Embracing Writer’s Block, Part 5: Emptiness Is Fleeting | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Embracing Writer’s Block, Part 5: Emptiness Is Fleeting

I do something kind of unusual when I’m writing.  (I know, shockingly enough.)  I keep a journal of what I’m feeling and thinking when I’m faced with writer’s block.

To an outside reader, this journal would probably seem painfully repetitive, because it talks about the same worries again and again.  Some common themes are:

* “I think I had the last decent idea of my life a few days ago, and the well has officially run dry.”

* “I’m not sure I have the brain cells left to do this kind of piece anymore.”

* “I’m never going to finish this article — I might as well delete it.”

Why would I want to keep an angst-filled journal like this?  Because I’m a masochist?

I’ve Been Through It All Before

Actually, this has been one of the most helpful techniques I’ve discovered in a while for staying focused and motivated as I write.  The fact that the journal sounds like such a broken record is really what makes it so helpful.

Why?  Because the goal of this journal is to remind me that, no matter how much hand-wringing I may be doing as I’m writing something, I’ve been through it before.  There’s no moment of blankness, doubt about the originality of what I’m saying, or concern that I’ve “lost my mojo” that I haven’t experienced in the past.

And yet, even in the face of those doubts and fears, I’ve managed to finish my piece.

On one level, this is simply a reminder that I have the strength to handle whatever writing-induced suffering I’m going through.  But at a deeper level, it’s a way to keep in mind that, just like every experience we have as human beings, that creative blankness we call writer’s block is fleeting.  It passes away quickly.

From Black Hole to Break Time

My sense, from looking inside myself and talking to people, is that a lot of the suffering we do around writer’s block happens when we worry that it will never go away.  That sense that we’re empty of ideas can actually be kind of scary — almost as if the emptiness might grow and swallow us up if we let it.

Naturally, many of us tend to write in fits and starts, running off to fold our socks or play Solitaire when the emptiness arises.  Unfortunately, when we write this way, we usually don’t make as much progress as we’d like.

But when we keep in mind that the emptiness is fleeting, those blank moments become so much easier to be with.  Instead of looking like a black hole threatening to devour us, that blankness starts to seem more like a welcome moment of rest before we unleash our creative energies again — just as our bodies naturally cycle between waking and sleeping.

I think “this too shall pass” is a great mantra for moments when we’re feeling creatively empty, just as it is in other parts of life.

10 thoughts on
Embracing Writer’s Block, Part 5: Emptiness Is Fleeting

  1. Evelyn Lim

    You know, your post just made me laugh. Similar thoughts go through my mind. I don’t write these down mostly. However, in the few entries that I have made in my journal, I can see the repetitive patterns. I have since move on to writing and doing creative art around positive themes for reminders in my journal. Even then, I’d say having the written contrast between the positive and negative thoughts and emotions help. I know where I would like to move away from and align with next.

  2. Karl Staib - Party Biz Connect

    Nothing is forever. I love how you look back on past feelings and notice the patterns. You know that they will pop up again and again, but each time they will pass. There are always ways to keep up stuck if that’s what we focus on. We can’t let these thoughts get us down. We need to focus on relaxing and getting back on track because once we are flowing again we have to ride it for as long as it lasts.

  3. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evelyn — yeah, I think that contrast you mention is useful as well — when those moments of stuckness seem as if they’re going to last forever, remembering that everything seems to happen in cycles of expansion and contraction is definitely helpful.

  4. Chris - Post author

    Hi Karl — I like what you said about riding the flow for as long as it lasts — that, I’ve decided is really the most pleasurable part of working, even more than the end product of what I’m doing (the article, the computer program, or whatever else). Being 100% focused on a task, no matter what the task is, is really what I’m after in my work.

  5. J.D. Meier

    > Emptiness Is Fleeting
    I like the way you framed this, right up front.

    I like to think that emptiness has lots of space, and space is the breeding ground for ideas.

  6. Jannie Funster

    For me, instead of worrying writers’ block will be here forever it seems to create the perfect opportunity to get my socks folded, dishes done, floors swept. The Universe’s way to telling me to get off the computer and into real life things.

    Yes, I used to actually worry I WOULD be devoured by the emptiness until you and your blog taught me a while back my creativity would come a-roaring back.

    Your blog continues to inspire and add value!


  7. Chris - Post author

    Hi J.D. — yes, that’s totally true in my experience, that when we allow the emptiness to come up the ideas have space to arise.

  8. Chris - Post author

    Hi Jannie — I’m so glad my writing has been helpful to you. It’s amazing how many people I talk to who can relate to feeling like, if I’m feeling empty right now, it’s probably going to go on forever. I know it’s such a relief to remind myself that isn’t how it works.

  9. Robin Easton

    Oh Chris, you are such a dear!! I’ve been loving your posts lately, and finally have more time to leave a comment. As always you moved me deeply and made me laugh out loud.

    I read this and realized that just as I am never short of words, LOL! :) which of course you know firsthand from talking with me. Or should I say LISTENING to me. LOL! And yet, my husband and friends tell me I am a great listener too. My point being that not only do I never run out of words to speak, I never run out of words to write. I seem to have the opposite challenge.

    I have SO many things that I want to write and they seem to all come flooding in all at once, every single day. So it is very hard for me to pick one and hone it. Although I do finally pick one, I tend to want to process it all at once (not one at a time. So I take notes, and sometimes have more than one window open so I can add thoughts to the second post while working on the first post. Although, I am trying NOT to do this anymore. I try to work on ONE thing at a time, only. As I am learning to LOVE not multi-tasking.

    This happens to me when I dream music. I get up to record one song I dreamed, and while recording it, I start hearing a second song, occasionally a third. There have been times that I have kept 3 recorders going at once, switching back and forth as I heard parts to each song.

    I know this sounds crazy and overwhelming. Surprisingly I don’t FEEL crazy, LOL!! :) but I can often feel so excited that it feels overwhelming. I want to grab it ALL, but often I just have to let things go. Oddly, my husband is much the same way. We are both highly creative with music, art, we both write, working on a documentary, garden, craft-like hobbies (I am a potter, glass artisan, jewelry maker, etc.)

    For years my challenge was picking one thing and following it through to completion (which I’ve done). I have since learned that this can be the challenge for highly creative people. Maybe you can write about that sometime. I hope you do. You might shed some light on it. :)

    I really enjoyed myself here Chris. You are magnificently wise. And it is a very grounded wisdom, one from your own experience.

    Rob :)

  10. Chris - Post author

    Hi Rob — sorry I missed this earlier. Well, listening is something I enjoy a lot, so we seem to be a winning pair. :) I can definitely relate to what you say about feeling like you’re overflowing with creativity and words to write — sometimes I wonder if, in moments when I’m supposedly creatively blocked, what’s actually going on is that I’m being too harsh on the ideas that are coming up.

    I can certainly relate to the challenges you’ve experienced around following a project to completion — like you, I find it useful to have a number of different projects going at once, because inevitably (I think) there will be moments when one of my projects starts to seem stale and sour. If it isn’t too much of a diversion from your present focus, I’m sure a lot of us would enjoy seeing pictures of the craftwork you’ve done.

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