Blocks, Avoidance, Dull Streaks

We all have them—times when we’re not writing as much as we’d like. I’m having one now. It’s not that I’m not writing for hours a day; teaching writing classes online is very fulfilling in terms of capturing what I mean in words. But what about MY stuff? Why is it on the back burner? How come I’m not writing in this blog—a happy refuge where I’ve spent some fine hours reading and writing?

Let me speculate a bit. Is this writers block? No. In fact I don’t really believe in writers block. I do believe in the deadening power of self-doubt, but that’s not my particular problem at present. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt, but I gave it to Goodwill.

Is this avoidance? Am I fearful of something and eager to avoid making an appearance? Nope. As always I’m happy to write poorly, make a mess, and have fun clicking away at the keyboard.

How about a dull streak? This sounds closer. Is my emotional, physical, and creative energy going elsewhere? Am I left feeling too dull to come up with ideas? Am I too tired to participate? Maybe. But what really annoys me is that I have a suspicion that a dull streak is another name for pouting. Things are not going well. I’m mad. So I won’t write.

Ah, what fools we be. And so I write this entry to face the music, to use my favorite tool of writing to challenge my pouting, annoyed, struggling self to remember that, yes, this is where I find the energy and strength I need to get on with it.

What stops you? I’d sure like to hear I’m not alone.

13 responses to “Blocks, Avoidance, Dull Streaks

  1. Oh, Ann, did you ever hit the nail on the head with this one! We are going through some family upheaval right now and it is indeed pulling all my thoughts and energy in one direction. I tell myself I can break out of it but every time I try to write something, it turns out to be a real downer and definitely not something I could sell. And yes, I’ve tried and been rejected. Again. It’s hard to be upbeat and lively when you’re feeling in such a funk.

    I tried purging the feelings by writing everything I want to say to the people involved in this situation. I have to say that did help some. A good venting always helps, even when no one ever hears it except my husband and my dog. I know in time these feelings will pass and the situation at hand will resolve. But meanwhile, I need to find a different focus so I can write something productive.

    • Maybe it’s the time of year? I’m glad to hear from you and know that you’re still going forward. Small steps are still steps!

  2. A dull streak. I’m trying that on, and I like it. I’ve had trouble digging into the editing that needs to be done on my novel, or even writing a short bit. I find other things (see my blog about Valentine’s Day Zines) to do, and there it sits, just waiting for my attention and my red pen. I’ve been reading about editing from books to blogs, and frankly, I now don’t know where to start. So, dull streak? Humm. How about procrastination blahs.

  3. I stop with a jerky stumble. Frozen in place, my eyes scan the area. What’s happening?

    Others have stopped in their tracks too. A lady across the street locks questioning eyes with me. Her forehead is shoved into her hairline, eyebrows arched over unnaturally wide and eerie whites. There is a man up ahead looking at us over his shoulder.

    “I’m stuck.” he cries out, “Are you stuck?”

    I nod but don’t answer. People all along the sidewalk are shouting the same sentiments.

    “I can’t move!”
    “Help!”
    “What the hell?”

    Up ahead, the crowd on the corner can’t obey the crossing light, blinking impatiently for them to pass.

    We are all trapped…held hostage by some unseen force.

    I try dragging my left leg forward. It feels like it is buried in sand and I’m digging a mote as I move it forward. My thighs flex as I struggle with the imaginary grit. One step forward took the energy of eighty. The young girl behind me grunts as she tries her limbs forward. The entire street is pushing against this thing. This energy field that planted us can be fought, but it’s like swimming through an icy bank of snow. We are in slow motion, silent picture, as we rock and trudge, trying to move forward. I can’t help but see us as mimes pushing against an imaginary wind.

    It’s a slow struggle to unlock ourselves from our spots. Each of us struggle in our own awkward fashion. There are no helping hands but we are all moving in the same direction.

    Just reach that corner. Make it to the crowd. Gather together and determine some answers. Safety in numbers never felt so real. Lifting one foot in front of the other, too damn slow, but must reach the others.

    Finally standing on the corner, we gather like gawkers at a tragic scene. Bewilderment shows on every face, some clear horror. What is this wind that has the power to fasten us in place on this cold corner of town?

