My third novel is locked behind a big cement wall. Endless and impenetrable gray stares back at me from where my plot should be. The story is somewhere in there. Somewhere behind that barrier my characters are going on with their day-to-day, saying witty things to one another, fighting battles and coming to great epiphanies. But I don’t know about it, because I’m on the other side of the damn wall.
Walls are everywhere. I’m currently training for my first marathon and ran my longest distance thus-far, last Sunday (18 miles). It was excruciating and somewhere around mile 14 I wondered what current psychological disorder I’m hosting that would make me even consider such insanity. I wondered if my muscles were going to peel away from my bones. I wondered if I’d lose a toenail. I wondered how I would manage to go on.
Then the thought came to me, dripping with sweat and achy: I could quit. I could turn around, take my sneakers, and go home. No one would force me to get back on the path and finish those last four miles. Despite what the best inspirational movies will tell you, quitting is always an option.
But if I quit, if I choose to accept defeat, I’ll never finish the marathon. I’ll never even start it. If I quit, then the dream remains just that, a dream. An unfulfilled and flighty idea, like a dizzy butterfly, no intention of landing anywhere for long. While no one was forcing me to finish those last miles, no one had forced me to start them either. It was my dream. It was my idea. It was my butterfly in a jar. It’s my opportunity.
Writing can be the same way. Whether walls from our outside world block us from getting time in the chair, or our own inner stockades prevent us from moving forward with the work, it all comes down to choice. We choose to be writers. We choose every day to sit down and write (or not).
We can choose to quit.
But something tells me we won’t. Because even at our lowest points, when we’re throwing pens and cursing computer screens and wondering what in the hell will happen next, we’re in a storm of caring so much that it’s impossible to stop. This is our dream. This is our idea. This is our opportunity; our butterfly in a jar.
Today, when I sit down with my imprisoned third novel, and my brain muscles ache and I think about hanging up my keyboard and getting a nice waitressing job, I’ll try writing down what’s going on behind that wall. Maybe I’ll write myself a door in the wall, or a ladder to climb over it. Maybe I’ll back track over miles I’ve already traveled and (gasp) delete what’s not working about the plot and begin again.
Here’s to all the struggles you’re facing out there today. Ice your knees, foam-roller your IT bands and get back out there. You’ve got a race to finish.
What are your best techniques for getting through writer's block?