Writer’s block. It’s every storyteller’s worst nightmare. It can weigh you down for an hour, a day, a week . . . years, even. This great silencer of both fiction and non-fiction writers can be so much more than an inability to find the right words. Sometimes, writer’s block is a defense mechanism used to intentionally avoid traumatic events.
Losing the Ability to Write Fiction Effectively. Or At All.
Once upon a time, I wrote a lot of fiction. I wrote it because it was fun, I had stories to tell, and it made me happy. Most of the stories weren’t very good, but I enjoyed myself. It was enough.
I wrote short stories through college, and tried unsuccessfully at novels more than once. I had poems published several times in my college’s literary magazine and newspaper. I even once wrote a novella for a friend’s birthday present. I was working up the courage to submit stuff for publishing when my father died.
It was unexpected, and it was traumatic. I stopped writing for a year. No poems, no stories, no letters to friends. Nothing. All the words had been drained out of me. I had always used writing as an escape, as a way to deal with things. But I couldn’t deal with the pain. It was easier to shut the words away and not face it.
Blogging As A Way Forward
Slowly, the words returned. Poetry was the first to come back. Back then, I wrote poetry by opening up the floodgates, writing it all down, and never looking back. They spilled out of my brain, complete and finished. I seldom revisited them after I put pen to paper. They were my way of opening up my the valve and releasing pent-up “steam.”
Longer form pieces didn’t return until much later, and then in the form of blog posts. My first posts in that now offline blog were . . . well, they were pretty lame. I hadn’t found a voice yet, a direction. But it was a start.
After a while, I found I had something to say. My posts were still random, but I started sharing vegetarian recipes, book and movie reviews, and commentary on current events. I even posted the rare poem. It would seem that, while I lost the ability to tell stories, I still had something to say.
Catharsis in Personal Essays
When I changed careers from marketing to wellness, my blog shifted from random bits and pieces floating through my brain to specific topics. I found inspiration in the art of massage, Reiki, and yoga. The theories and philosophies resonated with me, and I wanted to share that new-found passion with others.
I railed against “the stories we tell ourselves,” framing them as the lies we tell ourselves to get through the day. They were the enemy. They may have been useful once upon a time, but they no longer served my greater good. Time to throw them out with the rest of the baggage I’d been dragging around.
As I wrote advice and thoughts about moving through the dark stuff to get to the light (shadow work is a continuing theme with me), it never occured to me that I was slowly healing the wounds that I covered over so many years prior. Each time I spoke about letting go of the things that no longer served, I was telling myself that same thing.
Running Into the Block I Told Myself Wasn’t There
Eventually, I decided that the blog that had served me well for nearly a decade was no longer focused enough for my new pursuits. I shut down my old blog and started a new one, this time with a focus and a theme. I had the idea for a book, then two, then three. All of them non-fiction, all self-help. I worked on them in fits and starts. Mostly fits, few starts. I spent months avoiding working on anything that might possibly be successful.
It became increasingly clear that while I kept saying “I want to be a writer” and “I want to be an editor,” there was something in the way that kept me from reaching these goals. What was it about earning a living doing something I love that was so difficult? Why was I still unable to write any kind of fiction? It was the first time I openly acknowledged there was something missing in my life, and that I did indeed have a monumental block.
One day in 2018, I sat in front of my computer. I was itching to write something, but none of my usual topics felt inspiring. But still, something percolated. So, I started typing. I told myself it didn’t have to be anything other than what it was. It wasn’t going to be seen by anyone, ever. It was an exercise in writing; no more, no less.
After ninety minutes, I pushed away from my desk. What I had in front of me was my first piece of fiction in almost twenty years. It wasn’t long, and it was very rough. But it was the first time in two decades I’d given myself permission to let a story leave my mind. It was cathartic, and it felt amazing.
It was the first chip off the block, but there was still a way to go.
Seeing the Light
At the beginning of April 2019, I ended my nine-year career in massage. Since then, I have been on sabbatical, using the time to start my freelance career in editing and writing and heal from a decade in a healing practice.
It’s given me the space I needed to shed the old career, which in many ways became how I defined myself. It’s also given me the opportunity to heal many of the issues that have been creatively holding me back. I didn’t realize that, underneath the detritus of a long career in service, I still had my own wounds that needed addressing.
I have been slowly working through those old wounds. The space I’ve been given to heal has meant that for the first time in a while, I have a lot of story ideas . . . perhaps even a book idea. I’ve stumbled onto the idea of flash and speculative fiction and they have inspired me like nothing else.
I’ve been looking for a way forward; a path amidst the bushes. It hasn’t been (and still isn’t) an easy journey, but there is a sign up ahead, and I’m pretty sure it reads “Once upon a time . . .”