Writers are often whacked with the reminder that “plumbers don’t get plumbing block.” Our feelings don’t matter. Our readiness doesn’t matter! Sit down at that keyboard and dance, monkey, dance. We’re told that we’re like machines. If your fingers move, stories should come out.
Except that’s not how it works. If you’ve ever been zapped with an idea or a solution to a problem in the shower, you’ve experienced the sensation of getting a gift from your subconscious mind. And stories tend to come from that same place. You can’t beat your subconscious into submission or demand that she perform on your schedule.
At best, you can woo her.
I suspect a lot of people believe they have no creativity, no talent, no gift, when in fact they’re just running around with their brains fully occupied with other matters. Creativity is an activity, and activities take time and energy. Not just keyboard time.
My subconscious mind wants these things from me:
- Sufficient sleep. (REM sleep seems important)
- Walks (get the blood flowing, enjoy nature or other beautiful things, let the mind wander)
- Inspiration/Stimuli (looking things up related to a story, viewing pictures, getting inspired, not strictly research but appreciation)
- Questions (“How will CHARACTER handle THING?” no forcing an answer! just hold the question open)
It’s tough. Being fully occupied with other aspects of life makes it difficult to give the subconscious what she needs for storytelling. I spent most of my twenties and thirties fully occupied with work. I wanted to write, I felt shitty that I wasn’t, but looking back, the problem wasn’t motivation. I was bursting with motivation. My problem wasn’t time. I could set aside an hour or so per day.
My problem was I was trying to nag myself into typing instead filling my heart and mind with story.
Typing isn’t writing. Typing is what you do to translate the story from your brain into a format others can decode.
Instead of beating writers over the head with maxims about how plumbers don’t get plumbing block, perhaps we should teach people how to to daydream. We should celebrate naps, trips to the art museum, long nature walks, and the strange-yet-practical technique of asking your brain a question and waiting patiently for the answer to arrive. Writing takes time, and typing is an important step. Plenty of people daydream at the desk! But it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Your heart-brain-body is like an instrument that needs tuning. There’s a knack to it. It takes time.
I wish someone had told me these things earlier. I would have spent less time kicking myself, asking “Gah! Why am I blocked! I guess I’m just too lazy or uncreative to tell a story.”