze of winter’s barren trees, replaced by a riot of greenery, wildflowers, and branches so heavy with their own new leaves that they bowed down to the water’s edge.  Saw fish jumping, too.  The dogs and I took our usual stroll, visited my favorite dark and gothic lagoon of fallen trees and ominous curves of water to places unseen.  Then we hiked it up a few hills.  Boy, did that ever make my back feel good, using those glorious gluts getting myself to the top and working out the knots in my back.  It was like a deep tissue massage from the inside out.

Ding, ding, ding!  The hiking eased the knots in my back.  Ring that bell again because the lady has won a prize…at least for the day.

The more I reveled in those back muscles loosening, the more aware I was of language dreamscapes  for a WIP riffing through my mind, and story lines completing themselves without one wit of angst.  I wasn’t blocked, I was in the grips of dread.

Writer’s dread.

Like most souls encased in vulnerable bodies, I’ve got several whopper maladies.  I don’t let them get me down, just push them out of my mind and keep moving forward.  That’s a good thing, up to a point.  But when you push things so far away that they fall into the pit of denial, they can crawl up out of that pit and scratch at you in ways you don’t even recognize.  Pity parties are always a dud, but getting real about certain things, accepting them with full awareness, and coming up with a plan of working around them is worth the effort.  And usually that effort is minimal.  So minimal, in fact, it’s easy to feel like a moron for not having dealt with them sooner.

In my case, I realized I dreaded coming back home and slipping into the near-manic pace of writing I’d had last week because it hurt.  No deep emotional trauma from my past or insecurities about the fun I’d been having while writing (at least this time), just real physical pain.  I may be odd, but I’m not stupid.  I dread willingly stepping into pain.  I’d been so blinded by the writing frenzy that everything else was blocked out–a little pinch here, a little pop of the spine there, a pot load of hours hunched in one position without so much as a stretch until I’d put myself into a world of hurt I was in the habit of ignoring.

Sometimes it’s critical to take time out in the present to gain time in the future, and that’s what I did today, once I’d realized how I’d abused my body for the pleasure of my craft.  I fired up Hulu and Netflix, did some stretching, positioned therapeutic  pillows, then put myself down for some much-needed body repair.  And here’s where blazing genius comes in–I took Tylenol.  Yeah, that stuff that dulls the hurt so you can really relax and repair what’s injured.  As body parts eased back where they belonged and muscles let loose, a routine of daily rests, stretches, and breaks took shape in my mind, along with setting the timer on my iPhone to remind me to take Tylenol every six hours when next I settled in to write, which I was itching to get at but told myself no, no, no, no, not today.

After a day of r&r, I’m good to go for tomorrow (tonight, actually, because look where I am and what I’m doing–writing). I’ve got a starting point for managing the physical strains of writing that have been getting in my way under the cloak of writers block.

There’s a saying in the medical field that when a patient presents with a certain set of symptoms, such as an upset stomach and fatigue, think horses first, not zebras.  Translated, that means, think stomach flu before making the leap to pancreatic cancer.  Think of the common and easily tamed before romancing the exotic.

And so it was with this day’s writers block.  I’d been thinking the exotic complexities of self-sabotage, even though that made no sense, and all sorts of fancy fears that do pop up from time to time, but only as often as a zebra.  But now I know to blink a couple of times before examining the zebra and making sure it’s not an old horse I can gentle with a little sugar and a reassuring caress.

Does this make sense to you?  Do you get so involved with your writing that you forget to move or eat or stay up far too late, turning the day that follows into something painful?  Is it writers block you’re dealing with or the dread of whacking your knee on that desk you should abandon in favor of the kitchen table? Are you so determined that a chronic disorder isn’t going to get in your way that you don’t entertain a little Tylenol or aspirin once in a while?

If you’re really loving what you do with words and the stories you spin, but your stomach falls to your feet when you think of another day of doing what you know you want to do, trying thinking of horses first before you saddle up those zebras.  They’re out there, oh, yes they are.  But there just might be more horses in your creative neighborhood than you realize.

Feed them some sugar.  I hear zebras are terrified of the sweet stuff.

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