March 29, 2011 | 1:56 pm
Posted by Merissa Nathan Gerson
I have lost the ability to write. An initial, hiccupy writer’s block that originated with a piece of assessment I disliked has grown into an all-encompassing loss of words. I get my housemate to dictate birthday cards to relatives because I cannot be sure I’ll say the right thing, and have become lax in replying to emails because the construction of even a simple response is onerous. The only thing I can write is lists, on post-it notes, of all the essays I have to complete. I feel paralyzed, and rather ashamed. It’s only words, after all: how difficult can it be to arrange them into coherent sentences?
This issue is all the more painful because it isn’t new, but rather is something that I thought I’d overcome. I’ve had a rather chequered university career: my transcript alternates between blocks of High Distinctions and Failure: Non-Completions. I was expelled from university for a period of a eighteen months for failure to maintain sufficient academic progress, primarily because I’d failed to hand in essays. This year, I started off very well, handing in essays on time and getting brilliant marks. I’d thought I was fixed. However, here I am again, faced with the voiceless fear when faced with a blank page.
P.S. This email took me two hours to write, and I don’t like it very much.
What you call writer’s block, I call a need for a lasso. Simple. Writer’s block has a million causes. Your particular brand seems to stem from inner voices out of control. Yes. You have some internal critic that is on fire and preventing you from expressing yourself.
This is when every move, every thought, every utterance is stuffed back inside out of fear or shame. If you think you will f up, a piece of you might be chanting, “you will f up. You will f up.” That voice’s job is to paralyze your creative expression.
Why the nasty inner mantra? Only you know. Be honest. Stop calling this “writer’s block” and look at it as what it really is, an indulgence of the negative and cruel voices inside of you. Help yourself. Get those voices under control and start really living your creative life.
My personal favorite: meditation. Why? Because it is gentle, it is self-taught, and in doing it you find a community, depending on how you tackle stillness. All it does is make you aware of the constant inner monologue in your head, and slowly, through focusing on the breath, teaches you to live without it. Shambhala centers nationwide offer free meditation instructors who can help guide you through your mind until it is ready to quiet down.
Other things that help? Stopping the voices before they start with excessive positive affirmations. “I am smart. I can write. I write. Write. Write. Written.” Try Tara Brach, Ph.D.’s Radical Acceptance for help. Other ideas: see a cognitive behavioral therapist and explain you need to undo the stifling voices that cut off your writer’s blood flow. Do whatever you need to uninvite the negative from your daily mental repertoire.
There are a million other ways to cultivate the positive. Break your normal routine, touch nature whenever possible, exercise more, poison your body less, etc. etc. You, however, sound like you have some more specific hard work ahead of you, acquainting yourself with your mind so you can do some solid summer cleansing of unneeded mental energy.
To write is a simple act of expression. We complicate it with pressures and cruelties all our own. If you don’t trust your voice, or don’t believe in that which you want to express, it is nearly impossible to let it loose. Mean voices are an addiction. Get clean. Stop leaning on the negative and write your manifesta!
Ask Yenta! E-mail a question to merissag[at]gmail[dot]com directly, or using www.send-email.org to ask anonymously.
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