The Cure for Writer’s Block

A friend asked me whether I ever had writer’s block last week. I can’t say that I have. Words flow easily out of me, but as with everything there’s timing and ritual involved… and one more thing. It’s the same thing that taught me humility.  Consuming nutrient-rich brain food. No, I’m not referring to eating more salmon and blueberries (but those count too), but the acquisition of rich daily experience. You’ve got to get out and in the world.  And out doesn’t have to be too far out.  Don’t just sit there in front of a computer screen or blank page in a journal; go for a walk around the block, or better, take a walk through a cemetery and read the history engraved on the tombstones.  Or a walk alone on a beach at dawn.  Ideas come from moving out and experiencing what the world offers.  If you don’t reach out to greet them someone else will.

Ernest Hemingway was famous for living as large as he wrote. Henry David Thoreau walked and observed the world around him constantly. Cheryl Strayed hiked the PCT and wrote Wild based on that experience. I’m not any of those writers, but I follow their example.

Jump in the ocean or a quiet pond.  Feel the current flow through your fingers as you tread water.  Weed the garden.  I get more ideas deadheading the flowers than I ever get staring at a screen.  And the ace in my pocket: read more consistently.  I get more ideas from reading great books than from any other source.  Stoicism, history, biographies, and even fiction spark the imagination.

When I don’t read I listen and observe.  Living by the ratio of Two ears, one mouth has served me well over the years.  Seek solitude and blessed quiet when possible. I found joy in the quiet room at the car dealership today simply by walking in and closing the door on the negative stream of news on the televisions blaring in the waiting rooms. Nothing nutritious in that space.

Some people meditate.  I wish I could slow my mind down enough to meditate.  Instead, I meditate through tasks.  Pulling weeds, painting, washing dishes, making the bed or mopping the floor have all become sources of quiet for my mind, and a quiet mind has time to sort out the stories you want to tell the world.  Rowing on the erg serves me well for processing information, so long as the music isn’t blaring.

Getting out and experiencing the world through travel opens up your mind.  Travel is like a butterfly net for catching ideas. The stories write themselves from that point on.  My visit to Fort Niagara last month gave me another dozen stories to tell about the people who fought to hold that strategic point of land, and those who fought to take it away.  I have stories tucked away in the back of my mind from visits to places far and wide, and from visits to the garden in the backyard.

This morning I spent 15 minutes deadheading the pansies.  That’s an insane amount of time that I’ll never get back deadheading a pot of pansies.  And that’s true; but it’s not about the pansies.  Like the Japanese kare-sansui, the dry landscaping where the concept is zero equals abundance, deadheading pansies provides me with an abundance of exactly what I need in that moment.  I don’t rake rocks and sand to get in touch with my Zen, I pluck maple seedlings from potted plants and the garden. I live in New Hampshire next to woods actively trying to expand into the garden. Inspiration is where you find it..

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