    “What’s happening to us?” one bystander asked.
    “Where is this coming from?” another.
    “Aliens? Aliens!” I hear a voice of terror ask…proclaim.
    “Do you feel the heaviness too?” the blonde chick asks the elderly gentleman.
    “I can barely move!”
    “Something has hold of us!”
    Some screams, some whispers, all near panic.

    “It hit me as I was coming out of Tuckers,” I said, “Swinging my bag, just heading back to my apartment when it just stopped me. My bag went flying and I couldn’t even reach for it.”

    “Same here! I was rushing out of the bank and hurrying back to the office when it just froze me.” A man in a suit said, “What the hell is going on? Are we under some kind of attack?”

    None of us had an answer to this frightening, unseen goo we couldn’t navigate. We felt like fish whose tank water suddenly turned to a thick gel. No fake palms to hide behind and no large net to scoop us out.

    “Dear Heavenly Father,” I hear a prayer begin.
    Another gal has her face toward the sky…a low hum coming from her throat. Other heads bent, a few faces held a look of defiance. One man scanned the crowd in their various states of prayer, pleading and petition.

    “Listen up.” he shouted, “Everybody calm down. We are all here together, so let’s not panic. We need to keep cool and figure this thing out.”

    The crowd calms to a lower buzz with his commands.

    “Now, is there anyone here who doesn’t feel this force thing holding them back?” he asks.

    Silence from the crowd

    “Anyone who feels they can move better than the others?”

    One young man raises his hand. (Why does this universal signal, a request to speak follow us all our lives?) Two other hands go up.

    Great! The man thinks, this means this thing has a lighter hold on some than others.

    “Is there anyone who can’t move at all?”

    No hands, no voices rise up

    “Excellent!” his voice grows in confidence, “This means none of us are stuck here forever.”

    “I want you stronger people to take hold of the hands of the weaker ones. Go ahead, no time for being shy.”

    The crowd joins hands, some as couples, and others in groups of three or more.

    “Now, everyone lift your right leg, move it forward and plant it in front of you.” he orders.
    The crowd obeys like freshman on the first day of marching band practice.

    “Now follow with your left…push…hard as you can.” he encourages.
    “Come on people, hold on to each other. Good, here we go. Another step! Right foot…there you go. Plant it… now left foot.”

    People sway as the group has their faces focused on their row of feet.
    His plan is to head them down the sidewalk, see how far he can take them to escape the hidden shackles.

    “Keep going” he encourages them, “we’re moving faster now.”
    True, but this is still too slow to measure much progress.
    “Don’t give up people, fight this, we’re all fighting together.” He shouts. “Keep holding each other, don’t leave anyone behind.”

    It took what feels like an eternity but the crowd has made it half a block. Moving was a little easier now. I can’t tell if it’s from a lightening of the unseen mire or from the strength in numbers we’d created. This man, our unelected leader, forces us forward, won’t allow us to give in to this grip.

    Another half a block, and we are all moving more easily now.

    Finally, there is a lifting. We all feel it. Freedom.

    We’ve moved past that thing, whatever it was. Appreciation and relief show up in faces and voices. There are hugs and high fives.

    None of us will ever be able to exactly name it, but something had its hold on us. Determined and together, we were able to lift each other out of its strangling grasp.

    I look for our chief, our hero. He deserves our gratitude and thanks. I spot him crossing the street, his back to us all. His tan overcoat flaps as he takes his quick steps and gives his hat a tug. He’s out of earshot so I whisper, “Thank you Mr. Muse.”

    • Wow! I needed that! So inspiring. Such an outpouring of creativity. You are definitely not stuck! Good for you. I really enjoyed your piece.

      • Thanks Ann! You’re latest post made me feel so much better. It’s nice to feel that I am not alone.

        Feeble February…that’s what I’m going to call my own blahness.

        Time of year, winter blues, too cold to create; these are all the excuses I’ve used. Good times to curl up and read though so that is how I’ve filled much of my time. As a beginner, I love reading to think about writing styles, etc. I’m waiting for all that observation to turn up as motivation.
        Right now nothing excites me. The piece yesterday just struck me and is the most I’ve written in weeks. Thank YOU for that. It’s not my greatest writing, but at least I finally got words on the page.

