Squeezing the sponge: writer’s block

We’re like sponges, said my friend Anne, many years ago. We absorb everything life has to offer until we get full and have a creative outburst. When I have writer’s block, I imagine I’m still in the “absorbing” phase. Knowing the creative expression will eventually arrive helps me be patient.

But sometimes I don’t have the time or the patience: I have a deadline. I need closure. I need to complete a building block for something else. Something’s nagging at me and writing it down will get it out of my head. In times like these, I have to “squeeze my sponge” and produce some creative output, whether I’m ready or not.

When the alternative is worse, I’ll occasionally force the issue, even if it’s awkward, frustrating, painful or embarrassing. Through a combination of bribery, encouragement, shaming, cajoling, bullying, rewards, bargaining, attempts at self-discipline, and half-assed goal-setting, I do make progress. (I use some of the same techniques I use to keep my lazy self on the elliptical machine, in fact.)

It’s ugly, but it’s effective. It’s like reaming out a rusty pipe. By the time I force my way through a chunk of work, the words are flowing again.

  • “I will read just one more chapter first, then I’ll get to work.”
  • “I will elevate my blood sugar with food first, then I’ll be better able to write.”
  • “Come on, keep going, make it at least 100 words.”
  • “Good. Now write until 11:30.”
  • “Good. Now write until 11:45.”
  • “Good. Now write until 12:00.”
  • “Fine, you can have another cup of coffee.”
  • “You’ve written stuff like this before. You can do it now.”
  • “Just get to the end of this scene.”
  • “Make it an even 3000 words then you can have the snack you’ve been craving.”
  • “Okay I see you’ve had the snack anyway. Now you should be hopped up enough on sugar to get to 3000 words.”
  • “You are allowed 5 minutes of Facebook time. Then you must write another 100 words.”
  • “You’re allowed to check your email. Then you must write another 100 words.”
  • “Fine, you can have lunch. But you need to eat at your desk so you can write another 100 words.”
  • “You just sat down. You can’t get up again until you’ve written another 100 words.”
  • “Okay, you’re allowed to get up to pee. But you have to sit right back down and write another 100 words.”
  • “Even if all you do it outline the scene, you can at least get that far.”
  • “Even if you don’t do a full outline, you can at least make a list of what the scene is supposed to contain.”
  • “I want to be able to post on Facebook that I finished.”
  • “I don’t really feel like I’ve finished writing the story.”
  • “I don’t feel like I’ve got a complete draft.”
  • “I’ve got ideas to improve the story, but I don’t feel I should start to implement them until I’ve got a complete first draft.”
  • “What is wrong with you that you can’t write that scene?”
  • “If you’re uncomfortable writing that scene, should you really be writing in this genre in the first place?”
  • “Fine, you can write the following scene first. But then you have to come back and finish this one.”
  • “Just write it even if it’s crap. You can edit it later.”
  • “You are going to sit here until you’ve written 100 words.”

Squeezing the sponge: the poem

From The Guest Room of the Heart

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