    • Lili – I loved your story! It goes to show that the group can move together to motivate each other. I know I can count on my friends from Ann’s blog and classes to help me move forward when I’m stuck. Good luck!

  4. Ah, what a wonderful piece, Lili!

    And yes Ann, a dull streak is a good description. I’ve been there as well.

    But this time for me, I’m afraid it’s just plain old fashioned doubt. I’m reading John Gardner’s “The Art of Fiction” and while I find it brilliant I also find myself thinking, how in the world am I going to do that? I took some time off writing to go and earn some money (poor me, not everyone has this option, maybe I am pouting). The time spent working away reassured me I am still a very good doctor but, home at my desk, I’m having trouble convincing myself I can still write.

    I think what I’ll try today is to remind myself how many years it took me to become that good doctor, how many hours spent doing things that didn’t seem to be contributing, and how a lot of it was just work and putting in the time. And then I’m going to spend a couple of hours playing with fun writing exercises–just putting in some time. Time that adds to my stuff, whatever that is, and wherever it is currently hiding!

    Thanks to all of you for sharing–I feel a big sigh of relief knowing it’s not just me.

  5. When I began writing, I told myself that if I didn’t “make it” in five years, I’d quit. So misguided! Yes, the bad (good?) news is that it took me ten years before I 1) knew good writing when I saw it, and 2) knew when I’d done some. While this is not quantifiable, it is something each person can learn for themselves.

    One more note. I read Gardner every year for the first five years. Each year he taught me more. Wish he weren’t dead. You might like his book “On Moral Fiction.” The title sounds righteous, but it’s not. It’s about meaning.

  6. Thanks Ann! I appreciate the words of encouragement and will check out Gardner’s other books. The exercises helped a bit today (as did reading a little Brenda Ueland).

    The other quote I’m getting strength from is one I read from Jonathan Franzen. He said that he wrote constantly for one year and at the end of that year had a vague notion of the female character in his book “Freedom”. Wow. A vague notion? After a year? Not even masters of the craft have it easy.

  7. At the moment, I have a limited amount of energy and time that I can work, and all of it is being poured into sculpting. I’d LOVE to be writing, but at the end of the night I’m just too exhausted to make the effort to start a piece of writing, let alone be creative. The fact that I’m NOT WRITING makes me feel restless and grumpy, like I want to crawl out of my skin. My desk is littered with scribbled notes on all the ideas, characters, etc… that I am not working on! I don’t wish to lose anyone to the bemused void that is swallowing my brain, hence the drift of paper building up around my keyboard and mouse.

    Maybe spring will bring a thaw…my energy levels will increase while the pain levels decrease…and I will be able to start writing. While I’m at it, I want an Icelandic pony. Well, if I’m going to dream about writing, I might as well hope for a pony while I’m at it.

    Chins up everyone. Smile. It makes people wonder what you’re up to.

  8. Can creativity melt away with snow and ice, leaving a dull streak in its wake? That’s my theory these days.

    Even though my part of the country is generally spoiled when it comes to winter weather, our February has seen unprecedented ice and snow events that confined everyone to their homes. The arctic layers thankfully disappeared almost as quickly as they accumulated, but the experience has left a bland taste in the city’s mouth. Personally, the dry, sandy streets mirror the mood of my writing muse, Fred.

    These days, when Fred and I gaze at our usually inspiring collection of idea books and creativity primers, we respond with a rousing ho-hum. In an effort to be true to our dreams, we take one of the shiniest, newest books off the shelf and flip through the pages only to decide the exercises are better for another day.

    Blunted by his ennui, Fred suggests I spend time reading fine examples of the genres that most interest me. He vows that when he awakens from his winter hibernation, he will have absorbed all of my reading and will bloom with new ideas bathed in flourishing creativity.

    I place my faith in Fred and am enjoying my adventures with others’ words. Still, learning that I am not alone in this dull streak makes me feel much better. Thank you!

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